IF THERE was a message to take away from both guest speakers at the excellent SightGlass Training and VASA AGM event on June 4, it was that a major contributor to the success of any business is having a strong point of difference.
Budget Rent a Car founder Bob Ansett and founder of The Brock Shop Joe Argiro hadn’t met to swap notes before the event, so it was fascinating that both these successful businessmen shared such similar advice with the audience.
SightGlass News sat down with Joe Argiro to learn more about his success story.
The son of Italian immigrant parents, Joe watched his father establish businesses that embraced diversification long before it became a buzzword.
Having opened Australia’s first espresso bar in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg, Joe’s father rapidly gained custom among the Italian community, who would enjoy using the Bocce court in the back yard.
But to appeal to the Aussies, he installed a poolroom upstairs, as well as an area for card games.
Likewise, when he opened an Italian-style barbershop, he also sold Italian shoes, shirts and ties from the front door. Later moving into property development, every renovated house had a signature terrazzo hallway.
So it’s easy to see where Joe subconsciously picked up the idea that a point of difference, makes a difference.
“It wasn’t until years later I realised that’s what dad was doing,” said Joe.
Joe’s first car was a Ford Galaxy, and of course, he modified it. He imported parts from the United States and used a few unconventional techniques to get the big V8 to produce exceptional performance.
To this day he remembers his first boss, a local automotive workshop owner, instilling in him the importance of understanding the basics before moving forward.
A stroke of luck saw Joe land a job at GM Holden’s Experimental Engineering vehicle prototyping department that could build an entire car from scratch, in secret, without it ever leaving the building – a capability that still exists and has secured the future of vehicle development in Australia into the future, even after the production lines close next year.
This experience gave Joe a deep understanding of just how much time and money goes into developing a standard car, but most of all, he knew the limits of what was possible and had learnt the research and development methods of a large global corporation.
A major part of this experience was the engine torture tests in the dyno room. Every time they blew an engine they had to strip it down to investigate why and how it failed.
This helped inform Joe’s now legendary tuning knowledge, while the R&D experience would also prove to serve him well when the time came to really push the boundaries with some big budget, high-profile modification work that earned him the nickname triple-0 Joe.
Another stroke of luck came when Joe started working with Peter Brock to develop HDT-branded performance Commodores. Like Joe’s father, Peter knew the importance of having a point of difference.
“He was an inspiration, he taught me that if you’re going to do something it’s got to be different, otherwise you’re no better than anyone else,” said Joe.
“Peter was a great race car driver but what made him different was that everything we did, he’d test-drive it and provide his feedback.
“We had to strive for this, because his view was that if his signature was going to be on the side of a car it had to be completely different.”
When Peter’s brother Phil and Joe partnered to establish The Brock Shop in Brisbane, having the point of difference was priority number one.
Something Joe picked up from his experience with GM-H was that everyone working in Experimental Engineering wore immaculate white overalls, so that was the uniform at The Brock Shop. The walls and floors were painted white and everything kept spotless – back in 1985!
Everything was done that bit differently and The Brock Shop was the first and only tuner to warrant their high-performance engines – because Joe had manufacturer-level knowledge of the limits.
“Other shops use customer cars like guinea pigs,” said Joe. “The only time we blew an engine was due to dyno failure, early in the piece.”
Of course eventually others started imitating The Brock Shop, so point of difference thinking again came to the fore.
At one point Joe hired a software expert to reverse-engineer engine management computers in order to retain the factory parameters while allowing the freedom to custom tune each car on the dyno.
“We made a lot of money and nobody could compete against us for at least three years but I was already on the front foot,” he said.
The engine management breakthrough led to work around the world, including trips to Italy to tune Ferraris and Lamborghinis, to Britain to work on TVRs, and the Middle East where Sheikhs from Jordan, Dubai and Abu Dhabi ordered custom cars and uprated engines.
When an Australian company got a contract to develop cylinder heads for Ford’s entry to US drag racing, Joe’s reputation meant he got heavily involved in supercharging the Coyote engine for quarter-mile domination.
Joe said the knowledge of the inner thoughts of an engine management system also enabled The Brock Shop to do “unbelievable” vehicle diagnostic work that was beyond what most Holden dealers could achieve.
He admits a lot of luck was involved along the way, with the entrepreneurial parents, the job at GM-H, getting involved with Peter Brock and establishing The Brock Shop with Phil – but Joe has clearly made the most of every opportunity his business life has thrown at him.
All informed by knowing the importance of having a point of difference.