Pirna entrepreneur converts public bus into store

Carzone owner Maik Lange is expanding his self-service workshop in Copitz to include a branch of business - something that was not originally planned.
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Das Bild zeit einen Mann vor einem Bus.
Carzone owner Maik Lange with his new parts bus: twelve square meters for sales, twelve square meters for storage. © Daniel Schäfer

From Thomas Möckel

Maik Lange stands in front of his new acquisition. It arrived a few days ago, a huge load. The low-loader alone was 18 meters long, and the cargo itself measured twelve meters in length. Lange is the owner of "Carzone Pirna", a self-service workshop where car owners can tinker with their bodies, a kind of supervised screwing, it is located directly behind the new DRK rescue station in Pirna-Copitz. Most customers repair or refine their cars there.

Lange's new acquisition is a few sizes larger, a public bus, MAN brand, lime green, until some time ago still in use in the Vogtlandkreis, ready to drive. Lange drove it himself from the low loader to its current location, just behind the workshop. He found it at a dealer in Halle, a bargain, as he says. There is plenty of space inside, 24 square meters, twelve for sales, twelve for storage.

The bus was not actually planned this way, but in this case it was the fastest and most practical solution. "It's an eye-catcher and a publicity stunt at the same time," says the entrepreneur. The big bus will be Lange's new store, a business segment he wants to develop with his company, which he has been running in Pirna for six years now - with growing success.

Apprenticeship, army, studies - and then a company
Lange, 36, a native of Görlitz, originally trained as a sports and fitness merchant, then spent a long time in the German armed forces, stationed in Marienberg. After his army career ended, he wanted to do something with cars. "I was very interested in that," he says. Lange went on to study business administration, and at the same time he completed an internship in a Dresden car repair shop to acquire knowledge and skills.

He then looked around for a site for his own business, initially in the state capital, where he had moved with his wife after his time in the Bundeswehr. However, an affordable hall could not be found in Dresden, so Pirna came into play a little later. Lange had discovered an advertisement offering a hall for rent on the site of the former transmission plant under the Sachsenbrücke bridge.

Lange was one of about 20 applicants, but probably the first to go, he got the hall and took it immediately. Inside, it offered enough space for his first workshop, and the area in front of it was large enough for tuning meetings, where the entrepreneur also acquired some customers. The step into self-employment was successful, and the company "Carzone Pirna" has been in business since July 2017.

At Pirna's Saxony Bridge: The screwdriver is himself

Lange doesn't like to hear the term self-help workshop, it sounds too much like a self-help group, but the people who come to him are prepared and coordinated, know what they want to do, and many have acquired their wrenching knowledge in Internet tutorials. Lange sees his company more as a self-service workshop than a place to practice, where customers with often astonishing prior knowledge lend a hand to their cars themselves.

His customers, says Lange, are between 18 and 84 years old, young people often tune their cars, and many also restore older models such as Trabant and Wartburg. In addition, in times of increased new and used car prices, as well as workshop costs that are now unaffordable for many, the entrepreneur profits from the fact that people take care of their cars and no longer give them away. The cars that come to his self-service workshop are on average 20 years old.

Business was good at the first location, and Lange was very satisfied with the occupancy rate, generating steady growth of five to ten percent there. The shop was open from 3 p.m. to midnight, and customers often worked until well after midnight. The problem, however, was that the site of the former transmission plant lacked walk-in customers, and Lange was only a tenant there.

Das Bild zeigt einen umgebautzen Bus.
Converted bus, still roadworthy: Perhaps it will later become a mobile store or a snack bar. © Daniel Schäfer

Customers accept long distances

Through the Stadtentwicklungsgesellschaft Pirna (SEP), he found his own plot of land on Lohmener Straße behind the new DRK rescue station, and his company has been based in Copitz since last fall. Lange had a new hall built, inside there are five lifting platforms, including a heavy-duty platform for transporters. There are considerably more walk-in customers at the new location. "From November 2022 to June 2023 alone, sales have doubled," says the entrepreneur.

The business model: Carzone provides lifting platforms, workstations and tools, and customers pay a rent for them. Lange also advises the mechanics, which he does free of charge; he wants everyone to leave the yard satisfied. In the meantime, this has earned him a loyal customer base. The catchment area is 50 kilometers and more, and the mechanics come from Pirna, Dresden, Radeberg, Kamenz, Bautzen and Meißen, for example. Since the move, business has been so good that he hired his first permanent employee in February.

Another workplace is to be created

And because many have had bad experiences with online retail, customers can order parts through him, they usually arrive quickly, Carzone is delivered seven times a day. That and a business closure ultimately led Lange to sell some accessories himself. One of his suppliers, a store on Fährstraße in Pirna-Copitz, has been closed since Sept. 1. Lange decided to take over this parts sale and, if possible, also the customer base.

But that had to happen quickly. Lange initially wanted to set up sales containers, but that would have taken too long because he would have needed a building permit for that, which could not be obtained so quickly. That's when he came up with the idea of the bus, which he converted into a sales and storage area. Initially, it was to remain at the workshop. But because the large vehicle is still roadworthy, Lange wants to use it later as a mobile store, or maybe he'll build a snack bar in it - he has plenty of ideas. And if things continue to go so well, he plans to hire a second employee before the end of the year - who will then be responsible for the entire bus.

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