IN THE 23 years that Joe Basten operated the Wonthaggi Taxi service, he picked up dozens of people who had bought cars in Melbourne, either from motor traders or privately, and been stuck with lemons.
Despite outlaying good money, the cars soon broke down and they were back to square one, with limited mobility, only worse because they now had a debt.
He thought there had to be a better way and so, in 1998, Tomeric Motors was born, named after his two eldest children at the time, Tom and Eric. Although he now has twin daughters as well, Sonia and Olivia, who are in the process of finishing secondary school.
Which is partly the reason why he’ll soon be closing the business, after selling upwards of 2000 second-hand cars into the local community.
“The business came to be because when I was driving taxis I found myself picking up people who had bought cars in Melbourne and they’d broken down, leaving them without a way to get around.
“I didn’t think the local dealers at the time were providing an alternative for the battlers, people who couldn’t afford to pay a lot, but needed something reliable for their mobility.
“I thought there had to be a better way.
“I had this idea. I knew cars because I’d had a spanner in my hand since I was 12 and with my brothers, we used to work on our cars all the time. That’s what you did back then.
“I loved cars and I thought I could help people by sourcing quality cars at an affordable price.
“It started out as a hobby really but it soon developed.
“I also wanted to provide more work for my taxi drivers and the only way I could see to do that was find something for myself to do, and give them my spot.”
That part of the strategy paid off too with Joe expanding his fleet of taxis and expanding from four drivers to seven and ultimately to 22 drivers and nine licences.
“The whole taxi industry has been poisoned now, of course, no one wants to invest in licences anymore and a lot of regional areas are losing their taxis. Some already have.
“But that’s another story.”
According to Joe, the venture has been more of a passion than a money-making exercise, but it has paid its way and he’s been able to set whole families up with cars, to the point now where he’s helping their adult kids and grandchildren.
“They’re killing the second-hand motor industry as well. You only need to look at all the cars being sold by the side of the road. They’re missing out on the GST, the tax we pay, people we employ and the work we pass on to the other motor trades for detailing, parts and mechanical repairs and we offer a minimum of a three-month warranty.
“And there’s also the Internet.
“But the fact is that the margin between the cost of a new car and a second-hand car isn’t much these days and people are far better off to buy a new one, with all the safety features, if they can afford it.
“The next thing, after the local manufacturers close down, is they’ll open the floodgates to cheap overseas cars. That’ll really be the end of it. They’ll be crushing 10-year-old cars soon.
“But we’re not closing because of economics. I’m just too old to be sitting behind a computer all day. I want to spend more time with the family.
“I’m not closing up just yet, though. I’ll still be here for a while.
“Hopefully when I do close, the other car dealers will still look after people who can’t afford much but still need a safe, reliable car to get them around.”