“My father’s passion was always to act like a dealership in vehicle expertise, but superior to a dealer in service.”
A car can define you, complete you and make you proud – it can be an embodiment of your self-expression. Walter Bodendorf understood that nuance and co-founded Continental Imports, a unique European car service center here in Gainesville in 1978. Bodendorf lived a passion for people, services and the auto industry. His partner, Steve Brotherton, lived a passion for technology and engineering.
Bodendorf led Continental Imports through an evolution from their roots in Mercedes Benz to becoming an independent German car specialty service shop. Then they moved to importation and modification of German cars, and then finally they became a one-of-a-kind luxury and high-performance car service center catering to over 11 different car makes. Bodendorf’s passion created the ultimate experience in the auto service industry.
Heidi Jones, Bodendorf’s daughter, grew up at Continental Imports watching her father live his dream every day. She knew that she wanted to one day carry the mantle of the family business, and unfortunately it happened sooner than anyone imagined. In 2006, when Jones was just 21 years old, Bodendorf passed away.
Hannelore Bodendorf, Jones’ mother took the lead of the company, but Jones recalls that her life of youth and college stopped short. She knew that she and her husband Darren had to step in to join Hannelore, as her father would have wanted. In September of 2014, the Joneses officially united with Hannelore at the helm of the company.
Continental Imports has transcended generational leadership and technology shifts throughout the years – the passion became a legacy in exceptional service, support and relationships.
Service Through Evolution
Continental Imports was founded on the development of unique technology and engineering skills within the auto service industry. The continued focus on technology and expertise development offers clients an unparalleled resource in luxury and high-performance vehicle service.
“My father’s passion was always to act like a dealership in vehicle expertise, but superior to a dealer in service,” said Jones.
The company is comprised of 20 team members, and they have 25 car bays and 13 lifts on site. They offer unique warranties on all their work and believe that whether your car is a classic or modern-day model, they should be able to provide repairs and maintenance to your satisfaction. Unique automobiles sometimes require out-of-the-box thinking.
“Dad never gave up, so we never give up,” Jones explained. “It’s a source of pride to find a solution.”
Continental Imports has sought to offer exceptional service by setting standards high above those you would expect for a service center.
“This family run place really knows how to roll out the red carpet while being personable,” wrote recent customer Mary Mathis on her Google review. “We were in Hurricane Irma evacuation mode when the amber alert transmission light appeared on our 2015 Jaguar XJL. They accommodated us, our service dog, fixed the car with the correct diagnosis and got us on our way. I couldn’t be more impressed or grateful for their professionalism, service and family-inspired hospitality during a time of crisis.”
Jones described other efforts to stay at the top of their game by achieving their Bosch Authorized Service Center certification again in 2017, as they have for 38 years. The Bosch Car Service certification stands for exceptional quality, and Bosch rates them on product quality, service professionalism and customer satisfaction. Continental Imports is also a Dinan BMW and APR Audi/VW/Porsche facility for aftermarket performance parts and tuning, and is the only preferred installer of LN Engineering IMS retrofits for Porsche in North Central Florida.
Part of their pride in service includes owning factory tools for all the cars they service. Clients can be assured that the service teams know what they are doing, and that they are doing what’s best for the longevity and performance of the vehicle.
Wes White, a loyal client and owner of a local homebuilding firm, said, “When you own German high-performance vehicles, you never know what will be needed. Darren [Jones] takes very good care of my vehicles, and I trust him. Their level of service and honesty keep me coming back.”
Another attention to detail includes hand washing all cars after any service is performed. Continental Imports believes that every luxury or high-performance car is different in styling, finish and manufacture – these vehicles should never be put through mechanical washing equipment.
Support Through Education and Engagement
Bodendorf’s passion for people extended from clients to those who worked for him at Continental Imports. Care for the crew of service advisors, technicians and support staff has always been a focus of the start of the service model. The well-being of their employees is still at the forefront in terms of employee health and family benefits, as well as employee development.
At the heart of their business, Heidi, Darren and Hannelore Bodendorf maintain the original, positive family atmosphere that fosters engaged, long-term committed crew members. Jones tells of the celebration of one the company’s first big milestones and how her father believed it was achieved by everyone involved.
Said Hannelore, “On Continental Imports’ 10th Anniversary, my father took every crew member to Germany with their spouses or partners.”
Along with this family atmosphere, the company insists upon employee development as a key to supporting the technicians in all they do, and this impacts the level of service directly. Technicians are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, and Continental Imports supports all annual continuing education and technology training.
“My favorite part of working here is the access we have to all the latest tools – library, computers, network and factory tools for cars. We can ‘talk’ to every car,” explained Richard Colbert, the classic cars technician at Continental Imports. “This innovative mentality is why I came to work here and why I stay. I’ve been with Continental Imports now for almost 40 years.”
Clients and technicians at Continental Imports build trust through the exceptional service, communication and willingness to get the job done right. These relationships are cultivated over time, and every time clients require service or regular maintenance of their vehicles.
“They run their business like I run my own – relationships are critical,” said White.
Clients will even ask for technicians by name. Jones explained that it is the personal task of leadership to thank every client individually. The relationships formed over the years have held true through all the company’s evolutions and are still strong.
The company has always felt that clients are part of the family and have hosted events throughout the years for staff and clients to enjoy, from tailgating to enjoying German food cookouts. As Continental Imports approaches May 2018, Jones expects to continue the celebratory traditions.
“We are planning surprises for our employees and clients to celebrate our 40th anniversary – in the spirit of how my dad loved to celebrate big milestones,” she said.
People have a unique affinity for their cars, and Continental Imports has a unique affinity for providing exceptional car service – that has made all the difference.
“A named car becomes a member of the family,” explained Robert Coldwell, a long-term loyal client. “Max, our 1977 240D, draws compliments everywhere he goes. Eloise, our 1987 560 SL gets frequent purchase offers. Max has been kept in top condition by Continental Imports since 1978 and Eloise since 1995. Our family is indebted to Continental Imports for the long lives of two of its members.”
Caring Beyond Cars
The company also looks to create relationships with the local community, and leadership has created meaningful bonds through children-focused philanthropy for the betterment of local children. Jones explained that community involvement should always be done for the right reasons, and they do so mostly under the radar.
Local organizations such as the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation, Junior League, Gainesville, Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure, the Children’s Home Society and Light the Lantern to benefit Life for the Innocent have all been philanthropic partners with Continental Imports.
“Darren and Heidi are true friends of Children’s Home Society,” said Jennifer Anchors, the executive director of Children’s Home Society of Florida. “We can’t thank them enough for being a part of our team and community. They are very kind, caring, and passionate people and are truly committed to children.”
Through multigenerational leadership, technologic advancement in car servicing and a growing customer base – the legacy in exceptional service, support and relationships within their company, their industry and their community are in capable hands.
Photography by John Sloan, Lifeprints Photography and Courtesy of Continental Imports