by Kyra Gemberling
Baker’s Automotive and B&B Truck Repair in Greensboro looks like most any other repair shop: A smorgasbord of vehicles sits waiting for service, accented by sharp squeals of drills and a familiar gasoline odor. But scattered among the sedans and trucks is an unfamiliar sight: A handful of classic London taxis, some waiting for repairs, others waiting to be sold.
Owner Larry Baker’s shop now includes sister company London Taxi Parts USA, which he says is the only supplier of London taxi parts in North America. The Greensboro native started his truck-repair business in 1977, then added cars in 1993. In 2009, a friend told Baker that Chicago-based London Taxi North America, the original supplier of taxi parts, was going bankrupt. Baker balked at the $250,000 asking price, then waited until an hour before the business was scheduled to close. He paid $20,000 for the brand name and inventory. “I’m not a business guru, but when opportunity knocks, you have to take it,” he says. He’s also not an Anglophile: Baker, 66, has never visited England but says he hopes to go someday.
Luckily for Baker, about 250 TXIIs — the standard London taxi model — had been imported into the U.S., creating a niche market for his company. Phone calls started pouring in from people all over the country seeking parts. Revenue from the taxi business totaled about $100,000 in the first year and has stayed at that level, he says. Overall, Baker’s seven-employee company grosses about $1.5 million annually.
London Taxi Parts’ clientele mainly consists of individuals wanting to restore vehicles for their personal use. A Texan bought a taxi for $2,000, not knowing if it would run. He shipped the vehicle to Baker, who had it operating within 15 minutes, and then earned $27,000 for restoration. A Tennessee customer wanted to purchase a taxi for his wife as an anniversary present. Baker spent three months fixing it, and added the woman’s name to the sign on top. “People just fall in love with these taxis, and they’ll spend all kinds of money to have one,” he says.
In North Carolina, Baker helps maintain five taxis owned by Greensboro-based Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels, including three purchased from him. The lodging company, which includes the Proximity Hotel, O. Henry Hotel and three restaurants, uses the cars for special events.
Baker this summer introduced TX4s, which have longer grills than the more famous TXIIs and an updated bumper design, after federal transportation and customs officials approved the importing of parts. “If I can make this fly, then I can sell TX4 front ends all day long,” he says. “People will be screaming for them.”
Catering to a steady influx of new customers is a worthy challenge, Baker says. “The taxi business keeps me interested because I have people calling all the time, and I will spend whatever time I need to get their problems fixed,” he says. “I enjoy figuring stuff out — the harder the problem, the better.”