A nondescript industrial area of Tuckahoe which features a tile company, a tool manufacturer, self-storage and a brewery is home to a business, which attracts clientele seemingly more suited to Park Avenue, Wall Street, Hollywood and The Hamptons. In fact, unless you know in advance what to expect, you’d probably be astonished when you stepped inside the one-story building housing Matt Figliola’s Ai Design.
Lined up on a floor which is spotless when compared with normal garage floors are vehicles sporting the logos of manufacturers such as Porsche, Bentley, Ferrari, Jaguar, Mercedes and even Bugatti, the world’s most expensive car. The bottom-of-the-line Bugatti Chiron starts at about $3 million and a top-of-the-line La Voiture Noire sold for $19 million, including taxes, of course. Oil changes on a Bugatti, by the way, usually cost $21,000 because the car has to be partially disassembled to get at the oil system.
Figliola specializes in the custom side of the luxury car business and his Ai Design has built a reputation as one of the most desirable places in the U.S. for the ultra-rich to take their luxury vehicles for special treatments and upgrades. “I find that super-affluent people tend to be fastidious,” Figliola told the Business Journal. “They’re used to customizing their lives. They’re used to customizing their bathroom, their pool house, their vacation home, their clothing. They’re very exacting about it and I share that. I understand that. I embrace it.” Figliola also has customers who are not among the ultra-rich.
Figliola set up operations in Tuckahoe in the fall of 1998. He and a group of partners had been operating in south Yonkers, primarily focused on audio installations but he decided to go off on his own. As a young child, he had developed a curiosity about things electronic and mechanical. In high school, he helped a friend install a stereo in his car, rewired his clock radio to accept extra loudspeakers and hauled home a washing machine he found on the street to find out what made it tick, much to his mother’s chagrin.
“It’s mechanics, electronics, a deep interest in how all that engineering went together. The mystery of what this little component was and taking apart capacitors and finding wads of what looked like paper with oil on them,” Figliola said. After high school, he took jobs in Westchester as a car stereo installer until his entrepreneurial spirit took over.
“What we do is very wide ranging,” he said. “There’s what I would call the sort of ‘normal work,’ the work that’s going on every day, things like applying paint protection film, which is a clear plastic protection that goes over the painted surfaces.” The plastic protects a vehicle’s surface from pebbles and dirt and errant valets. “We do ceramic waxes, which are incredibly resilient and shiny. We do radar detector installations and do some general service work for our clients. We don’t promote service work but we wind up doing some of it.”
Figliola noted that paint jobs coming out of the factory on exquisite cars can be full of imperfections and part of their job in Tuckahoe is to find the imperfections and fix them for clients who insist on perfection with little regard for extra cost.
Ai Design also takes on project vehicles, where a car or van may be stripped down and completely reworked in a process, which can take months or even years. During the Business Journal’s visit, a stainless-steel CJ-3A Jeep body from the Philippines was being built up for a client who wanted to turn it into an electric vehicle. In another part of the shop, a GMC motor home from the 1970s was being converted into luxury quarters for a music promoter to use on concert tours. The shop has 3-D printing capability to create custom parts as well as a high-tech router and tools for upholstery, leather work and various mechanical operations.
Figliola has 11 on his staff at Ai Design. “The culture here is that we’re really craftsmen. The majority of them have been with me for 10 years. There’s little turnover. I’m willing to put up with all sorts of idiosyncrasies, but at the end of the day you need to be able to do the work,” he said.
Figliola’s customers tend to value their privacy, although he did acknowledge that some are household names. “Some of them explicitly tell me not to say anything. Some of them require that we hide license plates and registration stickers,” he said.
He said the reputation of Ai Design has been built largely by word of mouth, although the company does have a website. “News travels far when you do really good work, even if you’re the most expensive option. That seems to matter less to people who really want to have what they want to have. They want an experience that doesn’t have to entail them coming back for repairs, fixes. They want it right the first time. They want to be impressed by how right it actually was done.”