Archive | February, 2012

CAT factor lives: US Automotive, Bedford

US Automotive specialises in American cars

US Automotive specialises in American cars

It’s tough for everyone in the aftermarket at the moment, but for those catering for a niche band of customers like US Automotive it must be even harder.

Sales Director Pete Stafford admits the past 18 months have been hard. “Hopefully business will pick up now we’ve come out of the recession. You know how to knuckle down in this trade, to concentrate on core business,” he says.

The core business for US Automotive is, unsurprisingly, American cars, with most of the firm’s marketing coming through word-of-mouth.

Stafford’s advice for factors looking to generate this kind of attention is simple: “Look after the customer in the first place in the hope that they’ll then tell someone else. You don’t want a customer once – you have to get them coming back for more. They pay your salary.”

US Automotive is also overhauling its website and adding new product lines, however. Stafford says it’s vital to have a good online presence in this business: “It’s got to be good, and you’ve got to get it out there. It has to be easy for people to find and easy for them to use. And because we use all the American terminology, it has to be easy for the customer to understand, too.”

Sales Director Pete Stafford often has to translate orders

Sales Director Pete Stafford often has to translate orders

Knowing how to speak American helps since bonnets and boots are entirely different things when they come from across the pond. “You have to talk about hoods and trunks as opposed to bonnets and boots,” says Stafford, “You’ve got to use the terminology.”

It’s safe to say that American cars haven’t taken off in a big way in the UK, but Stafford thinks people are getting over misconceptions, and they’re catching on.

“Some people are still scared to sit on the left and think you can’t overtake in an American car. A lot of people are still put off because of the big engines, and they think they’ll only get 10 miles to the gallon. The modern ones can return 30mpg at least.

“In terms of what you get for your money they’re a lot better value than cars from Europe.”

“There are several gray importers over here which specialise in American vehicles, but there’s just not enough of them. The other issue is the duty and tax when these vehicles come in – there’s 30 percent tax on a car, and the trucks are 22 percent. If you’re not a big company, importing can be very expensive,” says Stafford.

US Autmotive's impressive stock holding

US Automotive's impressive stock holding

When people do import American cars into the country, they can get little support from the VMs. They’re left to fend for themselves, so in step companies like US Automotive to ensure they’re not left by the wayside.

Walking away from US Automotive there’s a feeling of hope that smaller niche factors can survive the coming months. US Automotive has had to adapt to keep going, moving to cater for the modern US car market as well as the classics. Adaptability could be the key for other business in the aftermarket, too.

US Automotive – vital stats

ESTABLISHED          1997

HQ                                Bedford

BRANCHES                1

STAFF                          10

STOCK                        £250,000

TEL                              01234 273155

Want to see your business featured here and in CAT Magazine? Email darren.moss@haymarket.com or call 020 8267 5927

Posted in Factor & Supplier News, NewsComments (0)

Winning a CAT Award is more than just a trophy

If you ever thought winning a CAT Award was all about the trophy, then think again.

I’ve seen before how proactive some businesses can be in getting the word out when they have real success. The flurry of press releases from this year’s crop of CAT Award winners is testament to that – and here’s the proof that they get around, too.

ABP Motorsport, our Garage of the Year winner in 2010, 2011 and now 2012 as well has the front page of the Crewe Chronicle business section all to itself:

ABPphoto

Any business owner will know what sort of benefits that sort of exposure can bring. It doesn’t stop there either, the Crewe Chronicle also wrote a lengthy piece about the business online, here.

A number of other winners from this year’s awards have been garnering media attention too. While the award may look great in the display cabinet, the prestige that comes from winning a CAT Award extends beyond the trophy and into real business benefits.

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Time to cleanse your stock

John Genge wants to help factors minimise the losses caused by slow-moving lines

Previously in CAT we’ve looked at the strategies that good operators should use to check the efficiency of their stock holding and utilisation. One area of natural concern is, of course, obsolete and dead stock. To some degree accumulating slow-moving products is inevitable but what lessons can be learned from the “best in class” to minimise your losses?

There are two areas to consider, prevention and cure.

Prevention:

Let’s face facts; you will never completely prevent it.  But if you examine your stock closely, the chances are you’ll find yourself with dead products because:

  • It was a special order part for a customer who later sourced it elsewhere.

Solution: Always insist on a customer order, or if you do not hold an account for that customer get full payment.

  • It was a part that had a good sales record which then slowed and stopped.

Solution: Constantly monitor for changes in sales history (your systems should be able to report this).

  • It was a speculative product or range that turned out to be a flop.

Solution: Try to agree a buy back or stock cleanse agreement with your supplier or if not, be aggressive with your pricing and marketing until you know whether or not this product will succeed.

  • It was a product or range that really should have sold but you got the pricing wrong.

Solution: Have the common sense to respond quickly and alter your prices when you’ve got them wrong!

  • It was stock held with a customer on an interest basis, which included items that were just never used.

Solution:  I am surprised how common a problem this is as it is so easy to prevent, if your Rep takes a little time to compare stock to sales history.

If you’re truly honest with yourself and identify which of the above each of your dead stock lines relate to, then future prevention – or at least minimalisation – is really straightforward.

All of those solutions are all completely obvious and forgive me if this is a “granny sucking eggs” situation but in my experience, there are plenty of managers who know this already but consistently fail to do it!

The most frequent excuses I hear are a lack of time, systems shortfall, and inept staff. But really, the primary reason is a lack of management focus. That is the real difference between the best in the class and the rest of the field. You choose which one you want to be.

Cure:

Inevitably you will end up with dead stock, but if your systems are good it will be a really small problem and easy to fix. If you do need to dispose of dead stock, firstly ensure that you have a “fighting fund” called an obsolescence provision. Last month I described how this should be created so already the financial pain has been suffered, and we are now down to good housekeeping. Here are your best disposal strategies:

  • Shop/ van/ warehouse clearance. Don’t leave these lines languishing in their old stock locations. Get these parts into your customers’ reach whether it be a trade counter, van or shop. Price them attractively at cost or less and be prepared to deal. You first offer is likely to be your best.
  • Offer staff incentives on these clearance lines whether it be a paid bonus, a gift, a night out or whatever. These staff deal with your customers every day and are likely to know where to target such a part, especially if you prompt them and offer a reward.
  • Contact other Factors whose sales profiles may be different to yours. Just because your sales history is non-existent for that part it doesn’t mean everyone else’s is. As a Factor I made a small fortune buying up other people’s slow moving and obsolete lines and selling the parts to my customers.
  • Supply chain buy back. Most supply chain businesses that I have dealt with will have a facility to buy back certain lines if they are not too old. They may require a larger new buy ratio, eg. They buy back £1,000 worth if you place an order with them for £3,000.  The reasoning however is that if that is stock that you would buy anyway you have lost nothing save a little extra depth of stock until normal levels are restored.
  • Contact a specialist Stock Cleanse Agent. You may recover less than cost or have to buy more from them in the future but the choice of that product should enable you to find lines that you actually need and use.

Finally, as you sell that part that you really never will stock again, please give it a special indicator to prevent your system adding it to a subsequent order. It is such a shame to work hard to dispose of it only for its offspring to reappear.

If all else fails you must be prepared to axe the part. Place it in a skip and write it off, don’t let your mind dwell on what sale it could have bought you. Instead keep focused on more important matters.

Posted in CAT Know-How, Factor & Supplier News, NewsComments (1)

MOTOR CODES GARAGE OF THE YEAR CONTEST LAUNCHES

MOTOR CODES GARAGE OF THE YEAR CONTEST LAUNCHES

The Motor Codes Garage of the Year contest has officially launched.

The contest has opened for voting today, with the first round of voting closing on the 1st April.

National newspaper The Sun will be backing the campaign, urging customers to vote for the UK’s best garages.

Motor Codes says its collaboration with the newspaper is the latest in a long line of enhancements to this year’s competition, now in its third year.

Also new for the 2012 Garage of the Year contest is the splitting of award categories to reflect both large and small businesses taking part. This ensures that no matter what the size of a business is, it will stand an equal chance of winning the accolade of Garage of the Year.

Managing Director at Motor Codes Chris Mason said: “In the last two years, thousands of motorists have voted to support their local garage and both the regional and national winners have spoken about the impact this has had on their business.

“The competition is a great opportunity to shout about what’s good in our industry and stand up against the negative image that some people still hold.”

The headline sponsor of this year’s competition is Halvoline. Distribution Manager John Jackson said: “Individual garages have recognised the impact that this competition has because it’s all based on consumer comment, word-of-mouth.

“On a wider, industry level, it’s vitally important that there is an OFT-approved network of garages that customers across the UK can turn to for reliable service.”

CAT will be playing an integral role in this year’s competition as CAT editor Peter Lawton will be sitting on the judging panel along with other representatives from the motor industry.

Customers are being offered an incentive of a prize to encourage voting for the contest. A year’s free servicing and tickets to the British Grand Prix are all up for grabs. For the garage winner, a fund including Snap-on vouchers, driving experiences, and Motor Codes subscriptions worth over £10,000 forms the first prize.

All Motor Codes subscribers are registered to enter the competition automatically and can start directing customers to the Motor Codes website.

Non Motor Codes subscribers can also register for the competition free of charge.

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Retail Know-how: Know your consumer rights

New trading laws aim to simplify things for consumers and businesses, says Matthew Gough

Consumer law is currently based on four EU Directives­ – Unfair Contract Terms, Sale for Consumer Goods and associated guarantees, Distance Selling and Doorstep Selling. These directives have been adopted inconsistently which is unsatisfactory for both consumers and businesses.

However, a new Consumer Rights Directive was adopted in October 2011 by the EU which aims to simplify elements into one set of rules. For all involved the directive should mean greater consistency in consumer law across the whole of the European Union.

Member states will have two years from that date to implement the measures into national law, so English law will have to change before the end of 2013.

The new Consumer Rights Directive covers contracts for sales of goods and services from business to consumer. Generally all contracts will be covered including purchases made in a shop and those contracts made at a distance or away from business premises.

The directive aims to ensure that consumers will have clear information on price, additional charges and fees before they sign a contract. It will also aim to strengthen consumer protection against late/non delivery, as well as setting out EU-wide consumer rights on issues from cooling-off periods, returns, refunds, repairs and guarantees and unfair contract terms.

The directive targets e-commerce as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of existing consumer rights online. There is a requirement in the directive for clear information about consumer rights to be displayed at point of sale.

The directive does not, however, cover any financial services as the Distance Marketing Directive already covers these.

The key provisions

The most notable changes for businesses to prepare for are are:

  • Cooling-off periods. For distance sales, such as internet sales, there will be a 14 calendar day cooling-off period. Previously laws provided for only seven days. The directive also introduces an EU-wide model form for withdrawing from a sales contract.
  • Pre-contractual information. The directive obliges a trader to provide consumers with clear information on the main characteristics of the product, geographical address and identity of the trader. The price, inclusive of taxes and all additional freight, delivery or postal charges also needs to be clear.
  • Rules on delivery. There will be a maximum of 30 calendar days for the trader to deliver the goods to the consumer from signing the contract or placing the order. The trader bears the risk and cost of deterioration or loss of the goods until the moment the consumer receives the goods. For late or non-delivery, the consumer will have a right to a refund as soon as possible and no later than seven days from the date of delivery.
  • Repairs, replacement, guarantees. To provide consumers with more certainty, there will be a standard set of remedies available to all consumers who have bought a faulty product. Repair or replacement in the first place followed by the reduction of the price or the reimbursement of money. This is presently an issue for international businesses as there are different national laws across the 27 jurisdictions in this area.
  • Online sales. Under the directive, customers who make their purchases online will have the right to refuse to pay for the transaction if they weren’t appropriately informed of the prices before the purchase.
  • Tick Boxes. Ban on “pre-ticked” boxes on websites. Consumers will no longer be required to “untick” boxes to avoid extra services when shopping online. The European Commission cited the example of buying an airline ticket on a website which may also offer extras such as travel insurance or car rental.
  • Pressure Selling. Protection against pressure selling – all direct sales transactions negotiated away from business premises are now covered, not just doorstep sales.

Even more changes are to be made to UK Consumer Law

To comply with the directive, a new single ‘Consumer Bill of Rights’ will replace 12 existing laws and regulations relating to consumer protection in the UK, which the Government said is “complex and confusing” and bad for both consumers and business.

The Bill intends to repeal and replace a number of pieces of legislation, including the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.  It also intends to repeal or substantially amend the consumer law aspects of the Misrepresentation Act 1967, the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Sale and Supply of Goods and Services Act 1994, the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973, and the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977. The Government will leave intact those parts that apply to business to business transactions.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills intends to consult on the Bill during the early part 2012.

These are revolutionary changes, and whilst they are primarily designed to protect the consumer, they will also provide international businesses with greater certainty. A key issue for businesses operating in the consumer field in Europe is the myriad of 27 different laws, which can create a barrier to cross-border trade. With the new Directive businesses should enjoy far greater clarity in their consumer operations, but will need to be aware of each consumer’s stronger position.

The approved Directive can be found at http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/11/pe00/pe00026.en11.pdf

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Garage Know-how: Training

You should be investing in training, and your staff should be excited about it

You should be investing in training, and your staff should be excited about it

Spend your money wisely and the returns from training can be great, says John Genge

I talk to a lot of people about training, technical training, instructive training, management and other training. Opinion is divided with many seeing tangible and permanent benefits whilst others see it as a complete waste of time and money.

The span of opinions correlates strongly with their own personal attitudes to training, so it is worth looking closely at what factors appear to make training beneficial and what do not.

If you are not doing the following as part of your training programme, forget it, save your money and put up with average players.

1. What are you trying to achieve?

You should be doing staff appraisals. As part of that you can spot performance shortfalls, either in skills or knowledge. Many of these can be overcome with training, so a simple Training Needs Analysis summary, agreed and signed by all involved, will set out a plan and objectives.

2. Decide the best training route

You don’t necessarily have to send someone on a course. The internet may provide a solution, or a colleague may be able to help, but sometimes external training is the best approach. Be open to all, but agree the format with your staff.

3. Pre-training brief

This is crucial. As a manager you should formalise the T.N.A. to re-commit the need for the training, agree the outcomes and performance objectives and ask the team member if they have any worries or concerns. They should be excited about their training opportunity and you should give them encouragement by being equally enthusiastic.

4. Post training de-brief

Your interviewing skills, as well as your positive attitude, are needed here. Ask open-ended questions such as “What were the key points that you learned from this course?”. “What are you going to do differently as a result of your training?” “What was the best thing/ worst thing about this course?” If the course was poor, or the objectives weren’t reached, contact the training provider straight away and raise your concerns. There is more likely to be a solution at an early stage and we all know that delegates can be frightened to ask questions in case they look ‘daft’.

5. Teach others

This is something you can try yourself. Learn a foreign word or an interesting fact. Tell this to 18 people and I guarantee you will remember it for good. The very best way to internalise knowledge is to share it with others. Get your trained people to prepare a short presentation to share with their peers. Just the key points are needed – the learning outcomes, why it is better that way and how they will implement their new skills into the job. This may sound terrifying to some, but with a little support from it’s easy and they actually get a buzz from the kudos they generate.

6. Practice

This is particularly relevant for technical training but applies to all skills. As soon as the person returns, get them to practice their skills quickly. There is nothing worse that trying to use a skill or process that you learned six months ago and are struggling to remember.

Even if this results in a little loss of efficiency it will pay dividends later on.

7. Review

The next appraisal can be used to once again review the effectiveness of the training. Did it achieve what you both wanted? Are the skills complete? What revision is required? And, of course, you start the T.N.A. all over again.

Some reading this will remain cynical, unconvinced or of the opinion that in “the real world” this is not relevant. For those of that point of view I can assure you of two things:

  • I have never been one to waste my money on anything
  • I do not tolerate mediocrity

Training is an investment every bit as much as a new vehicle or piece of equipment. Fail to treat it properly and it will be as useless as any dead expense.

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TecDoc adds Irish supplier to customer list

Irish parts supplier Somora has joined TecDoc

Irish parts supplier Somora has joined TecDoc

Tecdoc is celebrating the acquisition of its latest customer, Irish parts supplier Somora.

The software provider says Somora is the latest in a long line of companies to list its products on the TecDoc electronic parts data system.

With the inclusion of Samora TecDoc now boasts a presence in all 36 Irish counties.

Somora’s Cormac Moore said: “Obviously taking the decision to become a TecDoc data supplier was a big step for us as the system is usually associated with the big names in the parts business.

“However, TecDoc is the first place that most of our customers will look when identifying parts, so although it took us a little while to get everything in place with our internal systems and the data, it was ultimately an easy decision to take.”

Moore estimates that nine out of ten factors in Ireland use the TecDoc system to identify and order parts.

TecDoc’s Commercial Director Shaun Greasley added: “Although many suppliers might think that they need to be of a certain size to list their products on TecDoc, Somora is a perfect example of a business that has a distinct range of products which it can now present on a part-by-part basis to a large audience of TecDoc Catalogue users that are specifically looking for a particular application.

“This can only be good for Somora and for those searching for these applications.”

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MOTOR CODES LAUNCHES COMPLIANCE PANEL

MOTOR CODES LAUNCHES COMPLIANCE PANEL

Motor Codes has announced the starting membership of its new compliance panel, which aims to improve industry links with the government, consumer organisations and vehicle manufacturers.

The Independent Compliance and Assessment Panel will meet quarterly to evaluate and review the Motor Codes code of practice. Motor Codes says that this independent scrutiny of its code ensures that the code always acts in the best interests of garages and workshops. Such scrutiny is also a keystone of Motor Codes’ recent OFT approval.

At the request of Trading Standards the panel – previously working on a rolling membership basis – will now feature set members to decide on industry issues. These members are:

Ron Gainsford OBE, Chief Executive, Trading Standards Institute, Chairman

Stuart James, Director, Independent Garage Association

John Lally, Director General, National Caravan Council

Arnold Pindar, Chairman, UK National Consumer Federation

Steve Settle, Director of Customer Services, Toyota (GB)

Managing Director at Motor Codes Chris Mason commented: “The presence of Ron Gainsford over the past year has ensured effective regulation of our operations, with sanctions for businesses that fall below the mark.  The calibre of people that have responded to Ron’s call to strengthen the Compliance Panel demonstrates the growing importance of our robust industry code for both business and the consumer.”

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Could factor fleets ever go electric?

You may have already seen the news today that seven ultra-low carbon vans have been given discounts as part of a government scheme to get more businesses using EV vehicles.

Models from Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Renault all feature on the list of discounted vehicles, which are available with up to 20 percent (up to £8000) taken off the list price. Those companies able to claim back VAT stand to make further savings, too.

The SMMT in particular has hailed the announcement as helping to bring the UK in line with other European countries in advancing the case for electric vehicles. I can see why they might be a large benefit to some industries, but would EV vans be welcome in the aftermarket. Would they be practical for, say, a motor factor?

I can’t imagine factor fleets being swayed easily by the promise of lower emissions, and the relative shortage of EV components in circulation should something go wrong. Factors, would you consider such a move?

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Parts record in sight for ACDelco

ACDelco has the 1000 part number target in its sights

ACDelco has the 1000 part number target in its sights

ACDelco is confident it can achieve a 1000 part number holding by the end of this year.

Fresh from adding a further nine references to its clutch program this month, the target is already in sight for ACDelco, whose current part number holding totals 916.

The company added over 100 references to its range in 2011, with the expansion set to continue throughout 2012. Of those new references ACDelco says it is now able to offer parts for a range of popular applications, including the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.

General Manager Lee Quinney says the continued expansion of the ACDelco range in the UK aftermarket is helping to grow his company’s profile in this country.

He said: “This latest development on clutch is yet further testimony to our policy of increasing range coverage inline with a constantly developing vehicle parc.

“What is particularly pleasing is the fact that all of the newcomers, the majority of which come with concentric slave cylinders (CSC), cover yet more popular fast moving applications. What is also pleasing is that new product is being added without there being any casualties coming out of range.”

Posted in Factor & Supplier News, NewsComments (0)

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