KNOW YOUR LIMITS: SET AN ALCOHOL POLICY

KNOW YOUR LIMITS: SET AN ALCOHOL POLICY

What is the best policy for booze in the workplace?

Sensible policies for alcohol at work are encouraged

Do you have a policy on alcohol in the workplace? If you don’t then you are hardly unusual as most British companies either don’t have anything written at all, or they swing the other way and have an absolute zero-tolerance policy… which may or may not be enforced.

However, you should have a policy in place and have the means to enforce it. As the trend for fines for corporate manslaughter and injury continues to significantly increase across the UK, the emphasis on employers to operate strong and effective health and safety policies and practices has never been more vital.

KNOW THE LAW
Aside from drugs and alcohol costing British businesses in excess of £6 billion per year in lost productivity, under the Transport and Works Act 1992 it is a criminal offence for any worker to be unfit to operate due to drink or drugs and employers must show due diligence to prevent such offences from occurring in the workplace.
Laws that relate to drink- driving are of special interest to motor factors or any other business that has a van fleet. Don’t forget that limits vary within the UK with England, Wales and Northern Ireland having the highest permitted limit of 35 micrograms per 100ml of breath, compared to Scotland’s reduced limit of 22 micrograms, which is in line with the majority of the rest of Western Europe.

BEST PRACTICE
Of course, these limits are perhaps moot if your company has an absolute zero policy on alcohol. However, such a policy might not actually be the best plan. Suzannah Robin, a Director at breathalyzer maker AlcoDigital said: “One of the first steps in setting best practice policy is deciding a company alcohol limit. There will be many factors determining what this should be and it will very much depend on your business operations, however, we would always recommend that an employer sets the limit below the current legal drink-driving limit rather than at a dead zero”.

“Whilst zero may sound like a target every business should be aiming for, it can also cause issues where there may be discrepancies in results, caused by things such as liquor in chocolates or alcohol in medicines. Instead, using a scale of differing limits to determine the next steps an employer should instigate in the event of a positive alcohol test will provide staff with a clear set of rules and help to avoid any unjustified gross misconduct disciplinaries” she added.

EVIDENCE
If a company intends to screen staff on a regular basis it can use a Home Office approved breathalyzer. However, should a screening test reveal a positive result, a company will be obliged to re-test the employee.

Of course it isn’t just about the type of equipment being used, but also how the procedure is carried out and followed through. This means making sure staff implementing alcohol workplace policy have the sufficient training to perform such tests fairly and effectively. Robin explained: “If an employer does not follow best practice policy this can cause issues further down the line, particularly if an employee has tested positive for alcohol. Therefore, professional and reliable training is absolutely crucial for those being assigned to implement alcohol testing policies in the workplace.”

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DRIVING CHANGE: HOW COMPLACENCY CAN KILL

DRIVING CHANGE: HOW COMPLACENCY CAN KILL

Driving for work is a ‘work activity’ like any other. However, our familiarity and, in some cases complacency, with the activity can make it difficult to manage despite it being one of the greatest risks we face. With the trade running fleets of delivery vehicles, the issue of road safety should be high up on the agenda. Indeed, it’s not hard to find web-hits such as ‘Van driver hurt in crash’ or ‘Truck, lorry and van driver injury compensation claims’.

THE LAW
There is a raft of criminal offences that capture individual drivers who decide to break the law. These include death by dangerous driving, careless driving and driving without a valid licence or insurance. The law recognises that properly licensed drivers have a personal obligation to take care of themselves and others on the road.

However, organisations, managers and colleagues could also be implicated if they are considered to have “aided and abetted” that criminal behaviour. A potential example of this would be where a manager
knew that a driver’s insurance had expired but did not alert anyone within the business or prevent that individual from driving. Organisations often collect vast swathes of information that are relevant to managing driving, but are not used as such. Working time details, health information and job descriptions are all good examples.

Prosecutions for ‘aiding and abetting’ offences remain rare, but a fatal road death may result in a Coroner’s Inquest and the organisation having to answer some difficult and probing questions on behalf of the deceased’s family.

Within the more typical health and safety arena, prosecutions could arise where the culture of the organisation is such that driving for work is not managed properly and individuals are put at risk.

In fatal incidents, under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, an organisation can be held liable if “working regimes, dangerous or illegal practices or negligence have contributed to the death”. The police will investigate for the offence of corporate manslaughter and will want to establish the attitude of senior management towards managing driving for work. Were policies in place and enforced, and was there real and visible leadership from the top?

Further, the Health and Safety at WorkAct 1974 states that organisations have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all employees while at work, and that others are not put at risk by work-related driving activities.

Beyond the broad 1974 Act there are various other health and safety regulations that apply to work activities such as driving. The key action point is to appreciate driving for work as a work activity and treat it as you would any other, providing suitable instructions, information and equipment based on a sound risk assessment process.

CONSEQUENCES
The most obvious consequence of getting it wrong is that an employee or members of the public is seriously injured or killed as a result of your organisation’s driving activities. Organisations recognise the moral reasons for keeping people safe.

In addition, there is the risk of a subsequent prosecution for individual criminal offences or for organisational or management failures.

The potential consequences of getting health and safety management wrong have become all the more severe since February 1 2016, which saw the introduction of a Sentencing Guideline for health and safety offences and corporate manslaughter (among others) and creates the potential for higher fines and prison sentences than we have seen historically. The guideline uses ‘potential harm’ as one of the determinants when deciding upon a sentence; the potential harm associated with driving is obvious.

In addition to a criminal prosecution, you may have to deal with any civil claims brought against the business by individuals who have been involved in an incident. Insurance may be in place for organisations and those that use company cars, but what about those who use their own vehicles? Everyone ‘driving for work’ needs to have ‘business use’ insurance. Without it, insurance policies can be revoked and the individual or organisation is left to pay.

Aside from financial implications, incidents and prosecutions can attract significant negative publicity, which in turn could affect an organisation’s brand and reputation. Many vehicles now bear corporate logos and branding which can have unwanted consequences in the event of a serious incident. The impact of an investigation can also create significant business interruption, with the seizure of vehicles, computers and other records, even if a prosecution does not result.

Driving for work can be a risky business and should be taken seriously by the whole organisation; not just the driver.

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WHAT WILL AUTONOMOUS CARS MEAN FOR GARAGES?

WHAT WILL AUTONOMOUS CARS MEAN FOR GARAGES?

Euro Car Parts CEO Martin Gray

We live in a time of regular announcements about trials of connected autonomous vehicles as manufacturers race to be first to offer self-driving cars. And the government, Automotive Council UK and other bodies are fully committed to making sure the UK is at the forefront of autonomous technology, with a supply chain able to deliver it.

While we may be a few years from when cars will drive occupants to their destination, one thing is for sure; modern cars are getting ever more sophisticated. Indeed, some automotive observers have remarked there will be more technological change in the next 10 years than there has been in the past 100.

In fact, connected technology is already with us, with such systems as adaptive cruise control, automated city braking and lane departure – a sign that Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are growing in number and intricacy. Even simple components, such as automatic full beam units, require technicians to acquire new skills and garages to invest in new equipment to replace windscreens, because systems need re-calibrating before returning a car to its owner.

Cars are also sophisticated in the way they alert a service is due and help an owner identify and reach the nearest garage to book an appointment. This is the brave new world made possible by the major advances in technology and presents a host of new business opportunities for the independent garage.

Consumers deserve and need choice in the market place and the aftermarket sector can continue to provide a great value, high quality, customer- focused solution in a technologically-changing world. With the right training and investing in key equipment, independents can realise a new range of business options.

“That’s why no matter how sophisticated the modern car will become with autonomous abilities, the essential nature of servicing and maintenance required remains the same. That’s why an entrepreneurial approach and ‘can do’ attitude mean the connected car of tomorrow will be welcomed at the forward-thinking independent garage of today.”

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TIME IS AN ENEMY WHEN YOU ARE HIRING STAFF

TIME IS AN ENEMY WHEN YOU ARE HIRING STAFF

Don’t let the clock tick down when you need to fill a sales role

Let’s talk about time. If recruiting for a role yourself, you will spend countless hours sifting through applications and initial screenings.

At its most simple, using a recruiter will save you time and to use an example, time is critical when filling vacant sales roles. If the territory is vacant it means that another employee or even the hiring manager is covering the area and this could result in a loss in revenue as customers are not getting the right amount of contact. Another implication, people are human and if someone is covering two roles rather than just their own, it will cause issues. Trust me, I’ve been there!

People will talk sometimes to a recruiter rather than apply direct as it offers them in some cases some anonymity, also the roles I work on are not out there plastered across the job boards for all to see. Using a recruiter cuts out the headache of marketing the role, finding candidates and organising meetings. My ‘specialism’ (a horrible term) is in the body refinish market, but the same rules apply across the aftermarket and elsewhere.

But what if the boot is on the other foot and you are a candidate?. Why would you consider going to a recruiter instead of approaching the firms that interest you directly? Ideally, any good recruitment agency should act as the ‘compère’, between you as a candidate and a potential employer. Putting the right people in front of the right employer is a skill, encountering a large number of variables along the way. Yes, the skills must be right to do the role however much more is involved. There aremany more elements which come together to make the perfect candidate including personalities need to match with company culture and ethics. A good recruiter will understand the needs to match all aspects, the candidate must be right for the business in the same breath as the client being right for the candidate ensuring longevity for both client and candidate alike. Believe me this is no easy task.

Recruiters (well the good ones), have a network of hiring managers, business influencers and decision makers in multiple businesses. Something that as a candidate you in all likelihood don’t have, or not to the extent of an agent. All of these things go back to the issue of making the most of the limited time available – don’t waste yours.

TOP CANDIDATES MOVE QUICKLY

Research shows that from the start of the hiring process the top 10 percent of candidates have disappeared from the market in the first two working weeks. So, considering the average time to hire in the UK is approximately 28 days, the candidates remaining in your process from working day 11 onward are unlikely to be the right fit or the most qualified for your role. However, some companies will attempt to make a ‘good fit’ from the limited candidates now available and in effect taking on someone who doesn’t entirely fit the role because they need it filled and the slow process has cost them the best candidates.

In addition to this, a long hiring process is often the top reason candidates speak negatively about a brand or company. Candidates are now researching online reviews from former candidates or employees in the same way that they would from (say) Trip Advisor, when looking at holiday destinations. The result of this is that it can add 10 percent to the cost of every hire.

Remember the hiring process clock starts ticking as soon as that candidate submits the application not when you review it or when they sit in front of you at interview. By then the damage could have been done and your ideal candidate could have slipped through your fingers! So how long is your hiring process? Do you need to make changes?
Gavin Collier

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A NEW DEBT COLLECTION PROCESS

A NEW DEBT COLLECTION PROCESS

Changing rules mean more hassle in getting your hands on money owed

A customer will not pay their bill. Despite your requests followed by demands, you find yourself in a position where you’re getting nowhere and the debt remains outstanding. Your thoughts turn to the law, but what steps do you need to take before you can “see them in court?” Well, as it turns out, more than you may have thought.

Business creditors dealing with a debt claim involving an individual, as opposed to a business, currently have to follow a simple set of rules. However, from 1 October 2017, the new Debt Claims Protocol will apply and businesses will need to ensure that they have complied with it when trying to collect debts owed. The Protocol will be used alongside any other regulatory regime to which the creditor may also be subject.

Sarah Carlton, an associate at Fox Williams LLP, says it’s important to note that the new rules only applies to businesses (including sole traders) claiming payment of a debt from an individual which also includes someone in business as a ‘sole trader’ – “the Debt Claims Protocol will not apply to debts from a business owed to another business (except where a sole trader is involved), and nor will it apply to claims issued by HMRC.”

REGIMES
The current position for debt claims is that a business creditor, or its legal adviser, will issue a Letter Before Claim to the debtor, in order to give them a chance for the matter to be settled before court proceedings. The new rules seek to formalise the process even before a Letter Before Claim is issued. Carlton says that in practice, “this will likely mean more work will need to be undertaken before even a simple debt claim is issued, the intention being that the parties try to settle the matter without the need for court proceedings while protecting debtors facing prospective legal proceedings from creditors.” Where a firm, or its legal adviser, intends to send a Letter Before Claim over an unpaid debt, the Debt Claims Protocol aims to encourage early communication between the creditor and debtor without having to involve court proceedings.

In terms of process, the debtor will have 30 days to respond to the Letter Before Claim once it’s been sent. If the debtor fails to pay the claimed debt, another letter must be issued from the creditor giving a further 14 days for them to respond, and in theory the person with the debt should use a new special form.

Carlton sums up the thrust of the process: “Creditors should seek to take ‘pro-active’ steps to engage with debtors whatever their response to a Letter Before Claim, even if the Reply Form has only been partially completed”. She adds: “The creditor should make attempts to contact the debtor and obtain any further information that is required to appreciate the position of the debtor.”

Of course, the parties may not be able to reach an agreement or resolve the debt repayment, in which case both should take steps to resolve the dispute without starting court proceedings. Here Carlton says that they should consider other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), for example ‘a without prejudice meeting’ or mediation. “Again,” she explains, “the obligation remains on creditors to consider the cost against the benefits when deciding whether to proceed with ADR – it may be the case that the amount of debt claimed does not justify such a process.”

Unfortunately, if the parties do reach an agreement and the debtor later defaults, the whole process must be restarted and a new Letter Before Claim will need to be sent to the debtor.

Carlton says that only time will tell whether individuals will use the new rules to frustrate collection actions against creditors, and whether the front-loading of costs onto the creditor pre-hearing may prevent creditors from pursuing all of their debt actions – “creditors who regularly have claim money from individual debtors will have to consider whether the preparation work now required makes the claim worth pursuing” she concludes.

The new Debt Claims Protocol process

The Debt Claims Protocol requires that a standardised Letter Before Claim be sent to a debtor and that it contains particular information:

  • The amount of the debt, any interest and/or other charges claimed by the creditor
  • The date of the agreement following which the money is owed and the parties to it (whether made by written or oral agreement)
  • Where the debt has been transferred to a different creditor (i.e. ‘assigned’) details of the original debt and creditor and details of the assignment
  • If the debtor has offered to pay, an explanation of why the offer or payments from the debtor are not acceptable to the creditor and why a court claim is still being considered
  • Details of how the debt can be paid and details of how to proceed if the debtor wishes to discuss payment options with the creditor
  • An up to date Statement of Account for the debt (including charges and interest claimed), an Information Sheet, a Reply Form and a Financial Statement Form (as annexed to the Debt Claims Protocol)
  • The address to which the Reply Form should be sent

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A POINT OF GARAGE DIFFERENCE

A POINT OF GARAGE DIFFERENCE

Sometimes it’s good to take a bit of time out to think through why a customer should choose you, as opposed to any other garage in the area.

Thinking about your business from your customers’ perspective is an exercise worth taking. After all, we can be so immersed in what we do that we lose track and take things for granted.

Personally, I think I can safely vouch for your typical customer and tell you that most find it very difficult to differentiate between one garage and another. Many independent garages unfortunately do appear the same. They all say they do brakes, clutches, servicing; some offer air conditioning services and other’s MOTs, but there never seems to be a lot of difference between them.

This makes it very difficult for customers to make informed decisions on which garage to use. They have very little to go by. They may have driven past your premises, seen your signage, again reiterating that you do what everyone else does.

Some premises will be big and others small; in these cases, price will probably go through the customer’s mind, big = expensive (but perhaps they have more capabilities); small = cheaper (but can they work on new cars?).

LOYALTY
This could be a reason why some customers don’t stay loyal and change garages from year to year. Or, worse still, you lose out on a major repair because the customer wasn’t aware that you could do it and went elsewhere.

Very often customers are left to read the ‘signals’ that independent garages put out and to decipher for themselves who to use.

But this means for those who do reach out to their customers, who are prepared to communicate and engage with them, there are great opportunities to win them over. Customers do need more information to help them with their decisions. It’s not all about price and where you are.

To the majority, the mechanics of cars are a mystery. Most never lift their bonnet from year-to-year and as technology rapidly advances, people understand less and less. This only increases their difficulty with decisions. Who is really up to the job – can that small garage down the road really handle my particular car?

DIFFERENCE
So how can you make yourself more appealing to customers? You need to differentiate yourself from the crowd. You need to help customers with their decision making so they gravitate to you.

In an industry where this is rarely done (outside of the dealerships), there are opportunities for those prepared to put in the effort. And this is what marketing is about – it’s not necessarily about hard-sell offers and saying how great you are. It’s about helping customers, informing them and going that extra mile. It does take time and effort but it can pay off.

If you take a leaf out of other industries it might help you understand what I mean by ‘differentiation’. Take the airlines; you’ve got Easyjet, Virgin and British Airways, all fly planes and take passengers fromAtoB–butallare distinctly different and spend a lot of money communicating how different they are and evolving services to back this up. Customers know pretty much what to expect.

Then there’s the supermarkets, who do you choose Waitrose or Lidl? Extreme cases I know, but with one you know the products have been chosen with a more discerning approach, plus you can pick up a nice lifestyle magazine with hints, tips and interesting stories. Whereas the other has a more, no frills, pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap approach – both are clearly different.

It has been said that those that are too ‘middle-ground’ or too general are the businesses that are struggling. You’ve only got to look at some big high street names that have gone to the wall. In most cases, it was because they lost their way and,
in the eyes of the customer, weren’t different enough.

So how can you differentiate your garage? As I’ve already said, in most towns there are great opportunities for those who are just bothered to communicate; to actually do something like sending out regular mailings. This is because most don’t do anything.

But the key here is ‘communicating’, after all, it’s no good being good at something, or offering something different if you don’t tell anyone.

For those bookish types out there, I recommend reading any book by Jack Trout the author of ‘Repositioning’ (an updated version of his earlier book ‘Positioning: The battle for your mind’, or ‘Differentiate or Die’. These books will give you greater insight into differentiation techniques.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

  • Becoming the local expert
  • Offering guarantees
  • Providing a unique approach to serving customers
  • Specialising in types of vehicles
  • Providing more customer endorsements
  • Providing additional products and services that others don’t n Doing charitable work
  • A long track record or unique story

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ACQUISITIONS NEED PLANNING

ACQUISITIONS NEED PLANNING

Takeovers are in fashion in the aftermarket, but you need to find a company that’s the right fit, writes Adam Bernstein

The question of how to grow a business is one that has perplexed many for generations, namely: organic growth or acquisitive growth? It makes no odds which route is taken, the end goal is the same – greater profitability.

Acquisitions seem to be in vogue for the aftermarket at the moment. You’ve probably already read in this issue that Canadian parts giant Uni-Select has acquired The Parts Alliance, which has itself been on the lookout for smaller factors to buy. GroupAuto’s parent company AAG has made numerous acquisitions in the past year, including FPS and LKQ’s attempted tie-up between ECP and Andrew Page has attracted the attention of the Competitions and Market’s Authority, for which we await the decision in November.

There’s nothing wrong with organic growth, it’s just that it takes time. And compared to setting up a new unit from scratch acquisition takes less time, resources and finance that many firms struggle to provide. So how should firms acquire? What are the issues to be aware of?

DUE DILIGENCE
Understanding what is being bought is key. Although acquirers will usually be able to obtain warranties (think guarantees) from shareholders, there is no substitute for extensively checking the detail of the transaction through “due diligence.” The process falls into three distinct areas – legal which will be handled by lawyers; financial and tax which will be dealt with by accountants; and commercial which falls to the acquirer. If any skeletons in the cupboard are identified, these can be turned into indemnities and, as such, the risk stays with the vendors.

But while due diligence is important, desktop research should be completed before any approach is made along with market and commercial due diligence. Research is much easier nowadays as so much information is available in the public domain through Companies House, online databases, the web, and other information gained discreetly through industry sources. But remember, financial information can be months out of date and cannot be relied upon to give an accurate view of a firm’s financial health.

Skimping here will mean the acquirer will have no idea about the veracity of what they are being told.

WORKPLACE CULTURE CLASH
Acquirers need to recognise that buying the assets of a firm is one thing, but businesses also come with staff already employed and they must get along with the acquirer’s own employees. There are countless examples where mergers and acquisitions have failed because of culture clash – Daimler and Chrysler, AOL and Time Warner, HP and Compaq.

Culture is something that should be looked at closely; compatibility is one of the key requirements. Inevitably there is a learning curve following acquisition, but many find that due diligence meetings usually indicate if the businesses can adapt. Others suggest looking at the top to board level for clues on possible culture issues.

TAKING PRECAUTIONS
Of course, some businesses are bought when they are in trouble and here the purchaser should be particularly cautious.

Firms in trouble often find themselves the target of creditors who can apply pressure; this must be considered when arriving at a valuation.

A question to ask is what is the reason for the decline? Is it the loss of a major client or a bad debt? Is the firm out of step with the market and unable to compete? Can the decline be reversed? Some buyers choose to wait until the target goes into a formal insolvency process before making an offer to the administrator or liquidator when the price the target can be acquired at should be considerably lower. But there is a warning – there will be no warranties and the acquisition will be on a ‘buyer beware basis’. Buying a business from an administrator is risky; their job is not to help the buyer but to realise the greatest possible value for the creditors.

It’s important to also look out for Crown debt arrears such as PAYE and VAT. If these exist a time to pay arrangement is crucial if a rescue is to be completed. But buying a failed firm may mean that existing customers may lack confidence in the business. Similarly, creditors who would have suffered due to the business failure – will be wary too.

ACQUISITION COST
Acquisitions involve significant costs and many are not insignificant. Purchasers should budget for the corporate finance finder’s fee, accountant’s costs, legal fees (legal drafting, due diligence and deal completion matters), insurance warranty payments and costs allied with any associated funding. These can be over 10% of the purchase price.

Also, buyers should not ignore property and any stamp duty that is payable. And just as importantly is the hidden cost of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 – TUPE – which crystallises if there is a staff restructure following the takeover. Employees involved in a business acquisition can sometimes have a significant level of protection under TUPE – which in practice means that dismissing employees following an acquisition can be restricted or costly. Acquirers also need to consider any changes that have to be made to accommodate staff with disability issues.

There’s also the threat of loss of business due to change of control, changing relationships and the possible loss of key staff following the takeover. But these can be managed by having close liaison with customers and offering staff revised employment contracts that come with incentives. Further, existing contracts and arrangements will need to be honoured once the former management leaves.

But there is one more expense that is harder to quantify – time. It is important to make sure that the acquisition doesn’t become a huge distraction and the underlying business is not neglected.

BOLD MOVE
An acquisition is not for the faint hearted – acquirers should consider if they are better off focusing energy on organic growth or proceed ahead by taking a larger risk with an acquisition.

The adage that “people buy people” applies to staff as much as it does to the seller and customer relationship. Ignoring and potential staffing and culture issue can do more damage than any over-valuation.

NOTABLE AFTERMARKET ACQUISITIONS

  • There have been thousands of takeovers in our sector over the years. Here are a few that sprung to mind:
  • Lookers PLC took the decision to sell FPS Distribution, BTN Turbo and Apec Braking to Alliance Automotive Group (AAG) in 2016.
  • American recycled parts firm LKQ Corporation acquired Euro Car Parts in 2011 after months of rumour and speculation around the aftermarket (much of it incorrect). More recently, LKQ has acquired Arleigh International, a large distributor of touring and leisure products.
  • In 1973 Burmah Oil acquired Quinton Hazell ltd from the man of the same name. Hazell didn’t take to working as part of a large corporation and took a stake in the Supra Group, where he started competing against his former company.
  • ZF and TRW came together in 2016, though Helmut Ernst, CEO of ZF was keen to stress to CAT that TRW as a brand was ‘an asset that would remain’.
  • Cash and carry chain Maccess was sold in 1999 in an MBO valued at £68m. It was a rare example of then-parent Finelist selling a company for profit. Finelist Group collapsed in 2001 while Maccess lasted until 2015 before it ran out of ‘time and customers’ according to the then owner Tetrosyl.

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COULD YOU ENTER A FRANCHISE?

COULD YOU ENTER A FRANCHISE?

‘Franchise’ is almost a dirty word in the aftermarket, but is there an opportunity that is being missed here? Mike Owen suggests not

Franchises come in all shapes and sizes from McDonalds to mopeds, a plethora of VMs and then the smaller offerings which, frankly, are little more than pyramid selling in disguise.

The first rule, and like Monty Pythons ‘Bruce’s sketch’ every other rule thereafter is check your chosen franchisor – it is not unknown for these companies to go down the tubes and, as with Rover, take many well-established franchisees with them to ‘Carey Street’ or at least leave you holding the baby.

Now, a good franchise relationship does two things, it gives an income stream to the franchisee and incremental sales to the franchisor – a relationship is born!

As with any relationship they need nurturing, can go wrong and often have a dominant partner.

There are two basic reasons for considering a franchise. The first is for volume; a recognised name that will bring customers to your door, the second, surprisingly, is business discipline – training and business systems aimed at making the franchisee more professional.

In our industry when we talk about ‘franchises’ the first thing to spring into anyone’s mind is a vehicle franchise and that involves crossing over to the dark side! Firstly, and contrary to opinion, are not generally available – it is well known that the old ‘territory’ system was overturned by the European Commission only to be reincarnated under ‘Areas of Influence’ which are not quite as rigid but come a pretty close second!

You will note that the old ‘family’ garage business has all but disappeared in favour of the ‘groups’ or Plc’s – this offers comfort to the franchisee that the company is correctly funded and under proper financial control – they are fed up with getting burned.

OPEN POINT
Now suppose you have the premises in the right area and it is an ‘open-point’ for a franchise worth having, you are prepared to build from the floor to meet the draconian ‘corporate identity’ standards and, having spent a couple of million and still have a few more millions to go, let’s talk turkey.

As you stand on the edge of the world and prepare to leap into the abyss of becoming a Dealer consider the Faustian degree of your decision – just how far are you getting into bed with the devil?

Before the ink is dry on the contract your life will change – do not expect to operate a franchise for profit; your life will become entirely dependent on ‘standards bonuses’. Back in the good-old days when you could expect 18-20% discount on your cars and up to 50% on parts, now you may squeak 5% on vehicles and 18-20% on parts – the problem is you will be expected to give it all away. Your purchase margin will be passed on to your customers.

Standards bonus cover all things from vehicle sales volumes to customer satisfaction indexes and from parts penetration to finance penetration – the number of cars you sell using the franchises finance offerings. Compulsory training will be charged for and your warranty account will be watched like a hawk. You will input your business information to be measured as part of the ‘Inter Firm Comparison’ and you will receive your data back compared with national, local, size related and upper quartile businesses across the country. Your franchise representatives, be they Sales, Aftersales or Business, will be in and out of your business like a fiddler’s elbow and your life will belong to them.

BONUS
But return to these standards bonuses – you will be told what they could (or should) be but at each inspection you will receive de-merits; how much they will be reduced by, this creates a very threatening relationship. The top brick on the chimney for the franchisors, in this case the manufacturers, book of measurements, has to be volume! I get this, they are dependent on volume of manufacture and long gone as are Red-Robo and the fields full of new vehicles covered in brambles of the 70s and 80s. For the franchisee – you, you will quickly find that operating on a zero-profit basis on the promise of standards bonus to turn your empire into a success you will do anything to hit volume; this is where self-registered vehicles come into your life.

Self-registration is where you take stock vehicles and register them just to hit bonus. The consequence is that you now have a registered new vehicle that is immediately depreciated and going steadily down each month – now trading for nothing becomes trading for a loss. Experience dictates that a phone call will happen at 16:00 on the last day of the month informing you to register 50 units! But, you shout, they’re not allowed to self- register; suffice it to say, there are ways and means…

Dealer management is not for the feint-hearted, more those with a degree in self-deception but please don’t think it can’t be done; it can and is. The art is in never stop negotiating with your franchise, never accept you’re on the best terms, deals are done all over and you’ll need to be cautious!

So there you are, and all that just to have a new car five or six times a year and be taxed on it by HMRC – are you mad?

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TIGHTENING UP EMISSIONS

TIGHTENING UP EMISSIONS

Do you know your Lambda from your EGTS? Here’s a factor’s guide to what those small box parts actually do.

With the existing laws set by the Euro 6 legislation, the pressure for vehicle manufacturers to invest more resources into developing better vehicles that complied with the legislative guidelines are continuously scrutinised. Emission pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), total and non- methane hydrocarbons, as well as various particulate matters were expected to be reduced with the use of modern automotive technology.

Effective reduction of pollutants goes beyond ensuring that emissions control systems such as CATs and DPFs are up to scratch. Vehicle electronics and engine management systems are integral in optimising a vehicle’s efficiency and in turn, lowering its carbon footprint. With a wide array of products that support the lowering of harmful emissions, we thought it would be worth sharing some points about the significance of the various sensors that you deliver to garages everyday.

LAMBDA SENSORS
By the simplest definition, lambda sensors monitor the air- to-fuel ratio within the exhaust and relays the information to the ECU. Lambda sensors are vital to ensuring a vehicle’s optimal performance and aid to reduce harmful carbon emissions.

The perfect air-to-fuel ratio for optimum engine efficiency is known as the stoichiometric ratio. The stoichiometric ratio for a petrol engine is 14.7:1 in which 14.7 grams of air is needed for every 1 gram of fuel. This ratio allows for optimum fuel efficiency, wasting less fuel and in turn, producing the least amount of emissions.

Traditionally, lambda sensors produce a voltage signal based on the volume of air detected in the exhaust. If the mixture is too rich (too much fuel supplied), the sensor produces a voltage of around 0.9 volts. When the mixture is too lean (insufficient fuel supplied), it produces around 0.1 volts. A perfect stoichiometric ratio produces 0.45 volts. To compensate for imperfect mixture ratios, the ECU adjusts the fuel mixture by adding more fuel when the mixture is lean, or using less fuel when it is too rich.

Whilst traditional lambda sensors do the job of regulating the stoichiometric ratio, it was unable to provide the ECU with an accurate reading of how rich or lean the air-to-fuel ratio was. Lambda sensor technology needed to keep up with the demand of the tighter euro emission standards.

With the introduction of the 5-wire lambda sensor, the ECU is not only supplied with a signal that relays if the air-to-fuel ratio is running too rich or too lean, it also conveys by how much. This precise information is swiftly sent to the ECU to allow the vehicle to rectify the air-to-fuel ratio more efficiently and effectively and increate the overall performance of the vehicle.

EGTS

In comparison to lambda sensors, exhaust gas temperature sensors are relatively new. An EGTS measures the temperature of the exhaust gas that is monitored by the ECU to help prevent long-term damage to components. The EGTS protects a vehicle’s exhaust system from overheating, which is especially important when a diesel particulate filter regenerates. The DPF reduces the amount of soot that is released with exhaust fumes by collecting and storing it within the filter. Over time, soot accumulates within the filter and needs to be incinerated at extremely high temperatures
in order to remove from the exhaust system and release it in the surrounding air, safely.

Cambiare sensor thumb

Typically, exhausts run at temperatures in excess of 900C in order to successfully regenerate the DPF. At these extreme temperatures, thermal overload becomes a huge risk. The EGTS monitors the heat produced from the exhaust, supplying the ECU with a signal to ensure that the temperatures reached do not fall outside a vehicle’s safety parameters.

Due to the extreme conditions that EGTS operates in, they are prone to damage during exhaust component replacements. Therefore, they need to be replaced simultaneously with a DPF and/or exhaust, as opposed to waiting for the dashboard warning light to illuminate.

Timely replacement of an EGTS prevents damage to the DPF and subsequent engine damage. Our firm’s EGTS use two types of technology – positive temperature coefficient and negative temperature coefficient. PTC increases the resistance with the increase in temperature. NTC, works in an opposite fashion with the sensor producing Temp sensor less resistance as the temperature of the exhaust increases.

EGPS
EGPS are differential sensors that measure the pressure of gas between the intake and outtake the diesel particulate filter (DPF). By measuring the pressure, the EGPS communicates a voltage signal to the ECU. This enables the system to detect the level of soot and particles collected within the DPF. This information enables the ECU to monitor and detect when regeneration is required for efficient emissions reduction.

As a result, a malfunctioning sensor can cause a variety of problems which impacts the increase of oil consumption and emissions. If the sensor is faulty, DPF regeneration can increase unnecessarily leading to the shortening of the DPF lifespan.

Cambiare covers a range of applications within its portfolio of lambda sensors and EGTS. Stocking more than 100 EGTS and 500 lambda sensors, they are available from FPS via same/next-day delivery.

Posted in CAT Features, Factor & Supplier News, Garage News, News, SensorsComments (0)

THREE WAYS TECH COULD BE KILLING BUSINESS

THREE WAYS TECH COULD BE KILLING BUSINESS

Technology can help businesses achieve their growth objectives, but it can also create problems. Is your business suffering?

It’s certainly an exciting time to be working in the automotive sector as the various takeovers, mergers and private finance deals in these pages will testify. However, change brings challenges as well as opportunities. Technology can help businesses achieve their growth objectives, but it can also create problems. In fact, your organisation could already be suffering from some potentially fatal issues that aware of. As tech moves at such a pace, it is almost impossible to keep track of every problem.

A piece of software, for example, may no longer be operating properly, but the faults go unnoticed because no one uses it regularly. This can go on for years and, all the while, you’re still paying for it.

If you want to ride out the wave of profitability hitting the industry, you need to identify any existing technology problems within your business – from how digital is influencing workplace culture to more specific IT infrastructure issues – and sort them out fast.

Here are three of the most common issues affecting organisations operating in the aftermarket and beyond, as well as some suggestions on how you can solve them quickly and cleverly.

WORKBOOK
The fear of missing out (known in horrible management jargon as ‘FOMO’), plagues many workplaces and across all industries. People need to stay constantly in the loop and this is made possible with easy access to mobiles. Unfortunately, employee productivity suffers in the process. According to a phone insurance company, the average Brit spends 23 days a year using their smartphone – which is more than most annual leave allowances!

Some businesses react strongly to this problem and ban the use of personal mobile phones or social media platforms during work hours. The downside of such an extreme policy is that it damages an employer’s reputation and good workers will soon start to look elsewhere for job opportunities.

The truth is, where there’s a will, there’s a way. A social media ban is almost impossible to enforce and will require many more resources to manage. Instead, take a more strategic approach and encourage your employees to use these platforms to build better relationships with customers. More and more salespeople are using Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to successfully reach customers. This tactic is known as ‘social selling’ and it involves sharing business-relevant content to attract leads and engage directly with existing and prospective customers.

DATA SILOS
Data ‘silos’ are the death of business intelligence. If your marketing, finance, HR and sales departments all use different software systems to house and manage their data, then you have a serious silo problem. This separation of customer and company information within one organisation inhibits collaboration and creates a disconnected customer experience.

When departments are working against each other, it’s impossible to achieve common business goals.

An example of this sort of inefficiency is when the sales team can’t access the marketing team’s campaign results to identify new lead opportunities. Or, when the marketing team contacts a prospective customer with irrelevant material because they can’t view the sales pipeline.

Data silos are very bad for business and, unfortunately, very common. Your business needs one system and a uniformed process to manage its data. As soon as any information is updated, the change must be immediately visible to all internal stakeholders.

A consolidated information ‘bank’ improves collaboration and efficiency, and ensures that all departments have access to correct data.

Your company is very likely gathering significant amounts of new information daily. This data is a valuable commodity, but the longer you leave it stored in silos, the less it’s worth. Fresh data doesn’t stay fresh forever. Make sure you have a master system in place when you de-silo your data. With unique identifiers for each account, data integration will be painless and important information will remain rich and relevant.

OUTDATED SOFTWARE
Technology could be described as ‘here today, gone tomorrow’. Many popular devices and software systems are outdated within a year or two. The only way businesses within the aftermarket can keep up is to audit their technology regularly. The market moves quickly and some of your competitors are just as fast – a good spring-clean will help you stay one step ahead.

You may be surprised to learn that some of the systems you run have been discontinued and therefore no longer qualify for update or maintenance support. Employees may also have stopped using certain packages that are no longer relevant – yet you’re still paying for them.

Outdated or irrelevant legacy software puts your business at risk and increases running costs. The longer you delay updating your software, the more expensive it becomes to maintain, improve or expand the technology. Experts like to stay up-to-date with new systems, so old software is made more cumbersome by the lack of people who understand how to manage it.

Take time to review your current software and hardware. Assess your company’s technologies and determine what works and what doesn’t. Find out what processes are improving efficiency within your organisation and which ones aren’t. To really work out how technology is helping or hurting your business, you also need to get input from all your staff, especially the end-users.

To prevent technology from killing your business, you need to make it work for you. It’s no good just adopting the latest software packages every time they’re released – what technologies will help you achieve your objectives best? In a highly competitive market like the automotive aftermarket, the right technology can keep your employees engaged and motivated, and help you improve your profits and productivity in the process.

Posted in CAT Know-How, Factor & Supplier News, Garage News, NewsComments (0)

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