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AUTOZONE MOVES TO NEW PREMISES

Downpatrick site for factor

Following several months of building work, Autozone Car Parts has moved into its new 9,000 sq ft premises in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

The site is five times larger than its predecessor housing four vans that deliver within a 20 miles radius. A retail area has also been built into the front of the motor factor to entice more trade customers into the store.

“We took the opportunity to also rebrand Autozone, acquiring a new logo which features throughout the new premises, on staff uniform and vans”, said Owner Stevie Vaughan, concluding, “None of this would have been possible without the support of our many suppliers, whom we hope to involve in our open week events in early 2018, the staff and of course our customer base.”

The Northern Ireland-based factor is not to be confused with the giant U.S chain of the same name.

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VOLVO INVESTS IN £6MILLION TRAINING FACILITY

Volvo’s Daventry premises

A new Training and Development Centre has been opened by Volvo Car UK, following a recruitment drive to employ 300 new technicians into its dealer network by 2020.

The Daventry-based premises comes as a £6m investment that will offer year round training for Volvo staff and its retail network. To support this, the site contains a 16-vehicle bay workshop, accompanied with a spacious auditorium and classrooms featuring remote video and web-based technologies for supporting off-site and online training. In addition, the centre is equipped to assist technicians with servicing electric and autonomous vehicles.

The launch will help streamline the firm’s operations including its new Volvo Retail Experience (VRE) and Volvo Personal Service (VPS) retail initiatives as Jon Wakefield, Managing Director of Volvo Car UK, highlights: “I’m very proud of our new training facility, which represents a significant commitment to both our operations in Daventry and our retailer network throughout the country.

“The site is a fitting accompaniment to Volvo’s transformation into a true premium car brand that is a technological leader, as well as the big improvements we are
introducing to the customer experience.” The dealership is already hosting training programmes for its new XC40 premium compact SUV that will appear in UK retailers early this year. The full list of courses can be accessed via Volvo’s website (volvocars.com).

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ARE CLASSIC OILS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY?

There is growth in the classic oil market, but it is an overcrowded area

i-Sint formulation

Buying oil is an ever more complex process for modern vehicles, so don’t you just long for the days when there was a choice of about three?

Well, there is a section of the market that caters just for classic cars (and by ‘classic’, we mean anything from the straight weight oils of the veteran and vintage eras, right up to the high-detergent multigrades used in the late 1990s). Oddly, as demand for volume of older oil grades such as 10w40 decreases, the number of brands available has actually increased. It is also one of the few areas in the lubes market where a high percentage of sales go to DIYers rather than to the trade, so retail visibility is important.

Old brands, long out of circulation have been revived during the year just passed, notably Veedol and Duckhams. The latter being produced under new ownership as a private consortium bought the brand from BP, though at the time of writing, the only way to get your hands on a can is to mail order it from the brand’s website.

Traditional brands have got a lot of cache among older motorists, but a name isn’t the only reason that consumers would choose one brand over another. Indeed, there is plenty to suggest that the market for this type of product is oversupplied.“The temptation is to think there’s always room for one more brand, but there have been some spectacular failures in recent years where people have assumed they can carve a niche and found that it’s much harder than they thought” said Guy Lachlan, a Director of Bicester-based retailer Classic Oils.“Kroon Oils was one that didn’t work in the UK, and the Shell X100 brand tried to come back but hasn’t really made the leap into the mainstream yet.”

TOUGH OLD TIMER
Others concur that the old-timer segment is tough to crack. “The classic market all told is relatively small, so we are noticing a degree of increased competition, oversupply and also margin squeeze” said Tony Lowe, Sales Director at Brighouse-based Millers Oils. Interestingly, both Millers and Classic Oils have found a significant market for direct sales via the internet, something that would have seemed unlikely even a few years ago. “Online is the big driver for this range,” said Lowe. “Our own web shop via the Millers website has been key in driving sales forward.”

Penrite oil

However, the assurance of modern quality also goes a long way according to Adam Young, a Field Sales rep for lube supplier MotoWorld which imports ENI and Agip into the UK, both long- standing brands featuring the fire- breathing six- legged dog. “The oil market in general, is very crowded, but Penrite oil we believe there is a space for ENI” he said. “The products are fully certified to the latest ACEA, API and JASO and manufacturer standards so consumers can be certain they’re receiving the best quality possible from our oils.” As you might expect, all of the suppliers that we spoke to said that the message of quality was something that any consumer working on their pride and joy would take to heart, however other aspects of the marketing message differed. Millers’ Lowe said that the ‘Made in Britain’ tag was important to its customers, while Classic Oils’ Lachlan makes the point that it is easier for brands that were originally mentioned in the handbook, which must be good news for the likes of Castrol.

RETAIL IS DETAIL
When selling directly to consumers, ‘retail is detail’ as the old saying goes. However, how much difference does retro- styled packaging really make? “Packaging does have an effect on retail sales as the product has to firstly catch the consumers eye if they are unfamiliar with the brand” said Young.

Putting oil into traditional metal tins and using a design based on a 1950s logo has certainly paid off for Millers. “Since rebranding, sales of the Millers Classic range have enjoyed double digit growth in terms of revenue” Tony Lowe confirmed.

Conversely, Lachlan makes the point that product recollection is extremely important. “People tend to be looking for a familiar design rather than a ‘good’ one” he said. “We have seen clever rebrandings actually damage sales because customers don’t recognise it as being the same as their trusted product.”

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EXERCISING CAUTION WHEN HANDLING COMPLAINTS

No matter what industry you work in, there will come a time when you receive a complaint based upon the services or goods you have provided.

Unfortunately, the automotive industry is no exception, and it can be easy to see such complaints as an unjustified attack on your company’s good reputation. In the heat of the moment, aggrieved business owners can jump to the defence of their company, engaging in a war of words with the complainant.

According to Gemma Carson, Head of Dispute Resolution at law firm Wright Hassall, they could do more harm than good: “Naturally, business owners can feel like they have a duty to protect their employees, and without thinking, fire back with an angrily worded email, expressing their displeasure with the original complaint.

“When emotions are running high, it is easy to get involved in a heated debate about the rights and wrongs, mistakes and failures, or actions and inactions of one party or another. It is at this point that things can escalate quickly and easily get out of control.

“The most serious issues can occur when promises or threats are made without due consideration given to any existing contractual agreements between the two parties.

“To reduce the risk of worsening the situation, there is plenty that can be done and it should start with a careful consideration of the content of the complaint. The pressure may be on, but take your time and ensure you make no commitments and no threats.

“Allow yourself time to properly cool down before sending a response, as emails sent while emotions are still running high have a nasty habit of biting back later down the line. “Instead, begin by drafting your email and save it to your ‘virtual mantelpiece’. This will give you time to review the situation and think carefully about what you want to say, instead of hitting back with a knee-jerk reaction.

“It is also important to check whether a service agreement and/or a contract exists between the parties. You should read any agreements carefully and check what they actually contain.“With an agreement in place, you may be able to respond to the complaint by highlighting any relevant contractual terms that may help you manage the situation.

DON’T IGNORE
“When dealing with a complaint, it is important to be proactive. By acting quickly, you can help diffuse the situation without the need for any legal involvement.

“Personal, face-to-face meetings will often help resolve issues before they can escalate. It is best to either raise the matter directly or if you suspect it to be more serious, to seek legal advice before you make contact.

“If it does feel serious, you should ensure you retain all of the relevant information relating to the complaint, including documents, correspondence and any products or specimen products from the same batch. It can help if you carry out and document any inspections of equipment or machinery.

GET HELP
“Seeking legal advice early on does not necessarily mean a serious legal dispute has arisen.

“Dispute resolution advice is very effective when delivered soon after the complaint is received, but your lawyers do not need to take an active role in the issue. They can offer strategic legal guidance focused on resolving complaint situations and diffusing potential disputes, whilst preserving the commercial position for the future.

“The most important legal factor to remember is that making a rash statement or taking a knee- jerk decision to stop providing your services or products, by sending that angry e-mail draft without first putting it on the virtual mantelpiece, may cause a serious breach of contract.

“If nothing else you risk a serious argument and potentially a threat of injunctive proceedings. In simple terms, a breach of contract can entitle the party affected by it to terminate the contract and then bring legal proceedings against you for damages.

“For this reason, sending that inflammatory e-mail without firstconsideringthe consequences could be a huge mistake that ends up costing time and money, both of which could be better spent managing or growing the business.

“Finally, where parties have become so embroiled that legal proceedings are not only threatened, but seem the only option, choose to work with experienced lawyers who understand commercial disputes and demonstrate a commitment to reaching an early, commercial and cost- effective resolution” concluded Carson.

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ASA FINDS BMW AD ‘MISLEADING’

BMW i3 model

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against BMW regarding a paid-for Facebook post, which featured a video claiming its i3 model contained ‘zero emissions’ in the voice-over and subtitles on screen.

The complainant challenged whether the claim: “With zero emissions, the i3 is a clean car and helps to give back to the environment” could be ‘substantiated’.

BMW (UK) responded saying that its i3 vehicle came in one model with the addition of a ‘range extender’ as an option. The firm said this comprised of a small petrol engine that didn’t drive the car unlike hybrid versions and instead, maintained the state of the charge of the battery, allowing the car to run purely on electric. In addition, BMW told the advertising watchdog that the reference to ‘clean car’ ‘should have been interpreted in the same manner as when consumers compare an electric car to their previous petrol ones as electric versions are considered better for the environment.

Despite the VM’s evidence, the ASA found this ad breached the rules, because it does still have a petrol engine, albeit one that isn’t connected to the drivetrain.

“We noted that BMW considered the statement was meant as a comparison between buying an electric car and buying a petrol car rather than not buying a car at all. However, we did not consider that this was sufficiently clear in the ad and concluded that the claim was misleading,” the ASA said in a statement.

The ad cannot appear again in its current form and has told BMW to ensure its environmental claims in relation to all-electric vehicles are clear in the future.

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LIQUI MOLY ACQUIRED BY WÜRTH GROUP

A deal has been struck by German lube producer Würth Group to acquire Liqui Moly.

Würth Group has owned shares in the Ulm-based company for some years. Now, Managing Partner Ernst Prost has agreed to sell his controlling share in the company, effective January 1s subject to the usual regulatory approvals.  

Following the sale, Würth has said that Liqui Moly will continue to operate as an autonomous company with an independent brand in the Group. Prost will remain with Liqui Moly as joint MD, sharing the role with the firm’s long-standing Head of Sales, Günter Hiermaier.

Liqui Moly has sponsored Team Engstler for years

Peter Zürn, Deputy Chairman of the Central Managing Board of the Würth Group said: “We are proud that this successful and established brand, which is known for its outstanding reputation and great dynamics, will enrich the portfolio of the Würth Group. Our objective is the sustained successful development of Liqui Moly in the future. This is why we will continue to put our faith in the entrepreneurial expertise of Ernst Prost, just as we have done in the past 20 years as a silent partner at Liqui Moly”.

From Prost’s perspective it will be business as usual: “Those who know me know that my employees are my focus,” he said. “After all, it would be foolish to change anything about the road to success over the past few years. Everything will continue just as before – just under a bigger roof that offers greater protection.

In fiscal year 2016, Liqui Moly generated sales of approximately EUR 500 million with 800 employees.

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AAG ACQUIRE FAST PARTS WALES AND MORE

Newport-based factor chain Fast Parts Wales and Peterborough-based Hereward Car and Truck Components are among a list of businesses acquired by Alliance Automotive Group in the last quarter.

Fast Parts Wales is a three branch light vehicle factor business based in South Wales with depots in Abercarn, Cwmbran & Tredegar.  The business was started around 25 years ago by the Travis family and the deal also includes the FastRads cooling system business based in Abercarn. The annual sales are around £9m and prior to the acquisition the business was a member of AAG’s GROUPAUTO buying group.

Hereward Car and Truck Components is another family run business, started in 1983 by the Saddington family. The two-branch factor was a member of the IFA buying group prior to the acquisition by AAG. Annual sales have been around £2.8m.

Single branch factors Macclesfield Motor Factors, DMFX (Darlington) and GD Components (Anglesey) have also been acquired by AAG.

There’s more info in the January issue of CAT Magazine.

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GETTING A NEW ANGLE ON SAXON

Claire Seymour shows us some fast-moving products at a brand distributor in Hungerford

POS with current range

As is often the case in Aftermarket Lives visits, I’m admiring a warehouse, but if the truth be told it is probably the least interesting thing about the company that I’m visiting today (though it does have an exceptionally low roof height, which is due to planning restrictions in a residential area, apparently).

What is interesting is the products distributed by Saxon. By our count, the firm distributes 27 brands and hundreds of different products to chain stores and supermarkets, independent retailers and garage forecourts and online vendors alike. Most of the brands are distributed on behalf of other compnies, but some of the names, such as Sakura and Metro Products are wholly owned by Saxon.

With that in mind, it seemed like a good place to come to find out what products are trending and what belongs in the bargain bin. The answer, as I found out, is a little more traditional than you might think.

TREE GROWTH
Curiously, given that hardly anybody smokes in their vehicle these days, the humble air freshener is still the best selling product by volume in the warehouse and by far the best selling brand is Little Trees (nee Magic Tree) which despite the updated name, and slightly more realistic outline of an evergreen, is still essentially the same product that was invented in 1952.

That said, there are dozens of fragrances with names such as ‘Silly Citrus’ and ‘Summer Cotton’ to give the product a novelty each season. However, as Saxon’s Commercial and Products Manager Clair Seymour tells u it is the most traditional scents such as ‘Vanillaroma’ and ‘Black Ice’ that make up the majority of sales, with another long-standing product called ‘New Car Scent’ coming in third place. This struck us as curious – after all, who wants their car smelling of the glues and plastics that give new cars their distinctive smell?

Nonetheless, thousands are packed and shipped out to retailers from the Hungerford depot each day. Some like the contents of the boxes to be mixed, others like them with one ‘flavour’ at a time, while some clients like the trees to be pre- packed into quantities of three or six, which makes them more suitable for online retail. Saxon has done a supply deal with Amazon and the tech giant has a button that allows the consumer an option to ‘subscribe’ to have a regular delivery of a six-pack of Trees automatically sent in the post.

GUARD DOG
Sakura is a traditional accessory shop brand, which since becoming a wholly-owned Saxon brand has adopted a uniform brand identity and packaging style. This is good, because accessories as diverse as car vacuums, wheel trims and luggage straps are sold under the same brand.

Today the brand also offers a lot of light in-car tech: think of USB chargers, power inverters, FM transmitters and the like. The best selling line is none of these though: Indeed, it is a new version of a very old product that is delighting retailers this season, namely a dog guard. The guard differs from others, because it clips on to the head restraint supports on the back seat, rather than being a push-fit. On our visit, there were pallets full of these guards, which along with the related boot liner kit are doing big business for the firm. “It’s amazing the amount we are selling of these guards” said Seymour, explaining that the company looked at how it could improve the design following customer feedback.

OLD SCHOOL
Perhaps one of the most curious examples of a product thought to be obsolete is Stoplock. The bright yellow steel bar was an effective if unsubtle way of stopping joyriders stealing 1980s- era cars. However, the introduction of radio chip keys
made the Stoplock feel like a very twentieth century product, and in line with vehicle thefts, sales volumes declined sharply.

For a while, it looked like the existing stock POS with current range would be run down and the product quietly dropped, but something remarkable happened. A spate of thefts where criminals had managed to steal BMWs by hacking the OBD port led police in the West Midlands to advise motorists with high-end vehicles to start using such a lock.

“It is surprising trend” said Seymour, “But vehicle thefts have increased 12 percent since 2015, reversing years of decline and people were asking for a physical deterrent”.

Sales went up as people, understandably wanted to keep their car safe. Sales received a further boost when another group of wrongdoers worked out how to clone key fobs by using a weak radio signal when in close proximity. This led the company to retool and introduce new products that could fit over the bulge of the airbag on some luxury 4x4s. The company also introduced a neat black carry case to hide the lock in.

There are any number of new options one can have when ordering a new car, but for now it seems that the traditional products are the best.

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WINTER BLUES? GET READY FOR SPRING TIME

New apps and wider distribution make for a better future for spring stockists. CAT Ed Greg Whitaker reports. 

Heavy rollers

As this month’s topic is springs, we thought we’d get on the road to visit two different spring suppliers to find out what they do first hand.

CZECH FACTORY
Our first visit was all the way to the Czech Republic to see the European production facility of KYB. Situated outside the town of Pardubice, two plants produce both coil springs and dampers. Established in 2003, the plants enjoyed large extensions a few years ago, allowing the spring factory to push 2.2m coils springs through the goods out door every year. The capacity is set to rise as extensions built on both plants in the last few years give the company room to grow.

We had a long tour of the spring factory and were fascinated to see how great machines twist bar into springs, which are then tempered and shot-peened before being laser etched and electrostatically coated. On our visit, the products being produced were being made with taper wire, although side- loading (banana) springs and other designs are also produced in the facility. Shot- peening with the correct medium is apparently critical

in producing a strong spring. Units from factories that haven’t been through this process, or have been blasted with the wrong medium can be a third weaker than those that have been correctly produced.

KYB hasn’t been slacking in investing in new technology. While were were in Pardubice we learnt about a new app, which unusually is for garages to show to customers. The app, named Suspension Solutions, is split into two parts. Part one is to help the technician explain to the motorist what issues have been identified with their vehicle’s suspension and which components need to be replaced. It sends the driver a text message with links to video clips which explain the dangers and risks associated with worn shock absorbers, coil springs, mounting and protection components. Part two is for showing the completed repair which a garage has carried out on a customer’s vehicle. It can send a text message to the driver with a before and after photo of the work carried out.

While the app can be viewed on the customer’s phone, garages will also be sent a type of VR headset, which is simply
a frame in which a phone slots in to. The end result is astonishingly good, and an interesting way of involving the customer in the work.

YORKSHIRE HUB
Meanwhile, we were interested to visit Lesjofors’ new facility in Huddersfield. The firm was keen to get its logistics based from one site, and so constructed this site measuring 65,000 sq ft situated right near the motorway network.

On CAT, we love a good warehouse and were fascinated to see how the design allowed use of the full height of the building, which left room for future expansion. Both Kilen and Lesjofors brand springs are stocked in the warehouse (Kilen was acquired by the parent in 1996) and leaf springs, gas struts for boots and bonnets, as well as sports lowering packs
are stocked alongside the regular coil springs.

Slightly less centrally located, the firm has a UK factory in Cornwall. It produced road springs under the Kilen springs brand, while other production takes place in Sweden where both companies originated. The factory doesn’t just produce car springs – indeed, it will produce to order any size and application, ranging from the type of spring found inside a biro, right up to the giant coils found on a mining truck.

Lesjofors has also recently published a phone application. The app allows professional users to search its catalogue by vehicle, with an option to search for country-specific references. You will also be look up technical articles when they’ve been uploaded.

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SUPPLIER UPDATE: WINTER DEALS

New supply deal for Pro-Align

A couple of important supply deals have been signed this month. First, around-the- wheel kit dealer, Pro-Align, has arranged with diagnostic tool maker Texa to supply the latter’s new aftermarket ADAS system. As the wheel alignment company has a contacts book full of past and existing customers in the crash repair and tyre fitting markets, it seems like an obvious add-on.

Pro-Align will also carry Texa’s range of diagnostic equipment.“Texa is pleased to welcome Pro-Align to its’ distribution network, where they are ideally placed to offer a complete service to OE and professional workshops facing the challenges of repairing newer vehicles fitted with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems,” commented Dave Gordon, Texa’s OE and National Accounts Sales Manager.

Meanwhile, Poland-based supplier of new and remanufactured rotating electrics, AS-PL Limited has struck a deal with the Nexus trading group. The brand’s products will be available through factors that buy with the group, initially through Nexus Automotive’s Central Europe representative. Tomasz Kaszubowski VP of AS-PL said: “When joining the Nexus Automotive Central Europe group, we gain not only the ability to share knowledge and mutual experience. At the same time, we can carry out actions that will improve our competitiveness and contribute to satisfying our customers’ needs.”

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