Archive | Jim Foster’s Blog

Why CAT editorial will never be mortgaged by advertising

There is one subject I really want to talk about – and that is the shady issue of ‘buying’ editorial in trade magazines.

One very important point I would like to make at the outset is this:

None of the editorial in CAT is ever linked to advertising content.

None is compromised by being linked to advertising spend.

None is ever seen by advertisers before going to print.


Our editorial content is, therefore, completely  independent, a fact that’s an integral part of our brand’s credentials.

In fact, if I even so much as suggest a subject for our editor to write about, or a company to include in editorial, she puts on what I call her ‘cross face’!

“I decide editorial content,” she rightly says. “Not the publisher. Not the sales team.”

Our editorial is not for sale

As such, unlike some trade mags out there, you cannot ‘buy’ editorial space in CAT by placing an advert.

If we say something about someone, write a critique of a company or praise a product, it’s because it’s genuine and absolutely not as the result of an advert that’s appeared elsewhere in the magazine.

Of course, other publications are free to run their businesses in whatever way they like.

But in my view, it should be made crystal clear to readers in titles where selling editorial occurs that this is the case.

Readers have a right to know that the supposed ‘editorial’ content they are looking at might only be there because of a commercial deal undertaken with the company that’s being written about.

And therefore it should, perhaps, be labelled as ‘advertorial’.

Why people read CAT

I’d like to think that people read CAT because they want to, because they enjoy it and get something from it. We’re regularly told we are market leaders in terms of editorial quality, which pleases us greatly because that’s what we strive for.

We want our subscribers to pick up CAT and actually read it when it comes through their letterbox.

And this in turn gives our advertisers better value for their hard-earned marketing spend. We want them to know that people will be reading CAT. That our subscribers want to read CAT.

We don’t just dump batches of 300 copies with a factor to deliver to some garages sometimes.

Over 99% of our readership is requested. Every one of our readers is on a database. We know who each of them is, even if we can’t share those details with you thanks to data protection laws!

How is editorial chosen?

When editor Emma chooses her cover stories, her news stories and her features, she does so on the basis that what she and her contributors are writing about is of real (and independent) relevance to the trade.

We never mortgage our editorial. Just because you advertise, doesn’t guarantee you an editorial slot. And if you don’t have any marketing spend, we’re not going to say “you won’t get any coverage”.

If you have something good to say, you will get editorial coverage. Regardless.

The result is simple. None of our editorial is commercially biased. Readers know it’s for real. And long may it stay that way!

[Amen – Ed]

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The CAT Awards: what a success!

Foz & Butch in action... Foz: 'I once caught a carp that was THIS big!'

Foz & Butch in action... Foz: 'I once caught a carp that was THIS big!'

And so another CAT Awards event has ended.

Biased though I am, I have to say that it was a brilliant CAT Awards – the first time our Awards had been held as an event in its own right.

This marked a huge step up in significance from handing out a few prizes on the back of our stand at the Aftermarket Show, as had happened in previous years.

We now have an extension to the CAT brand platform that we can be justly proud of: and one that in my opinion will keep on growing.

Awards: The Benefits

There were many plusses to come from the luncheon ceremony. They included the following facts:

  • Over 100 aftermarket personnel attended – we had great support from the trade
  • They included decision makers from some of the industry’s biggest suppliers, buying groups and factors
  • Eight Awards were presented, including six that were decided in their entirety by votes from CAT readers
  • It marked the first time we included the ‘Lifetime Achievement’ and ‘Green Innovation’ categories
  • We raised a total of £842 for BEN thanks to some most generous donations

The downside was that CAT had to feed everyone!

In my naivety, I had budgeted for about a 50-60% take-up on all the invitations I had sent out.

I sent out 120, expecting 60 or so people to say yes. As it happened, 100 people said yes! Which kind of blew my budget out of the water a little.

And created a few nervous moments in the days leading up to the Awards, as the maxmimum number the venue could cater for in our chosen room was 100.

But thanks to some late sponsorship support from Klarius, I managed to get together the extra cash I needed to pay for the whole thing, and generally speaking it all went off without a hitch.

Foz & Butch: The New Ant & Dec

Even the double act that was me and editor Emma Butcher (we did a joint compering job) went well – we seemed to bounce off each other pretty effectively.

So Ant and Dec had best watch out. Foz & Butch are the new double act in town. With Pinewood Studios next door, I wouldn’t be surprised if some TV producers come calling soon.

Seriously, what’s great about the CAT Awards is that they are so organic. What I mean by that is that they are the Aftermarket’s Awards – or your Awards.

CAT is the Aftermarket’s no.1, most established trade title. We’ve been going for over 30 years. Therefore when its 17,000 readers nominate their finalists and vote, people sit up and pay attention.

And this year our readers selected some awesome winners. You’ve probably all read about them by now anyway, but who can argue with Motaquip for Supplier of the Year? Or GMF as our top factor? Or the excellent ABP Motorsport as our top garage?

Or indeed the hard-working Jim Mazza, who as part of the Right to Repair Campaign has done so much for our industry.

UK Aftermarket: Pride

I think what the Awards also show is how innovative, strong, creative and friendly our industry is.

That there are some brilliant independent garages, businesses, suppliers and distributors out there that collectively are a credit to the IAM.

I for one am proud to be a part of it.

And I am proud to be a servant of it through CAT: the aftermarket’s longest-standing trade magazine, now with the aftermarket’s most prestigious Awards.

Make sure you nominate and vote for the 2011 Awards!

 Finally, a big thank you to the following people without whom none of the above would have been possible: 

  • Sarah Hossack – Haymarket Events
  • The CAT team
  • John Stanton for a walk into Aftermarket history in his speech (which involved lots of booze stories!)
  • All our sponsors – Haynes, Nulon, Klarius, ECP, Corteco, Denso, Motaquip and Castrol
  • The Lensbury for its excellent service
  • Everyone who contributed towards the goody bags – Nulon, UK Batteries, Saxon etc
  • The Nulon girls – including Sun page 3 girl Katie Leigh – in their tight CAT suits!
  • To the Aftermarket for its support. With your help, we can make these Awards something really special

We even had some page 3 girls... Courtesy of Start Ya Bastard!

We even had some page 3 girls... Courtesy of Start Ya Bastard!













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Just what does a CAT publisher do?

If ever a picture summed up a publisher's role...

If ever a picture summed up a publisher's role...

When people ask me what I do for a living, and I reply that I am a publisher, the next question is usually “what do publishers actually do?”

It’s a good question, perhaps because there isn’t an easy one-line answer I can give that sums it all up. There are too many facets to the job.

I guess the simple response is to say this: that my main duty is to ensure CAT is well run and makes money.

Publishing CAT magazine means I have responsibilities across just about every area of the business, including:

  • Planning the brand’s long-term business strategy
  • Building relationships with key clients
  • Writing budgets and monitoring the monthly accounts
  • Putting together bespoke campaigns for bigger clients – Denso and ECP, for example
  • Organising our Awards
  • Selling bespoke sponsorships for the Awards
  • Managing the business side of the website

From time to time, editor Emma even lets me do the occasional bit of editorial, both in the mag and online: I actually wrote half of our 30th anniversary special supplement back in June, which was fantastic as it taught me so much about the history of our industry.

Often, there can be so many little projects on the go at once, that I get into the office and don’t really know which one I should be concentrating on.

When I first arrived at Haymarket, one of my colleagues on What Car? magazine said that publishing was very much like trying to keep a dozen spinning plates in the air at the same time, and not allowing them to fall down and smash on the floor.

It was a decent analogy. That’s exactly what publishing a magazine can be like at times, even one as relatively small as CAT.

But I love it. So there!

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My Good Garage Experience

Rob gets to work - to replace a speed sensor on my offside rear tyre

Rob gets to work - to replace a speed sensor on my offside rear tyre

I had a rather pleasurable experience yesterday.

Before you start thinking too deeply as to what this means, I’d better explain.

Yesterday (Tuesday November 3rd) I had my car MOT’d and serviced by a rather good independent garage – TJ Hall & Son, who are based on the outskirts of Oxford.

Members of both Motor Codes and the Good Garage Scheme, I believe they represent how an independent garage should be run.

Hence my MOT and service was a pleasurable affair, rather than the ‘not-sure-if-I-might-have-been-conned’ type experience most of us have had in the past.


Before I extol their virtues, I should say that I have always been a keen exponent of the independent garage.

This was true long before I took the reins at the publishing helm of CAT.

My last job was based on an industrial estate in Daventry.

Just around the corner was a garage called A&S Refinishing, who were superb. But why? Well…

  1. The technicians there would, for no extra cost, give me basic car maintenance help
  2. If I wanted advice, they’d give it happily
  3. They offered excellent service and knowledge for much less than you’d pay at a dealer

In short, A&S – like TJ Hall & Son – offered everything that is good about the indy garage trade.

But since moving jobs almost three years ago, I’ve struggled to find somewhere as good near my new home.

In fact, two of the local garages to me, were pretty poor in terms of customer service, as I have written about in this blog before.


So when I met Rob Hall in January 2009 at the CAT Awards, I had a chat with him.

He’d just been voted our Technician of the Year and said: “Bring your car along to us then next time it needs something doing.”

So I did yesterday; for my Beemer’s MOT and a small pre-winter check-up.

And I enjoyed the experience. For the first time since I used A&S, I had found a garage that was perfect for me. This was because…

  1. …Rob explained clearly everything he was doing, both during the MOT test and afterwards when he was doing the work required for it to pass
  2. The pricing policy was clear and very fair
  3. Customer service was obviously a priority – I was well looked after, everyone was friendly

Sceptics among you may well say that this is because I work for CAT.

Well, I don’t think that’s the case. I was charged the same amount for the same work that anyone would get charged. I got treated the same as other clients.

Other cars were being repaired too.

These were cars that had been picked up that morning at their owners’ work places, driven to the garage, and at the end of the day would be dropped back again when the work was finished.

All FOC as part of the service.

Now that’s not bad. The customer clearly comes first.

Another thing I liked about TJ Hall – and A&S – was that they give their customers options and explain clearly what the different options mean.

Like on oil.

“There wouldn’t be any point putting a top-end oil into one of the battered Peugeots the youngsters round here drive,” said Rob.

So when it came to paying the bill at the end of my visit, it was actually a pleasure to do so.

I knew what I was paying for and I knew I had got value for money.

Dealerships had better watch out: if TJ Hall and A&S are anything to go by, the independents are getting their act together!


Finally, I had better mention that all the garages nominated in this year’s Garage of the Year category are first class.

Dakar, who won it last year, are simply excellent – and I would recommend them, along with ABP Motorsport, Automotive Diagnostic Solutions, Complete Car Maintenance and JAZ Porshe, very highly too.

So get voting… should you have a favourite, of course!

Rob's sister Sarah: she's the brains behind the admin at TJ Hall. She also looks after customers

Rob's sister Sarah: she's the brains behind the admin at TJ Hall. She also looks after customers

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Equip Auto 2009: Publisher’s Report

I’ve just got back from the Equip Auto show in Paris and I am pleased to report that it seemed rather buoyant.

Having visited various stands, there were players out there who definitely benefited from the outlay of cash required to exhibit.

They went with a sound plan, clear objectives and did some very good business as a result.

Here are top five companies I saw (in no particular order):

1 Corteco 

Out of everyone exhibiting, I spent the most time on the Corteco stand.

Sceptics among you will think was due to their free coffee, biscuits, champagne and beer. Or the hostess serving them.

Okay I admit it, the former was an attraction, but it was also fascinating talking to Steve Jarnett and his German boss Reiner Martsfeld about their whole operation.

You can tell when a company is going places from the passion exuded by its employees, and that was definitely the case here.

Both men oozed passion. As long as they – and their team - stay in place, they are a company to watch out for in the next year or two.

And b*gger me wasn’t their stand busy with deals being done.

2 Suplex

Another company that will be making inroads into the UK aftermarket in 2010 is Suplex.

Owned by Andrew Graham (who has worked in some guise or other for Suplex since the mid-1990s) their slick and detailed sales pitches were backed up by a top-dollar product.

I never thought that the whole business of suspension springs was that important (or indeed interesting), but Andrew deonstrated that I was wrong on both counts.

Their tapered springs looked market leaders.

I have no doubt that garages up and down the country will be fitting them to customers’ cars in greater numbers than ever next year.

As with Corteco, the Suplex stand was crazily busy. Always a good sign.

3 Autologic Diagnostics

I am not including these guys because they sponsored our Show Guide.

Instead, it’s because they had a great diagnostic product on show, aimed at independent garages.

I’ve never seen a diagnostic machine in action before, but they had one they were showing off.

It even had a name – DES. Not only did DES look good but he was easy to use, too.

If something went wrong with my Beemer, even I would stand a fighting chance of diagnosing the problem with DES on my side!

I’d love to say I had a long meeting with Karen Poffley, but it had to be a fleeting ‘hello’ as she was inundated with people wanting to do business.

I was delighted that that was the case. It’s just what we like to see.

4 BM Catalysts

Meeting Helen Lumley of BMC was good too. We’d spoken a lot on the phone before, but not actually met.

She wasn’t as I’d expected – she was a lot younger!

Helen explained BMC’s strategy for the show to me and editor Emma, while also running us through the products.

Again, there were top-notch products on show from a company that is passionate about the aftermarket.

5 Denso

While I didn’t meet up with anyone on the Denso stand (it seemed to be Denso Europe rather than Denso UK) their new, expanded product ranges were on show and creating a lot of interest.

This is another company shaking the aftermarket up with significant investment and marketing budgets: nexst year will be a big one for them.

So those would be my top five ‘star companies’ of the show.

If you were exhibitting or went and you disagree, let me know. I only had a day-and-a-a-half there so couldn’t get to see everyone.

But all those I did speak to or see seemed to be reporting a successful show.

The mood was buoyant. And that can only bode well for the Aftermarket as 2009 draws to a close.

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It’s CAT Awards Time

Cover_Awards_CoverI hear that my ability to link remanufacturing to Girls Aloud in my last blog created some hilarity in the trade – good! I’m just glad people are reading some of the stuff I’m writing.

Okay, I’m afraid this blog is a little more serious and business-orientated that the last one.

Well I guess it had to be really, I am CAT’s publisher after all!

What I want to do is promote our January Awards Ceremony and invite you to attend. Because next year, for the very first time, our Awards will be an event in its own right. So I want to make sure they go down really well.

We’ll be holding them in Teddington, in the Lensbury Hotel and Conference Centre next to the CAT offices in Teddington.

The big day is Friday January 22nd. So get that date in your diaries. Here are some Awards facts:

  • They will be presented during a luncheon
  • Those attending will need to turn up at midday – proceedings should be finished by 3pm
  • All nominated finalists will be invited to attend FOC
  • Seven Awards in all will be presented, see our Awards page
  • First 40 invitees to confirm attendance will also get lunch on us

So, if you want to come, send me an email – and register your interest.

The CAT Awards are unique in that it is our readers who decide the nominees and then vote for the winners, so they are worth supporting as they are genuinely the industry’s awards.

Enough from me. I’m now going to go back to my work thinking of my lovely trip to Ireland last week, where I went fishing for salmon and sea trout.

While I didn’t catch any salmon, I did manage a good few sea trout in a place called Connemara – the scenary was magnificent.

It was just a shame about the economy over there. And we think we have it bad! The Irish have it 10 times worse, as abandoned building sites, closed businesses and ghost-streets in some towns testified.

At least the Guinness remained as good as ever, though!

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Remanufacturing: it’s interesting!

Remanufacturing is interesting. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write, say, utter, whisper or even think.Products_Alternator2[1]

But it is – genuinely! – interesting.

I say this following a meeting and lengthy lunch with one of the world’s leading experts in remanufacturing, Michael Flensborg, of Remy Automotive UK.


I enjoy lunching with CAT’s clients. This is especially the case when you get on with them and have a good time, talking about stuff in addition to pure business. Editor Emma Butcher and I both felt that we ‘clicked’ with Michael, and his marketing manager, Maureen Cole.

Passion for remanufacture

It was obvious from the outset that both are passionate about their area of the industry. So much so that, in Michael’s case, he commutes every week from his home in Malmo, Sweden, to Remy HQ in Lichfield.

Crazy bugger.

Or maybe not… Closer questioning revealed that it only takes him an hour longer to get to work door-to-door on a Monday morning from Malmo than it takes Emma Butcher to get to the CAT office in Teddington from her home in Shooters Hill.

Which is more crazy?

Both Michael and Maureen also know their stuff inside out. By the end of lunch, I knew all about ‘core’, the remanufacture process, about Remy’s factories in Hungary and Tunisia, and how OE quality can be achieved through remanufacture.

I also learned that doing aftermarket  business in Russia is problematic for Remy.

This is because the old Ruskies won’t send their used alternators back  (incidentally, don’t bother typing the words ‘Russia’ and ‘remanufacture’ into Google. Instead of alternators and starter motors, you get pages about warhead remanufacture, nuclear terrorism and various other horrors)!

Girls Aloud: and hybrid motors

On a lighter note, I discovered too how Maureen’s husband has a penchant for Girls Aloud following a trip to Wembley to see them live, supporting Coldplay. Me too!

My fave is Nadine, with Cheryl coming in a close second. I didn’t ask Maureen which girl her hubby liked best, thought it best not to.

As lunch progressed, Michael revealed that Remy International Inc is also leading the way when it comes to manufacture and supply of OE and OE-quality parts for hybrid cars, specifically hybrid electric motors.

In the US, Remy has even been awarded a government grant to ‘establish a standardized platform of hybrid electric motors and controls’.

While we’re not seeing too many hybrids enter the UK aftermarket as yet, you can be guaranteed that they will be getting onto garage forecourts in the next few years in more and more numbers.


But the beauty of the aftermarket is how it adapts to changes like this. We have seen it over years gone by, we’ll see it again.

We are working in one of the most durable and innovative industries there is. People need to think ahead to survive.

Remy is a company doing just that: as hybridisation and green motoring become more prominent, so will the name Remy.

I’m looking forward to working with Remy in the near future. It’s a company going places. And remanufacturing, hey? Who would have thought I would have enjoyed talking about it so much!

Girls Aloud. Can I remanufacture them please?

Girls Aloud. Can I remanufacture them please?

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Fishing with aftermarket bosses

Big TroutWhile most aftermarket bosses enjoy playing golf, I’d rather go fishing.

Altough I enjoy the odd cheeky nine holes with our digital expert Roger Barr, of Lion Digital (he behind this website) fishing is the sport for me.

I’ve been doing it ever since I was a kid. And for 11 years before joining the CAT team, I was a fishing journalist: working my way up to the position of editor-in-chief at David Hall Publishing: a company that specialises in making fishing magazines.

There are very few species of fish in the UK I haven’t caught. Big carp, trout and salmon; cod, bass, plaice and flouders – I’ve had ’em all, including (and I don’t wish to boast too much…)

  • Carp to 41lb
  • Salmon to 12lb
  • Brown trout to 9lb (pictured above)
  • Rainbow trout to 13lb
  • Sea trout to 5lb
  • Tench to 9lb

So it’s always nice to find out about colleagues in the aftermarket who enjoy wetting a line.

Brian Childs: Natural Fisho

Last year I had the pleasure of taking Brian Childs, of NGK, trout fishing for a day at the Chalk Springs fishery in Sussex.

It soon became obvious that Brian was a natural. Having never been fly fishing before, by the end of the day he was casting a good line and was catching trout freely.

That’s not a mean feat.

Then there’s Tom Stewart, the PR agent for Turtle Wax, who also enjoys hunting trout from time to time.

A1 MotorStores Fishing Trip

And finally, a few weeks back, I discovered that A1 Motorstores’ main man, Derrick Lawton, is a mad-keen fisho as well.

I’d gone up to see Derrick to discuss a supplement we’re going to be producing with A1Ms.

Somehow the conversation got onto fishing: and so it is that Derrick and I are heading south into the Hampshire countryside later this month to sample the delights of Dever Springs, home of monster trout.

I shall be sure to post up any photos of fish caught!

In the meantime, if there are any other budding fishermen out there in the industry that fancy a day’s fishing – or being taught fly fishing – get in touch with me by sending an email to I’d love to hear from you.

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CAT 30th birthday issue: from inception to your letter box

Life working on a magazine isn’t always easy. I’ve spent 13 years in the trade now, in editorial and publishing on consumer and B2B titles. So I should know.

But sometimes, just sometimes, the efforts we put into our trade are well rewarded.

Such was the case with the June issue of CAT, which also marked the brand’s 30th year in existence.

At the start of the year we all knew that here was an opportunity, a chance to create something special that would be kept and remembered for years to come by the industry we serve.

The question was: how would we create that something special?


Back in January the CAT team (consisting of me, Emma, Karen and Martin) sat down in a local pub and talked it through.

Ideas were discussed – some good, some zany.

They ranged from holding a 007 Bond-themed ‘CATsino’ gambling night through to a jaunt on a boat up the Thames and a deep-sea fishing trip out of Brighton.

Eventually, we hatched a plan that we hoped would result in an issue of CAT that would be revered for years to come.

The idea was a simple.

Inside the regular issue of CAT, we’d place a 64-page, bound-in supplement. And in that supplement, we’d look back at the aftermarket in each and every year since CAT’s arrival on the scene in the summer of 1979.

It would become a record of the entire industry in that period, as reported by our predecessors.

Our 30th anniversary issue would be history recorded for posterity; with individual characters, companies, scandals, collapses and successes documented in one place for the very first time.

We would name it, ‘The CAT Chronicles’. Genius.


From a commercial perspective, creating a publication along these lines made sense.

Not only would it be an interesting read for anyone associated with the IAM during the last 30 years, but importantly it made sense commercially, too.

We decided to offer unique sponsorship opportunities for every year, offering clients the chance to write advertorial about their company’s development in a timeframe of their choosing and ‘own’ a year of their choice.

Emma and I became quite excited at the prospect of creating this CAT behemoth. But a few days after we agreed to do it, it became clear to us that, from a workload perspective, we’d created a monster.

But we couldn’t stop now. Initial sales pitches had been made, some agreed. NGK expressed a keen interest in sponsoring the whole thing.

So there was no turning back. Initial feedback we were getting pointed one way: that we were onto a winner.


All this had to be done with no promotional or extra cash.

Budgets were tighter than sales manager Martin Lee’s wallet. We couldn’t hire anyone else to work with us, other than our part-time art editor. We didn’t have the funds.

But what the hell, we were going to do it. We’d smash through the extra workload like a juggernaught ploughing into a Smart car.

We were going to create aftermarket history by recording aftermarket history in one tome: in a way it had never been done before. And that was exciting.

For me, it meant a return to my journalistic routes: writing the supplement as I brokered sponsorship deals with clients, agreed costs with the printers, looked at postage charges and ensured the whole thing didn’t go over budget.

For Emma, it meant writing it as she worked on standard issues of CAT.

For the sales guys, it meant selling deals on an extra platform, trying to eke extra money from clients’ already hard-pressed budgets.


And so it was that, in March,  Ems and I began the job of reviewing 360-odd back issues of CAT, summarising each year’s news and stories into a page or two of editorial.

Often we’d in the office til 9 or 10pm at night, reading through back issues, researching, writing and subbing. Before writing some more, double checking the research and subbing the same pages over and over again.

Many old CAT issues were memorable for the right reasons. Good copy, good stories, interesting news with humour aplenty. There were also pictures of topless women and a sexism that would not wash in the CAT office today.

But many issues were poor. The early to mid 1980s saw CAT go through a period when the layout was so sketchy you’d be reading a feature on page 6, only for it to abruptly end mid-sentence – along with instructions to turn to page 31 and then to page 9.


Little by little, though, we got there, although not without some good old fashioned blood, sweat and tears.

And finally, at about 10pm on deadline day, the mag was finally dispatched to the printers


We went home that night and quite probably consumed more units in three hours than you’re supposed to absorb in a week.


A week later and, following a congratulatory day at Thorpe Park in which we all enjoyed ourselves on the various roller coasters (you’ve just got to have a go on Saw, it’s mental), the magazine was delivered to the office.

We opened the boxes with trepidation.

Silence ensued as the content was checked for errors (a typical journo thing to do).

“Shit!” exclaimed Emma. “Shit, shit shit.”

I wondered what she was upset about. Maybe some pages had been printed in the wrong order? Maybe a photograph was missing, with a blank space in its place?

“We got a comma in the wrong place,” she said.

I laughed. You’re never going to spot everything, not when there’s only two of you working on such a big project.


The issue was okay. In fact, it was better than okay. It looked the absolute nuts. We had conceived an idea and executed it well. The result was brilliant.

Within hours copies were dropping through company letter boxes all over the country. Calls started coming in. “The best issue of CAT for many many years,” was the consensus of many. “The best issue of CAT ever,” was the view of most.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the effort we put into our work is rewarded…

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Independent garage service without a smile

Why go to an independent garage?

At times I wonder why anyone would take a car to an independent garage to have it fixed.

A strong statement perhaps – but after you have read this blog, you might understand why I make it.

Before I go on, though, I should point out that I have always used independents, without exception, on my own motors.

On balance I have found them cheaper, more accommodating and more educational (In my experience, a good independent technician is more likely to explain what’s going on under the bonnet than a dealership techie).

But my latest experience with an indie garage, left me realising that one bad experience can unfairly taint the public’s view of all independents for the worse.

ABS packs up

So there I was the other day driving down the M3 when the ABS on my BMW 3-series packs in.

With 80,000 miles on the clock, my 51-plate Beemer is far from new, but what a motor it has proved to be.

I bought it 5 years ago and this, I thought at the time, was the most serious thing to have gone wrong with it.

Now I am no technician, but when your ABS packs up you think the worst.

So I took it down to a local, independent garage last week – one I had yet to use owing to the reliability of my motor up until now – and lo and behold, I was far from impressed with the service I received.

The alarm bells rang when, on dropping the car off, a lady – complete with kid in buggy and toddler in hand – turned up to pick up her Saab.

She was served by the head technician and owner, I assume.

Sorry Love…

“Sorry love, spare part hasn’t arrived yet – not my fault though, bloke that said he was going to deliver it yesterday didn’t.

“Should be here tomorrow, though. Come back then I can fit it while you have a cup of tea,” he said.

At this point, junior technician appears on the scene.

“Here are your keys love, car’s parked down the road, bit of a walk away,” he said. Despite her kids and the difficulty she was having, no help was offered.

Typical 3-series, just like mine...

Typical 3-series, just like mine...


I was staggered. Talk about totally crap customer service. I wondered the following:

  • Why didn’t they call her first to say the part hadn’t arrived?
  • Why didn’t they then have the car waiting for her?
  • If no parking was available, junior technician should have gone to get the car for her, surely?

I should have driven off then and there. But I didn’t.

After he had ‘seen’ to the lady, he turned to me.

“Yes mate?” he asked. (Polite, hey…)

“My BMW’s booked in, ABS problem,” I replied.

He replied that it was, so I said that all I wanted was a diagnostic test to find out what was wrong with the ABS. That was it.

I also told him I worked in the trade for Car and Accessory Trader magazine (which he hadn’t heard of) and could get spare parts if needed.

I left him to it.

At lunchtime, I got the call.

“Mr Foster, the problem is a faulty speed sensor on the rear offside wheel,” said the hitherto unhelpful bloke.

“Cool,” I replied, relieved that it wasn’t anything more serious. “How much will a new sensor cost?”

“I thought you were getting it,” he replied curtly. Why couldn’t he just answer my question rather than being obnoxious?

I couldn’t be bothered pursuing the conversation any more and went to pick up the car that afternoon.

All sound normal to you? Or is this another example, with the way the lady was treated too, of yet another independent garage giving our industry a bad name?

Before you think this is an easy piece of independent garage baiting, let me say the following: I am an absolutely staunch supporter of independent garages and technicians.

I have always used indie garages as opposed franchised dealers.  I always will.

In the past, my favoured garage was A&S Refinishing in Daventry, which offered superb service – but since moving down south, I haven’t found somewhere I am happy with.

Perhaps I should look at Motor Codes or Forte’s Good Garage Scheme to see where there’s a local outlet that’s accredited.

I don’t believe Mr Grumpy is… and therein lies a lesson!

No wonder the public – like the lady with the Saab treated so badly – have such a bad perception of this trade. What a shame they don’t realise that there are plenty out there who are a joy to do business with.

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