Archive | Out and About with CAT

ON TOP OF THE WEALD

ON TOP OF THE WEALD

Uckfield Motor Services – The Cockill family show us around their Sussex garage

Uckfield Motor Services

What’s the most efficient way of raising your profile as an independent garage? Offering a good service and establishing a customer base that will keep returning time after time is important of course, but arranging a garage in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating to new and non-traditional customers is something that eludes many small businesses.

However, this was less of a problem for Symon Cockill. Coming from a franchise retail background, he understood that the details are important for a customer’s perception of a business. Founded back in 1988, Family-run Uckfield Motor Services was originally based in an anonymous unit at the back of a trading estate, but when the opportunity came to move to one of the customer-facing units alongside the likes of Halfords and Topps Tiles, he jumped at the chance: “Everyone thought we were mad,” he recalled. “When we put the figures on paper, we knew it would be hard work [to justify moving]”. Nonetheless, the move was a step on being a more recognised brand in the town and the business employs Symon, wife Melanie, daughter Hannah, sons Harry and Edward as well as various other technicians.

The units had previously been used by a local bodyshop and so were well suited to become a service and repair garage and part of the Cockill’s strategy was to join a garage scheme and benefit from recognised branding and visibility. Originally, the garage was one of the Unipart Car Care Centres, but left when the well-publicised problems hit Unipart Automotive. The Cockills liked the idea of garage schemes and joined Bosch Car Service for a while, but chose not to re-apply when this scheme restructured in 2015.

Instead, the garage had its own signage made, but there were a number of things about being in a scheme that the family liked. First, there was the raised visibility already mentioned. Secondly, and most importantly according to Edward Cockill is the access to affordable training courses. After speaking to a few suppliers about various schemes and ‘soft franchises’, the team settled on joining AutoFirst, a scheme developed by Euro Car Parts and for which UMS would be the 300th member.

Other than the benefits of being a member of a garage scheme, Uckfield Motor Services also offers customers an option to view work on their car, or at least part of it, on their phones, thanks to a series of video cameras that link to an app. The firm has also joined the bookmygarage and blackcircles aggregators in order to bring some work in from customers who may not have previously visited the workshop.

CLEAN AND TIDY
Touring the building, we’re struck by how clean the facility is. You might expect tidy reception area – and this one is very smart (and complete with a coffee table that uses an F1 tyre as the base). All of the bays are clean and the ramps themselves are positively gleaming. Ten people work in the business in total, and though it isn’t the biggest workshop, there seems to be a system in place where everyone can move around without bumping into each other. As with most high-level independent garages, modern diagnostic play a big part in the business and a proportion of income is spent on the latest scan tools and test equipment.

However, it isn’t all hard work. Outside the workshop is a race- prepped Citroen C1, one of many track cars owned by the family over the years. “Racing is a way of life” explained Edward, though he did note that the little car was a ‘bit slow’ compared to the other, more exotic cars he has driven on the track.

What’s next for the garage? At some point, brothers Edward and Harry are keen to build a glass frontage to enlarge the waiting area and increase the dealer-like feel of the garage.

For the time being, they are happy maintaining their reputation as one of the most popular garages in Sussex.

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REACHING MORE CUSTOMERS

REACHING MORE CUSTOMERS

Divisional Director Steve Gray discusses the next steps for the Parts Alliance’s new SCMF branch in Croydon.

A full range is now stocked

Last month, the Parts Alliance opened two branches: namely an SAS Autoparts store in Newcastle and SCMF in Croydon. Well, that got us thinking that we have never actually been to a branch of the factor properly known as Southern Counties Motor Factors, so we jumped on the bus to South London to see if it is similar to other branches of the Parts Alliance.

On arrival, everything seems to be running efficiently as the firm’s delivery drivers set off on their early morning runs to nearby workshops and motor factors. Inside, the warehouse follows an accessory shop format with a trade counter situated at the back with well- known car care, tool and retail brands stacked against the centre walls. A sales office is also featured next door, where staff could be heard rattling phones and dealing with customer calls on our arrival.

MANAGEMENT
SCMF Divisional Director Steve Gray and Andy Rogers, SCMF’s South West Regional Business Director, accompanied us along with Branch Manager William Barrett who joins the team from his previous management post at Andrew Page in Croydon. Both Barrett and Rogers have extensive years of experience between them having worked in a range of senior roles within the supply-chain industry.

After getting acquainted, it was time to check out the warehouse. The design and structure is bright and modern, which was hard to envisage for Rodgers at the beginning, as he explained: “This building was just ‘bricks and mortar’ when it was acquired, however, we completely gutted the premises and installed a new roof, windows and reconfigured the entire layout”. Gray expands: “It went like clockwork”, he said. “It was a turnkey operation led by our project management team.”

For logistical purposes, bulk items such as Comma oil barrels have been allocated to aisles near the depot entrance in order to shift these wares to and from the site without hassle. Gray added a general point regarding deliveries: “We receive up to four deliveries of stock throughout the day from our local distribution hub in Sidcup. The main focus for us is on fast moving parts, and we have good traction on those”.

Racking was installed in double-quick time

Meanwhile, PA brand DriveTec brake discs occupied the central aisles in the new black, red and white packaging, launched in Q4 last year. In addition, the ground f loor contained filtration products from the likes of Mann Filter, plus a comprehensive clutch portfolio from major players including Sachs and LuK, stretched across the shop floor.

The upstairs mezzanine consisted of exhaust products, which were hanging up in a tidy formation, while more DriveTec branded wares could be found in the form of wiper blades. Other PA core product lines included Monroe shock absorbers and Shaftec steering and suspension parts awaiting distribution. “We opened the warehouse with 16,000 SKUs and we’ve got 50 per cent mezzanine so it’s easy to extend” notes Gray. He adds that the facility has been built in a ‘modular way with an extension pre-planned in mind’, that will be constructed along the top floor without fear of disrupting day-to-day operations.

NEXT PHASE
The Croydon site currently employs 12 staff, but the firm is now on a recruitment drive to fill more positions within its sales and warehousing departments, following expansion. Another objective for the team is to gradually increase its f leet of vans and motorcycles in particular, to bypass traffic disruptions around the area. Gray expands: “We opened SCMF Croydon with six vans, but we’re increasing this and our bike fleet because the traffic is quite bad here. As with our current fleet, we will continue to deliver within a three to four mile radius”. Motorbikes are a popular way of getting parts delivered along the Capital’s notoriously congested roadmap.

As with other Parts Alliance brands, there is a plan in place to open more SCMF branches.

Gray mentions they will be announced in good time once suitable building sites have been sourced. We will certainly drop by some of these locations as and when they’re confirmed, but for now, it’s business as normal for the team at SCMF.

Posted in Accessories, Batteries, Braking, Car Care, Clutches, Exhausts, Factor & Supplier News, Filters, Garage News, News, Out and About with CAT, Retailer News, Shock Absorbers, Spark Plugs, Steering & Suspension, Tools, WipersComments (1)

THE PART WITHOUT THE SURCHARGE

THE PART WITHOUT THE SURCHARGE

Nick Hood shows us that returning old units isn’t always the core of the business at Autoelectro.

D&V testing rig

This isn’t the first time that we’ve been to Nimalec House in Bradford, home to remanufacturer Autoelectro. However, there’s a special announcement today, so we are keen to hear what it is.

Before that happens, we are given a guided tour of the complex. ‘Complex’ is the correct term for the sprawling mass of buildings, as the original was bought soon after the business was founded in the late 1980s and has been extended several times since. In fact, if you don’t know your way around it is quite hard to keep track of where you are, as the building twists and turns and is set over several levels.

Fortunately, brothers Nicky, Tony and Paul Bhogal are on hand to show us around, as is Sales Manager Nick Hood. There are all the things you might expect in a modern remanufacturing business and warehouse, such as a busy sales office, various well-ordered stockrooms (the facility is ISO14001 accredited) and a large reman workshop. There’s also a few things that you might not: For example, there is a complex photo studio hidden away which is set up so the subject can be pictured through 360 degrees, meaning visitors to the firm’s website can virtually turn an item around on screen – the idea being that users can see if a unit is directly comparable to an item being pulled from a vehicle.

The testing facilities are also impressive. Nicky Bhogal, who is an electrical engineer by profession, worked with Canada- based D&V Electronics to develop testing rigs that could not only test a wide variety of alternators, but just as importantly, were easy to set up for each piece being tested. This means every alternator leaving the building gets properly calibrated and has a full test report along with traceability.

However, the real business of the day is the launch – and that is the news that from March, more than 2,000 references will have their surcharge charges cut.

The 10 bestselling and half of the 100 fastest-moving part numbers within its sales pareto will be surcharge-free, following months of stockpiling core behind the scenes.

Nick Hood explained that ironically, the deal was possible because of the proliferation of cheap imported units in the market. “Most people fitting these new units will still keep the old core and sell it by the basket load to a core dealer, so we are looking at a proliferation of part numbers in broader terms.” he explained, adding that dealers would usually take these crates of mixed core as they came rather than picking through them. The result, perhaps predictably, is an increase in the number of the most common part numbers.

The new no-exchange offering will be sold in the same red Autoelectro boxes as the rest of the range, albeit marked ‘NEX’. An entirely new sub-brand had been considered, but after a lot of what the Bhogals described as ‘soul searching’ they decided to keep it under the same label. “We’re proud of what we do and we don’t want to step away from that” explained Tony Bhogal.

“What we are offering is not a budget product, so it won’t be as cheap as some of the Chinese units” he explained. “But it won’t be much more expensive, which allows us to compete at that end of the market, and with smaller factors that don’t want to deal with core”. On the subject of core, Hood is keen to put one myth to rest. “We are well aware that some people think we make huge money on core, and I can tell you categorically that we don’t” he said, adding that collecting, identifying and processing core is a complex, but vital part of the business and will continue to be so.

There’s more announcements to come as well. From the beginning of April, the remanufactuter will be introducing
a ‘surcharge transparency’ tool, which will assist in securing maximum profits from stock on the shelf, something we’ll be interested to know more about in due course.

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FILLING GAPS IN THE MARKET

FILLING GAPS IN THE MARKET

Sean (L) and son Daniel (R)

Sean Brown shows CAT around Brown & Geeson in Wickford, Essex

Today we are Essex-bound visiting Brown & Geeson – a parts supplier and manufacturer that’s had a strong presence in the motorsport sector since its inception over 50 years ago.

BACKSTORY
In fact, the company first started out as an accessory shop in Chadwell Heath, set up by father and son duo Ray Brown and Arthur Geeson, which saw the integration of B-G aftermarket accessories in the form of fuel pumps, seat covers and wheel trims among various other components. However, the turning point in business came when Ray discovered the importance of self-branding, as his son Sean explained: “At the time, my father realised that by buying something in, putting his name on it and in his own packaging, he could sell his products worldwide and that’s how the business started to grow”.

Following expansion plans, the business partners relocated to larger sites in Plaistow East London and Dagenham, Essex respectively, where bespoke production facilities were introduced for serving VMs, importers and parts manufacturers across the country and abroad. This eventually led to another desirable location in Wickford in the mid 90’s, however, there were plenty of major changes ahead: “The UK manufacturing industry back then was quite tough, so myself and my father Ray made a decision to sell all contracts, machinery, shutdown the company and start what was ‘Brown & Geeson Distribution’.” said Sean. “The decision was taken to come out of manufacturing and concentrate on buying and selling from where Brown & Geeson originally started” adding that the firm eventually reclaimed its original name and returned to manufacturing, that’s now outsourced overseas.

BRANDING
As it stands, Sean and son Daniel head-up the operation of whom have extensive experience in motosport both on and off track. They greeted and took us through to an office space displaying styling products such as the infamous Momo steering wheel and numerous accessories behind shiny glass cabinets, along with mannequins dressed head to toe in Team GB race wear.

Display bits and pieces aside, Sean was keen to get down to business and discuss the B-G Racing brand that is now in its sixth year. Speaking of how it came about, he said: “What we needed to do with Brown & Geeson was go back to the old days where we sold boxes with BG logos on it. I believe there are products not only for pit equipment but also for setup equipment.” He continued: “On travels around the world, I have visited paddocks in Europe and noticed gaps in the market for premium products. I thought I could create something similar and bring it to the masses, not only to ‘educate’ but give the top teams a quality product for an affordable price.” He adds that the BG platform has been well received so far as the organisation’s distribution base now stretches globally.

Barcoding system has proved effective

Daniel agrees and expands on his father’s sentiment: “The B-G Racing brand is growing steadily everyday. We target distributors in different countries so instead of selling directly to the public, we target trade and retail shops in France, Germany and many more countries. We try and offer them a whole catalogue solution so they can source all their necessary parts from one place to simplify the purchasing process”.

Sean notes that the team have recently released their Seventh Edition catalogue packed with vehicle, setup and pit equipment for motorsport and aftermarket companies. Some of the popular sells he notes include: lift jacks, work mats and hub stands, plus camber/ caster gauges and levelling trays for technicians whether they’re working in a garage or pit lane. In addition, the brand is a supplier of car components from Australian firm Aeroflow Performance and Mittler Bros Machine & Tool.

After a business insight, Daniel and Sean provided us with a tour of the facility. During our tour, the shop floor seemed well organised with Momo and B-G Racing wares stacked along the aisles in an orderly fashion as they await distribution. The top floor comprised of more styling accessories and an in-house studio where new products are photographed before being uploaded to the firm’s website. To speed up productivity, Daniel told CAT that a new barcoding system has recently been implemented to get the product logged, onto the shelves and out the door to reduce stock discrepancies with customer orders.
Of course, with any queries that may arise, the sales and admin department are on-hand and who were very busy on our arrival dealing with customer calls and queries both nationally and internationally.

Although the duo have acquired some new OEM and workshop projects, everything is being kept top secret until completion later this year.

But for now, Daniel and Sean’s main objective is spreading the BG footprint while continuing to produce products to help bridge gaps in the market. We look forward to catching up with the team very soon.

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A NEW CHAPTER FOR ANDREW PAGE

A NEW CHAPTER FOR ANDREW PAGE

Steven Frost and Shay Allen

Of all the places that I thought might be my first visit of the year, a new branch of Andrew Page didn’t seem likely just a few months ago.

But things change, and so today, I’m standing at a shiny shop counter in a new branch. There are displays of tools and accessories with a number of brands and a small screen with a noisy infomercial for something called Gorilla Glue on a loop – something which I suspect will get old very quickly for the staff.

The stockroom, loaded with parts across two levels, is just as clean. Incredibly, building the mezzanine plus racking the whole branch and filling it with stock was achieved in just a week, according to Regional Manager Steven Frost, who was there to meet me along with Southampton Manager Shay Allen and Interim Marketing Manager Richard Swan.

Admittedly, this is not an entirely new branch. There was already a satellite of the Southampton branch in Eastleigh that needed to move or be closed as the lease was up and the landlord wished to redevelop the building. At the same time, parent company LKQ had a recently vacated building that had previously been a JCA Coatings counter, so it seemed logical for one business to move into the empty building.

RATTLING PHONES
However, don’t think that this is nothing more than a re-site. The sales team that manages customers around Eastleigh and Winchester are to move from Southampton into a bright new telesales office upstairs at the Eastleigh branch, and the team have plans to increase the headcount in order to win some new accounts.

“You get closer to your customers when you are in a standalone branch” Steven Frost emphasised, “But in a satellite branch, you become a bit disengaged as your customers don’t know that you’re up the road. So part of the investment is to get more people in”. This will likely include an extra van or two (there are currently six) and possibly extra people to handle the increased pareto and anticipated rise in orders.

The problems faced by the management of Andrew Page have been covered ad infinitum in CAT, but from a customer point of view the main issue has been inconsistent supply and ever-changing brands on the shelf. “There’s nothing worse than having to ring a customer back and tell them that you can’t get something” said Frost, adding that as an ex-ECP man, he breathed a ‘sigh of relief ’ when he heard that LKQ were behind the takeover, because he knew that range and availability would no longer be an issue.

So, is this branch a new start for the hundred year-old factor? “That’s certainly what we’ve been told” said Frost. “There are more moves and openings planned as [LKQ] want to heavily invest in this brand and move it forward. It hasn’t moved as quickly as we wanted, because of the CMA thing, but straight away this is what we want to do”.

NEW BUSINESS
Branch Manager Shay Allen believes that filling gaps in existing accounts and winning new business is entirely possible, due to the good and personal relationships the team have with individual customers. This trait goes back to the days of Camberley Auto Factors which several team members worked for, prior to being bought and rebranded by Page.

“It absolutely comes down to the relationship between the garage and the factor. If there is one thing that sets us apart right now it is people, and the knowledge and level of skill that they have” said Allen.

This is emphasised in the firm’s attitude to outgoing sales calls. Rather than badger people on the phone with an offer of screenwash or whatever, the sales team will prefer to visit customers to make sure they are happy with everything the factor is doing, and looking to see if there are any gaps that can be filled.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges to this expansion. Both MPD, GSF and GAU are active on the patch that the branch wants to take more of as well as the ‘friendly’ competition from the local ECP. Nonetheless, the shiny new branch sends out a clear message to the aftermarket: Andrew Page is back and open for business.

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BIG IDEAS FROM A FAMILY BUSINESS

BIG IDEAS FROM A FAMILY BUSINESS

Operations Manager Lorraine Fullers takes CAT around family-run and CAT nominated garage: D&D Autos in Ashford.

Workshop space serves all marques

If you’re on the Eurostar, the chances are that you’ve seen the looming D&D Autos building as you pull out of Ashford International. It is physically the largest independent garage in the town, if not the whole of Kent, and it needs to be. Numerous awards, including CAT’s Large Garage of the Year in 2017 and a strong local reputation have allowed the business to expand to accommodate the volume of work.

However, big ideas start small, and the credit for starting the business goes to Derek Pestridge, who founded it in 1983 after acquiring his first workshop unit in Ashford. The decision for Derek to do this was simple, it was time to ‘better himself’ by taking the next step in his automotive career, having worked for various automotive companies including a VW dealership Euro Charing. “He founded the business with his friend Dave Woollett, hence where the name ‘D&D Autos’
comes from” explained Derek’s daughter and Operations Manager Lorraine Fuller. “He went on to acquire the units adjacent to the main workshop, which saw the start of MOT testing. The business continued to grow”.

As part of major expansion plans, in 2009, the independent relocated from its old site in the town to a purpose-built 10,000 sq ft. facility, situated on the Orbital Park Industrial Estate. Of course, moving to a bigger site didn’t come without its complications as Fuller pointed out: “We were aware that we may lose customers moving away from our Victoria site that was five minutes away from Ashford town centre and the railway station. However, we introduced a courtesy shuttle service and new courtesy vehicles to help customers get to and from the site, so as to help make our customer’s collection and delivery of vehicles as simple as possible”.

EXPANSION
Since the move, the firm has enjoyed steady growth over the years, growing its workforce from 11 to 23 staff whilst building up its customer base through a number of marketing initiatives. On our arrival, the sitting area was neat and tidy with the company logo sported across the foyer walls. We were welcomed by front-of-house staff who were busy dealing with the Monday rush of customer calls and parts orders as the local TPS van made its morning delivery.

Although Derek has taken a backseat to the business, he can still be found around the workshop replacing a clutch or conducting an MOT test to assist sons Matthew and Richard who have stepped into their father’s shoes.

The workshop space itself is quite impressive, home to 13 ramps and two MOT bays designed for servicing class one, two, four, five and seven
vehicles. The move from the old site has also allowed the workshop to take on more diagnostic work for fleets as well as picking up some jobs delegated from dealerships in and around the Orbital Business Park.

ALL MAKES
“We fix cars of all makes and models and that’s basically the crux of it”, Matthew remarked when we asked how the business maintained a steady flow of work. “We never outsource any work. Everything is completed in-house”.

Matthew notes that he is keen to get all his technicians qualified on these systems over the year. He explained: “We have started seeing more hybrid and electric vehicles coming through the workshop. Some of the technicians and I have started training on these systems through Bosch, but the company plan for D&D Autos is to get everyone in the workshop into some hybrid training”.

Another project is to sell used cars on site, following a new partnership with the AA. Matthew elaborated: “With the reputation we have, we’re always getting customers asking about buying cars, so we are going to see if we can make it work for the business as another add on for D&D. He concluded, “When we roll this out, we are going to do AA warranties, because we’re already signed up for the recoveries when we went through the process of becoming an AA-approved garage.”

For the future, the family have yet more big ideas, possibly including an extra site. We’ll be interested to see how they get on.

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CLUBBING WITH THE TRADE

CLUBBING WITH THE TRADE

Mitch Cameron shows us around a relocated TPS Branch in Slough.

New logo on signage

You have probably noticed the quiet growth of trade clubs over the past decade. At first, these were a way for the VMs to get the independent garages that wouldn’t normally consider queuing at a franchise’s parts counter to use genuine parts.

The idea worked, and today some of the clubs are as busy, and as lean and sales-focussed, as any branch of an all-makes factor chain.

Take TPS for example. Launched 11 years ago the trade counter started its first month with four branches selling mostly dealer-only parts and bodyshop supplies. Today, it has a nationwide network of 75 centres and has recently been through a programme of modernisation and rebranding.

To find out what these changes mean in practical terms, we’ve headed west to the Berkshire town of Slough to have a look at a branch that has recently relocated to a more modern site.

When we arrive at the allotted (and very precise) time of 11.15, the first thing to notice is the large signs across the driveway. “We were one of the first to receive the new branding” said Branch Manager Mitch Cameron, adding that the new silver logo (TPS originally stood for Trade Parts Specialists, but now has no official designation) looks very professional when combined with the new corporate colour scheme.

The new look continues inside the building, as staff are wearing a redesigned uniform that matches the silver logo. Customers, according to Cameron, appreciate all of these tweaks. “We hear a lot from the front counter that it is a pleasant place to get parts from” he said.

Actually, a partition screen between the counter and the telesales floor has a dual role as on the reverse it has a large sales board, filled with targets broken down in ways that no doubt makes sense to the nine people rattling the phones.

FIGURES
While the board of figures doesn’t mean a lot to us, it is clearly very important to Cameron and the team as monthly targets are broken down into weekly, daily and even hourly productivity goals. Like most factor branches, there is a morning rush, which finishes just after 11 (hence the time we were given to arrive) followed be a spike in activity in the early afternoon, mostly from garages who want to make sure their parts are ordered ahead of a vehicle arriving first thing in the morning.

Part of the programme of branch modernisation is a phone system that will be able to monitor call volumes, lengths, number of outgoing and incoming and so on. “When we get it, it will give us a much better handle on what the peaks are during the day” explained Cameron, adding that, in common with the practice at most factors, each operator has their own list of ‘regular’ clients that they build up a relationship with and a few customers can be in touch with the branch ‘seven or eight times a day’. One of the team is a bodyshop specialist, so he deals with the panel beaters around the town.

9,000 items including many crash repair parts

Another relatively new system is a ‘gap analysis’ tool, something many readers in factors may well be familiar with. Simply put, it looks at what customers have been purchasing alongside what they haven’t been. For example, a customer might buy many sets of brake pads from the factor, but never any hydraulic fluid. The tool can pick things like this out and the sales rep can then find out why, and see if there is an offer that will persuade the garage owner to change their buying habits.

VAN FLEET
The branch’s fleet also deserves a mention. There are 11 vans, which is not untypical for a branch of this size. However, the branch has also acquired a small hatchback car (a VW of course) that has been converted to carry a small amount of stock and be used for client visits. “The idea of that is we have some part time drivers in the morning to cover the busy period. In the afternoon when it is a little quieter, we can send some of the telesales guys out so they can meet their customers face to face” explained Cameron. “This is something we’re building on, that we hadn’t been doing particularly before”. It has been said many times before, but there is never any substitute in the aftermarket for getting out and shaking hands with people.

The factor’s fleet also boasts a motor scooter for local runs. Traffic in the area immediately around the industrial estate can be pretty gnarly first thing in the morning and the bike is just the thing for small deliveries.

Some 9,000 lines are kept in the stockroom. Brake parts, oil and filters are the fastest moving lines as you might expect, although around 15 percent of stock holding relates to crash repair and body refinish (On our visit, the side panel for a Caddy van was waiting to be delivered to a customer). As you’d expect, TPS delivers many OE parts from the parent company, but in a move to compete with others it also has a second-tier line called ‘FourPlus’, which as the name implies are parts for vehicles old enough to be out of the warranty period. All products in the range come with a two-year guarantee and meet the VM’s quality assurance standards.

The phones start to get busy again as the afternoon rush begins, so its time for us to leave. However, if you are in Slough and you notice that there are a lot of Volkswagen Group cars on the road, now you’ll know how they stay there.

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GETTING A NEW ANGLE ON SAXON

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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MAINTAINING A PROFESSIONAL STANDARD

MAINTAINING A PROFESSIONAL STANDARD

Garage owner Graham Gent invites CAT up to MOT-A-CAR in Sittingbourne, Kent

As the festive season approaches, most workshops will be embracing the spirit of Christmas by means of winter health checks as well as changing batteries, bulbs and wiper blades – all of which are things that boom in the colder months.

Although this is a buoyant time for garages, one business in particular has been busier than normal. Sittingbourne-based MOT-A-CAR was our
destination today, where the team have been working tirelessly to get their new Van Shop up and running.

VAN SHOP
Launched a month earlier, the new unit has allready attracted leasing companies, that have started booking in their van fleets. for servicing. Garage Owner Graham Gent explained: “We have always serviced vans, but we felt a need to separate the units we currently have.”

“We do everything in here from motorcycle testing to mini buses classes one, two, three, four, five and seven”. He adds that wife and business partner Claire, deals with the marketing aspect of the firm, using her expertise to spread awareness of its latest addition through the company’s website and social media platforms.

UNITS AND SERVICES
As Gent already touched on, the business contains several units that all serve a different purpose. Apart from the newcomer, a Tyre Shop with a class four MOT bay occupies the site, alongside the main workshop space – used for servicing a mishmash of vehicles from farmers Land Rovers to high-end, executive cars. The workshop also contains a reception area featuring oils and additives from the likes of Forte and Mobil, that were stacked along counter display stands on our arrival.

Besides general MOT repairs, there are plenty of services in the company’s itinerary, as Gent brings to our attention, “We’ve got a total of four vehicles that go out for car collections and deliveries”. When asked what areas are covered, he said: “We travel anywhere in Swale from the Medway towns to Maidstone and Canterbury. We have been further afield, but the difficulty is time out of the workshop, so we have to monitor this accordingly,” adding that a vehicle recovery process is also provided by the firm, which would explain the large pick-up truck parked outside the premises.

BUSINESS GROWTH
The company’s expansion over the years comes down to several factors. However, Gent says the main one is the team’s work ethic, something that has been difficult to identify when recruiting potential candidates prior. “The biggest challenge has been employing staff”, Gent recalls, “Many people coming into the trade aren’t as driven as they should be. They don’t see it as a profession but rather as a job, and unfortunately, there’s too many kids coming out of college that don’t seem motivated.”

The owner plans workshop expansion

Teething troubles aside, the business employs seven technicians bringing experience from fast-fits, independent garages and dealerships up and down the country. Gent himself is a Master Technician who began his training as a young man at a nearby Ford Dealer. He later moved on to manage a workshop at a local Renault dealership, before opening the business with wife Claire 15 years ago.

Gent mentions that the team have ‘tapped into the data and report side of its Garage Data System (GDS)’, thus enabling them to exploit further sales and margin opportunities. This internal programme has proved a necessary asset with the garage reporting an annual turnover of £500,000 last year.

CONNECTED FUTURE
While talks in the aftermarket revolve back to connected cars, Gent is aware of this technology and how it may impact business in the foreseeable future. With that said, he is in the midst of putting infrastructure in place to safeguard the company. This will involve investing in another unit on-site for repairing electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as acquiring some charge points and an electric vehicle bay.

Of course, training on these systems is fundamental, but Gent seems to have this under control as he prepares to enrol staff onto relevant courses next year. He concluded: “We have to balance courses with our technicians’ levels and experience. It’s about finding the right place and training provider. We also want to buy a few more workshops to expand our brand, but again, it’s all about finding the correct location.” We look forward to visiting Gent’s new sites in the near future.

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MAJOR PLAYERS IN THE MINI MARKET

MAJOR PLAYERS IN THE MINI MARKET

Simon Jackson and Justin Jeffery explain why stock holding is key to the running of Mini Spares.

We’re waiting at Mini spares, which differs from the usual display of polish, wheel trims and buckets that usually surround a factors trade counter. Instead, it looks more like a mock-shop showroom as it has an eclectic range of classic Minis on display. Models to note include a 1963 Morris Traveller, a red 1971 Cooper S and a Monte Carlo Mini on display, among others.

While we could stop and stare at these vehicles all day, we had to remind ourselves that the team were busy and we needed to get on with business. With that said, Co-Director Justin Jeffery and General Manager Simon Jackson greeted us, of whom are both old hands in the industry; beginning their careers at the firm as teenagers. Both of them have seen their fair share of changes to the company and market: “When we started at this premises over two decades ago, you could ring up a company and have 10 CV joints sent out to you, and if you ran out, you could easily order another 10.” said Jackson, “For us to do that now, it’s near enough impossible to get a European manufacturer to even begin to talk to us. That’s how everything has changed.”

STOCK HOLDING
To overcome this obstacle, the team relocated from their previous site in Friern Barnet to a purpose-built warehouse that has grown exponentially since first opening. Elaborating on Jackson’s earlier sentiment, Jeffery said, “This was one of the main reasons for moving here. We realised early on that to be in control of your own stock is very important, and to do that, you have to be able to make it yourself.” He continued, “All the grilles, bumpers and corner bars are all manufactured for us exclusively for us. That’s what stands us apart from most competitors where many of them are resellers of product, we actually go out and get it manufactured, otherwise, these cars will go off the road.”

To stock the components, the team has continued expanding the warehouse, with extra storage space and several mezzanine floors. As it currently stands, the space totals 37,000 sq ft employing 55 staff across the factory floor, sales and marketing departments.

In order to maintain its 9500 part numbers and ensure they’re dispatched on time, the team follow a specific process which has boded well for business, as Jeffery elaborates; “We can normally get up to 300 orders on a Monday, anything from small boxes to large packages that have to be shipped internationally. The process we follow is, ‘picking, checking, packing,’ where every order is checked before it gets dispatched, then the guys pack and send it out.”

Minis in the customer area

Although a bespoke stock management system is in place, the Mini Spares team have had to adjust their stock holdings accordingly. Jeffery elaborated, “Typically, brake and suspension products are some items that used to be bought together and would all be in one place within the warehouse, however, our computer system shows us the quickest way to go around and pick wares in the building. We’ve gone away from that, meaning, staff that have been with us for a long time have had to adapt.” He adds that a fair amount of human intervention is needed to get stock holding correct, even though the system is in place.

Jackson agrees with Jeffery’s statement and expands, “Again, how we have to buy things has changed. It’s not feasible to keep certain products together anymore because of the stock holding,” he added, “Where we used to keep 100 items for a certain product line, we now have to hold a 1,000 of them.” To resolve this issue, the team have created a Bulk Storage area, that replenishes shelves as and when required.

PRODUCTS AND EXPORT
Another essential part of the business is sourcing gearboxes and cylinder heads to be sent off for refurbishment. This has led to some new additions that the duo were keen to show us, “Our new alloy five-point cylinder head is a fairly new project, originally made in cast iron”, notes Jeffery, “We have gone out to change, design and improve this product. Filters are another key addition. Everyone used to buy Unipart filters, but Unipart said ‘we’re not doing them anymore’. Luckily for us, we found the original manufacturer and were able to order enough quantity to get them interested in making them again.”

The firm hassate two satellite branches in Birmingham and York, both supplied from the Potters Bar HQ. “It’s the later stuff that’s dropping off the production lines. People are not interested”, said Jackson. “Volumes are too small [for the main suppliers to be interested in] and that’s what we’re now concentrating on.” He concluded.

Posted in Out and About with CATComments (0)

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