Archive | Out and About with CAT

AFTERMARKET LIVES: VISIT TO NGK

Mark Hallam invites CAT up to NGK’s distribution hub in Hemel Hempstead.

Most workshops will know the NGK brand through its BoxClever scheme, where customers can trade in their empty lambda sensor boxes in exchange for reward points to spend on an array of gifts at the firm.

Besides this loyalty programme, the manufacturer has had a strong foothold in the aftermarket for many years; beginning its operations in Nagoya, Japan 81 years ago. Eventually, the firm expanded its footprint overseas by building spark plug factories around the world. Presently, the network totals 11 factories, four development sites and over 20 sales offices worldwide.

LOGISTICS
However, today’s visit brought us to its UK headquarters in Hemel Hempstead, which was previously located in Hendon (North West London) before relocating nearly two decades ago. “The transition of NGK’s UK HQ to Hemel Hempstead was due to the requirement for more space for a rapidly growing business”, said Mark Hallam, UK Marketing Manager at the firm. “The Hemel Hempstead site was purpose built in a location with transport links ensuring an efficient delivery service to our customers”, adding that the warehouse had previously been extended to stock its core ignition lines with plans in the pipeline to expand it even further due to company expansion.

The current premises houses 100 staff and a large warehouse space where parts are sourced from Japan and distributed to trade and supply chain customers across the country. The site contains a finance and marketing department as well as its sales office and OE division where a team of staff are employed to communicate directly with vehicle manufacturers. Hallam elaborated. “NGK work directly with all of the major VMs around the world”, he continued. “NGK Spark Plugs and lambda sensors are the world’s number one OE fitment”.

BRANDING
Despite the firm’s bread and butter being in in glow and spark plug sales, this is not the only part of the business. “NGK are more than just a spark plug company,” remarked Hallam. “We also sell glow plugs, lambda, NOx, EGT, MAF and MAP sensors as well as ignition coils and spark plug covers. Under our NTK brand we also operate a specialist Technical Ceramics division from Hemel Hempstead specialising in ceramic cutting tools and IC packages.”

Hemel Hempstead DC

To communicate its ‘more than spark plugs’ message to garages, the firm recently launched a range of aftermarket products under the NTK division with over 150 part numbers, including 87 Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensors and 69 Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP) sensors that have been ‘well received’ so far. In addition, the company updated its logos to bring awareness to both businesses. “In 2016, NGK developed a new brand identity with two new logos. “All ignition related products come under ‘NGK’s Ignition Parts’ with all sensor products coming under ‘NTK Vehicle Electronics’”, noted Hallam.

STAFF RETENTION
Staff longevity has played a crucial role in business expansion with most employees possessing over 20 years experience The standard setup involves a team of reps that are sent out to different regions in the country to work closely with existing customers by developing and keeping their stock holdings competitive as well as scouting out new leads to grow the firm’s UK footprint. “The NGK sales representatives are an asset to the company offering our customers market leading sales, product and technical support across the UK”, said Hallam. He adds that staff loyalty has played a big contribution towards the receiving its A1 Motor Stores Award, which proudly sits behind a glass trophy cabinet in the foyer area.

Going into the autumn and winter months, the team at Hemel Hempstead will continue growing the UK base organically through customer retention while hammering home the message of NGK and its various subsidiary brands. Although there are some new developments on the cards, everything is being kept top secret until a big reveal at Automechanika Frankfurt next year.

Posted in Factor & Supplier News, Garage News, News, Out and About with CAT, Retailer News, Sensors, Spark PlugsComments (0)

STANDING OUT FROM THE COMPETITION

STANDING OUT FROM THE COMPETITION

James Bourn shows CAT around suspension firm Powerflex in Uxbridge, Hillingdon

You might be familiar with the Powerflex purple and yellow livery but did you know its portfolio of polyurethane bushes are produced here in the UK?

The line-up is popular as upgrades from OE parts on cars owned by enthusiasts. Powerflex Sales Director James Bourn explains that the crux of it comes down to the materials for its steel bushes, which he says are not used by many competitors. “We use premium quality materials such as stainless steel in a lot of our products whereas our competitors tend to use a lot of plated steel”, said Bourne. “We’re a UK manufacturer so all of our R&D is done here by us”, he said, adding that the supplier also develops bespoke technical products in line with its core suspension range.

FACTORY UNITS
We’re curious to see how these products are produced, so Bourne takes us to the CNC Factory, where most of the magic happens. The unit is home to many high-tech computer-controlled machining centres and other equipment used for geometry work, metal bending and test fittings; producing bushes, engine mounts and sleeves forged from aluminium and stainless steel. Once created, parts are then tried and tested before receiving the thumbs up.

Indeed, having all of its manufacturing operations in-house has sped up productivity and product turnaround by cutting out a third party who would normally carry out the nuts and bolts of the process. Bourne expands. “Doing this internally gives us greater control over lead times and quality rather than delegating to a third party. We can diagnose and fix problems quickly, likewise with lead times, order turnaround time is fast”.

The firm’s developments of polyurethane bushes and chassis systems in general has enabled it to triple its warehouse capacity by acquiring three extra units. Apart from the CNC Factory, the parts maker has in effect knocked three buildings into one; consisting of a large manufacturing space where bushes begin their journey on conveyor belts, before they are solidified and enter a cutting and fitting area to get rid of built-up material, post production.

BESPOKE SYSTEM
To keep track, a management system has been set up to notify sales staff and technicians of customer orders coming in and the parts required for each job. This can be accessed by factory workers through computer monitors, located at multiple assembly points around the premises. “Believe it or not everything is stock controlled”, said Bourn. “The system tells us what we’ve got to make, how many and by when”. In addition, the system has helped the manufacturer organise its stockroom efficiently; allowing staff to source the correct components without any grievances. This was evident on our tour with trays of suspension bushes, mounts, and sleeves labelled and stacked tidily on each aisle so workers can locate wares and send them out to dealers, post haste.

Bushes begin production in liquid form

To help customers distinguish the differences between products, the company launched its Black Series and Road Series a few years ago not only to highlight the key differences, but also allow trade customers to understand what requirements they’ll need for each one. Bourn elaborated: “For years, our parts were only fitted by people that wanted a performance edge to their car or if their car was being used in motorsport”.

“So what we’ve tried to is move away from that slightly not in terms of how we want the brand to be seen, but so we can establish that our parts are not just a replacement product but a performance and motorsport one. That’s why we launched our Road Series and Black Series – with the Black series targeting track cars while the Road Series is specifically designed for road vehicles” he noted.

PRACTICE AND LEGISLATION
The firm is a member of the Performance Automotive Aftermarket Association (PAAA), which will keep it abreast of any legislation changes that may or may not affect it in the near future. “The idea behind the PAAA is to give companies like ourselves strength in numbers, a greater voice and hopefully greater influence should there be any plans for legislation changes that could impact our business and the performance aftermarket as an industry”, said Bourn, concluding, “We’re going to keep working hard to make sure we’re developing new products and continuing to look after dealers; providing them with the best possible service whilst ensuring we continue to grow and progress as a business”.

Posted in Factor & Supplier News, Garage News, News, Out and About with CAT, Steering & SuspensionComments (0)

REMAINING LOYAL AS AN INDEPENDENT

REMAINING LOYAL AS AN INDEPENDENT

Dunlop family’s new accessory shop in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire.

Smiles all around at new branch

Located in the town of Shettleston near Glasgow is Dunlops Auto Shop, a family-run retailer that has served garages in and around the local area for over 40 years.

In fact, the parts business goes right back to the 1960s when charismatic owner Fred Dunlop first established it, which was a one-windowed shop selling tuning parts for Minis, Big Bore exhausts and leather steering wheels at the time. “I first left school at 15 to go and work with my father”, said Fred, “My dad used to run motor factors when I was young so I have been in the motoring trade most of my life”.

14 years into service, the opportunity came up to move to a larger and more mdern shop on 1218 Shettleston Road where the branch continued bulking out its wares and delivery services to workshops for a number of years. The business eventually moved up the road to 1250 in 2003, where Fred bought the building outright and extended through to next door – which was demolished and rebuilt to expand the firm’s footprint. In more recent times, Fred is still involved, but son Stewart handles the day-to- day business.

BUSINESS EXPANSION
The search for a new and extra branch brought them to the town of Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, proving a fitting spot logistically for business, as Stewart explains. “The main reason for opening the branch in Rutherglen was to service another area of Glasgow and Lanarkshire, where we thought was wide open and only covered by other factors’ delivery vans”, he continued. “In Glasgow, we have every factor covering all areas with van deliveries, but with our service and expertise, we have little competition in the area for having a branch there”.

Shop gondolas

Fred and Stewart officially opened the Rutherglen branch four months ago, housing five staff and six delivery vans as they make their daily runs to nearby towns; ensuring garages receive their parts on time. “We stick to the local area where there are many small workshops”, Stewart notes. “We also deliver to Eastkilbride and Hamilton. We are getting busier there but we always make sure we stick to an approximate 10 mile radius”. Aside from its efficient delivery services, Dunlops offers free wiper blade fittings and alternator battery tests for customers at both sites.

SHOP REVAMP
Prior to opening, the Rutherglen premises was previously a branch of another factor and in need of some TLC. This is when Fred and Stewart worked effortlessly to spruce up the shop before its grand reveal. Their hard work paid off with a new and modern retail operation sporting its blue, red and white livery across the shop floor and its fleet of vans. “The days of a dirty store or accessory shop is finished. Customers like being served in a nice environment”, Stewart replied. “As I have said often to friends I have known in the trade for years, the trade is not dying, in fact, it is far from it”.

Stewart notes that despite only being open a few months, business has taken off well after inking deals with various suppliers, including TMD Friction’s Mintex, FAI Automotive and retail stock from FPS, the latter helped with the store display and fit-out.

The new site is also home to a large trade counter with Bosch wiper blades and Laser Tools products hanging along the left wall while a range of oils and lubricants from Lucas and other well known brands occupy the right. Shelves are stacked in an orderly fashion with an eclectic range of car care products to choose from. Meanwhile, a number of cycles and alloy wheels are displayed in the shop window as a handy upsell to garages and DIY enthusiasts. “Any name you can think of in the component industry we’ve got it”, Fred remarked. “We’ve been with the GAU for over 10 years and they have been marvellous and very helpful with all the major suppliers supplying us. The rebates are really good too!”.

For now, the Dunlop family are taking some breathing space before commencing with their next project in the New Year. This will involve an additional extension on the Rutherglen site to bulk out its competitive offerings of braking, steering and suspension parts that are currently located in its Parts Department behind the tills. In addition, Stewart is on the lookout for a third branch. We can’t wait to see it.

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KEEPING TECHNICIANS AHEAD OF THE CURVE

KEEPING TECHNICIANS AHEAD OF THE CURVE

Keith Stead explains how The MOT Training Centre is going from strength-to-strength since opening its doors 10 months ago.

Refurbished centre offers MOT training

The MOT Training Centre was once a dedicated workshop for Stamford College students up until two years ago, when it was replaced with a new facility. This left the old workshop building looking for a new use.

The eureka moment to open a training centre was prompted by a former tutor who worked with the college to get an MOT training centre off the ground. This led to the appointment of Keith Stead, who was brought in to manage the day-to-day operations due to his 20 years of knowledge and expertise in the automotive industry. “My experience covers vehicle electrics, MOT, air conditioning as well as MOT management work overseas”, Stead recalled.

The first thing you need to know about the centre is that it is separate from the college, albeit on the same premises. “We are completely stand- alone”, said Stead. “We only deal with the industry. Although this business was established on behalf of the college, we have no students coming here until they’re qualified and in full-time employment”, adding that the courses are for technicians ready to build on their skills for their careers.

COURSES AND STRUCTURE
There is a range of courses that garages can take advantage of. This includes the MOT Training for Light Vehicle and Motorcycle Testers courses as well as an MOT Training for Managers programme of which are all IMI accredited. There is also air-con DEFRA training and CPD for existing testers.

The courses are usually run in groups of four, which has proved more effective compared to running sessions with larger quantities of candidates, according to Stead. “We run a maximum of four people per course. This is because it’s easier to bond, ask questions and each technician can have their individual time with our trainers”, he continued. “For us, it’s not about how many people we can squeeze into a class, it is more for the longevity, keeping our prices and classroom sizes lower, and it isn’t about how fast we can make money. We’d rather have constant bookings because some people are shocked at what some places are changing”.

WORKSHOP LAYOUT
To make sure all amenities are available, the building contains a large workshop area comprising of an MOT bay, one ramp and lane setter, designed for class four and seven vehicles as well as catering to class one and two motorcycles. Technicians also have access to a mixed bag of diagnostic tools and vehicles to practice on, as Stead points out. “We have diesel and petrol vehicles from a variety of ages so they have the choice of using old marques or modern ones including Volvos and Renaults”.

In addition to the workshop space, the premises has a classroom and computer area for the theory aspect of each course, and being DV8 accredited means delegates can sit their exams on site while being assessed by a member of the DVSA during their final practical.

BUSINESS PLANS
A Hybrid course has recently been introduced that the firm is currently promoting to its trade customers. The business has also attracted interest from nearby dealerships.

With around 26,000 MOT garages operating across the UK, the firm will certainly not fall short of testers to train as they gear up the next generation of technicians making their mark on the industry.

 

The MOT Training Centre
Drift Road, Stamford, Lincs, PE9 1XA
01780 484332

bookings@mottrainingcentre.co.uk

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CHARGING UP FOR THE NEXT DECADE

CHARGING UP FOR THE NEXT DECADE

Hayley Pells tells us about the electric dreams she has for the next decade

There’s two sides to Hayley Pells’ professional life as she is co-director of restoration garage and MOT Centre, Avia SpeedShop with Andrew Murdoch and co-director of coachbuilder GP Fabrications with husband Grahame Pells. “I guess it means that between the two I own a whole business” she joked.

CAT has visited Pells in the past, so we won’t go over her story and how recovered she from a serious injury obtained while serving in Iraq and had to learn new skills to join the family business of vehicle repairs. Nonetheless, it is the first time I’ve been to the Bridgend workshops and I’m keen to see the businesses for myself, as well as the oddball mix of vehicles that I’ve heard are the bread and butter of daily work here.

GP Fabrications is busy with a couple of very interesting projects. One is a bay window Type-Two campervan which was picked up for under a grand. VW enthusiasts will know that you’d be lucky to get just the logbook for that price, so it will come as no surprise if we tell you that most of the lower half of this van seems to simply not exist. This does not seem to phase Grahame as metal fabrication is his bread and butter, as it demonstrable from another commission he is working on, a custom body for a 1930s Grand Tourer which he is painstakingly making using traditional body craft tools, such as the English Wheel.

A couple of miles over the hills, there is an eclectic mix of work in the queue for ramp time at Avia. Sure, there is the obligatory clapped-out Astra with a suspect fuel pump and a school run BMW SUV in for an MOT, but there is also a Fiesta- based Jester kit car from the early 1980s, a rubber bumper MGB and a rather rusty E12 Alpina in for some body restoration. A 1950’s Ford pickup, one of Pells’ own cars, skulks in the corner, apparently in disgrace for having the temerity to spit a cog out of its three-speed gearbox.

There are changes afoot at the business though, The front of the workshop features a kitted out, though currently disused, pastiche of a 1950s American diner. Rather than let it out separately (“It uses the same keys as the business, our insurers would have a fit!”) the plan is to allow some local young people to run it, once they have put together a suitable business plan. This is project for which Pells has already sought permission, and funding, from the authorities for.

SKILLS

Just because the average age of vehicle in the workshop is greater than the combined age of her two youthful apprentices does not mean that the business is shy of learning about some of the latest developments in technology. Outside the workshop sits a Nissan Leaf, acquired by Pells who is extremely keen for the team including herself to train on how to service and repair such vehicles. The workshop is also skilled in the traditional, but highly technical art of performance set-ups for fast road or track use.

Classic and modern found at Avia

Sending everyone on long and expensive training courses can be perceived as a risk for small garages though, something that Pells acknowledges. “We are keeping busy and we’re paying the bills, so while everyone’s happy, you have to ask, do we rock the boat?” she ponders out loud, and the answer is clearly a ‘yes’. “It seems to work and our clients like it, and when new technology comes in, we are ready for it – and normally before anybody else which is why we have so many trade customers” she says.

One area of recruitment and training that Pells is quite vocal about is the snail-like pace in which female school and college leavers are joining the garage trade. “We’ve been encouraged by the RMI’s ‘30 by 30’ campaign (under which 30 percent of motor trade recruits will be female by 2030) but a bit saddened that its going to take such a long time for a relatively small increase” she says, adding that perhaps with bold thinking there might be ways to get a greater percentage faster. She makes the point that there is no physical reason why almost anybody should be prevented in working in a modern garage. “As workshop equipment has evolved it is different to when my Dad had a garage in the 1970s, there is not so much heavy lifting – which is good for everybody regardless whether you are male or female”.

“We used to damage people in this industry and there is no need to do that whether they are male or female, but it was always accepted that in this hands-on trade you were going to sustain injury. I don’t understand where that acceptance will come from”.

CHANGES

Diner to be part of new social enterprise

Pells is also insistent that changes in legislation will play their part in redressing the balance. “I think with shared parental leave [introduced by the coalition government a few years ago] has led to some blurring between traditional gender roles, although the uptake so far has been poor. Men are worried about job security – will it still be there when they come back? And will they be taken seriously after taking time for what is seen as a female role? I don’t think it is any surprise that the sectors where there has been good uptake has been academia and public services. I think those attitudes will become normalised and then spread to other professions”.

However, Pells is uncertain whether the aftermarket is geared up for such change, and what the fallout might be. “In a garage the current thinking is ‘oh, maternity leave – that’s a bit scary. We’ll just employ men’. Well with shared leave, they will have to modernise their thinking. People who become parents for the first time don’t know what was ‘normal’ in the past – they know what is normal now and they will put an expectation on employers… and will that change be something our industry is ready for” she says.

Whatever changes comes next, whether in law or in technology, we know the teams at Bridgent will be ready for them.

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KEEPING A CAP ON THE PRESSURE

KEEPING A CAP ON THE PRESSURE

Times are changing in the radiator business, but Nick White has adapted.

NRG is the only radiator shop in Leeds.

There was a time when every market town in the land had a couple of independent radiator reconditioners, or at least a branch of a national chain such as Serck Marston. However, time moves on. “Reconditioning of car radiators is a dying industry” said Nick White, proprietor of Leeds- based Northern Radiators. “Radiators used to be copper and brass so you either went to the main dealer for a new one, or came to us to recondition it. Now the tanks are plastic, there is not the need”.

“The factories can just stamp out the plastic tanks and that’s what they do in China”. White adds that because some of these companies supply the public directly through auction sites, trying to import and compete in this sector is a waste of effort. “There’s more profit in selling the radiator cap on eBay than there is selling the whole unit” he remarked glibly.

However, where there’s brass, there’s more brass (as the old Yorkshire saying almost goes) and Northern Radiators has cut out a niche for itself in remanufacturing heavy duty and specialist rads that do still have heavy metal construction. “We do both corporate and private accounts, from councils and airports to people with classic cars” White explains, and to demonstrate the fact we went and had a look at the workshop’s ‘in tray’. Straight away we noticed some familiar-looking classic references, apparently from a Ford Cortina and a Triumph Vitesse, while another customer dropped off a radiator from his Rolls-Royce as we were speaking.

RANGE
Alongside these rads sat some more heavy-duty ones, apparently from fork-lift trucks, while another couple of huge and ancient-looking units waited, which had apparently come from backup generators in the basement of a building somewhere. Apart from cooling system radiators, the firm can also supply and recondition oil coolers, intercoolers and heater matrixes. It also offers a service to repair fuel tanks and sump pans.

Despite White’s earlier dismissal of new replacement rads, the firm does stock a number of quality performance parts from suppliers Mishimoto and Koyo, mainly as upgrades over OE for vehicles such as Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo. These high-end parts are bought by enthusiasts and command a reasonable margin.

While the firm has been at its current 3000 sq ft location for a few years, it dates back much further. In fact, the business was started in 1920. After the second world war, Nick White’s father Paul started his own radiator company following demobilisation. He acquired Northern Radiators in 1948. Now 94 years old and retired he still takes an active interest in the company. Northern Radiators was set up as a company in 1920. My father had come out of the army and started is own radiator company after the war and acquired Northern Radiators in 1948. He’s name is Paul White and he is 94 and still alive” said White.

TRADITION
Another traditional aspect of the business is the way in which radiators are recored which could make a fascinating article of its own, but in short involves quite a lot of hydrochloric acid and radiators tested under pressure. “The principal remains exactly the same” agrees White. “With modern health and safety we are a bit more switched on than a traditional operation, but radiators are very similar”.

And according to White, it will continue to be radiators at the ‘core’ of the business for a while yet. “We’ve tried various other things but we always keep coming back to radiators. At the moment we are very busy on radiators, just seven people. We are lean and mean and it is manageable” he concluded.

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GET YOUR THERMALS ON

GET YOUR THERMALS ON

Ceramic coating process in action.

Oxford-based Zircotec’s ceramic heat shielding technology was first developed for the nuclear industry during the 1970’s when the manufacturer was still part of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. But after a management-buyout in 2008, the terms and conditions of becoming a Limited corporation meant the firm would have to relocate from its nuclear license site in Harwell and that’s what the team did, setting up an independent operation at their new digs in Abingdon seven years ago.

One of the employees that assisted with this buyout was Zircotec MD Terry Graham, who was keen to talk about the the firm’s latest multi-cloured offering Performance Colours. “Many aftermarket firms purchase these, because if they’re spending large amounts of money on modifying a vehicle and adding fittings to engine compartments, the coating will protect those extra features that they’ve installed”. He adds that the robust design eliminates the need for exhaust wraps. Although these components look pleasing enough, it’s the thermal barrier protection that is why people buy it as exhaust surface temperatures are reduced by a third.

PRODUCTION
The first thing you need to know when entering the facility is that you’ll not find the team with brushes and pots of emulsion to hand. Instead, expect high tech machinery and designated workstations designed for the electrolysis process right up to inspection and distribution. To facilitate this, the warehouse incorporates a masking lab, four grit blasters as well as three spray booths and several baking ovens for those colour specifications to set before ending up in Zircotec branded packaging.

Our first checkpoint was the delivery room filled with tailpipes, turbochargers and manifolds sent in from workshops and OEMs. Once the order is logged, it enters the masking lab next door where parts are carefully marked-up on customer request. Explaining the reasons for this, Graham said. “Customers don’t want coatings on certain parts such as the slip joints or serial number. This is because the coating has a certain thickness (0.3mm to be exact) so if we applied it on these parts, they wouldn’t fit together properly”.

The component then enters a grit blaster machine to smoothen its surface before ending up in one of three plasma spray booths where a metallic-based bond coating is applied for secure adhesion between the ceramic and substrate. Two hours after the operation, the product re-enters the booth so the ceramic coating can be ‘welded’ on. “With intense processes and temperatures, people ask us if we ever damage the pipe, and the answer is that we don’t”, Graham replied. “We are in effect ‘welding’ liquid metal or ceramic that we’re firing to the pipe. Each particle welds itself in place but doesn’t damage the pipe” adding that the spray gun melts the ceramic particles at 10,000°c and twice the speed of sound, which would explain the screeching noise coming from the booths.

For its Carbon Composite and Performance White coatings, Graham notes that parts coming in for this service will receive a similar setup in order to provide thermal protection for glass fibre, plastics and composite materials through its Thermohold formulation. Of course, working under any of
these intense conditions means staff are kitted out in the correct clothing, eye and ear protection before the finished article receives its final checks.

BRANCHING OUT
A new test facility is currently in its mock-up stage and will be completed later this year. As for the Performance Colour Range, the team are scratching the imagination with new and vibrant colours to replace some current ones in order to keep the line fresh and competitive.

In addition to this, the business has taken on some more projects from OEMs and has objectives to develop its exhaust coating portfolio and distribution networks overseas. “Our aim is to start testing out coatings in different arrangements and getting further improvements to the performance of them” Graham said. “Quite often are aftermarket customers don’t buy on performance so I’d like to obtain some more data and relay it back to them. We do quite a lot of work for these companies but there is still much more to be had” he concluded.

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GROWTH IN SPARTAN TIMES

GROWTH IN SPARTAN TIMES

Spartan Motor Factors explain how expanding an independent factor chain in an age of consolidation is a bold move.

Inside the stockroom

It’s a busy morning in an industrial unit in Bridgend. Pickers run between almost-completed racks of car parts while phones ring and a printer spews out orders. Somewhere, a huge and noisy vacuum cleaner and a hammer drill wail intermittently like some industrial banshee.

We’re in the latest branch of Spartan Motor Factors on opening day, and it’s fair to say that the building, which was once home to a Partco, has not seen this level of activity for many years.

Not that getting the branch ready has been anything like glamour. “We were here all weekend putting up the racking” Director Lee Gratton says balefully, adding that there was still some work to do, but the factor was now ready to the phone lines and the roller doors for the garages of Bridgend.

Spartan is a relatively recent name on the factor scene. Started in 2012 by Lee Gratton, Jason Farrugia and Daniel Webb the company used the Motaquip scheme of supplying a stockpack of parts and consumables to the firm’s first branch in Newport. Both Gratton and Webb had a background of working in factors, while Farrugia was experienced in accountancy.

A branch in Cardiff followed a year later, which became the Head Office. It was, to be polite, a challenging time for an independent factor to go on an expansion drive. Private equity fuelled the growth of the main players, with the Parts Alliance and Groupauto making acquisitions, while Euro Car Parts famously opened a dozen branches in a single day in early 2013, leading to a war of attrition between the big players, which the newcomers had to find an answer. “Yes, it was not easy” laughed Gratton.

SOURCING STOCK
One of the problems related to sourcing stock. “With suppliers, their involvement with other motor factors can prevent you from opening an account” explained Gratton. “When we first opened in Newport, a supplier put in its range of stock – and a month later they came back and took it all out saying ‘sorry, we’ll give you a refund, but there is a conf lict of supply here. We are going to lose one of our biggest customers if we continue to supply you”. This was a reoccurring theme of the early days. “I had to ask why we can’t still have an account, but have our own separate deals?” Gratton pondered.

Spartan staff

There was a logical solution to getting hands on brands from a range of suppliers, and that was to join a buying group. Initially, the choice was the PDP, but just over a year later Spartan left and joined the IFA. There are always issues in swapping buying groups, but Jason Farrugia says the biggest problem was removing and replacing stock. “One of the main difficulties was cleansing the old stock out of the five branches” he recalled. “In terms of the brands themselves, it was not too much of a problem with customers as they were familiar with most of them, such asKYBandFAI–itisn’tas though we are trying to sell anything unknown.

On the subject of brands, buying group membership has helped Spartan move some offerings upmarket, “We’ve moved over to Wix and Mahle on filtration and it has improved our filter business no end” Farrugia said. “Before, we had a mix of brands. A quality product is something customers don’t mind paying a small amount extra for, and they don’t try to push you down on the price of filters”.

Apart from access to brands, the knowledge base of the IFA has proven to be useful. “The IFA were really strong in the area and the brands were very strong. My co-Directors knew them from their Welsh Autoparts days, and I must say they have been brilliant” says Farrugia. “In the nine months since we have been members, I have learnt more about MAM, stockholdings and purchasing than I did for the whole five years that we have been in business before”.

Going back to opening day here in Bridgend, it will come as no surprise that the building is well suited to be a motor factor considering the previous occupant. Easy access to allow goods in and out is supported by a large stock room, with potential for a mezzanine. The building has an upstairs area with a meeting room and an office, while downstairs the original counter has been extended backwards to incorporate a small showroom area. This is still the subject of much drilling, hammering and Hoovering on our visit, although we manage to clear the area long enough to get a group photo.

Starting a factor chain in an era of consolidation might not be for the faint hearted, but Spartan hasn’t ruled out further expansion. “We have always been a little off the cuff… If the right opportunity presents itself” concluded Gratton.

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A POINT OF DIFFERENCE

A POINT OF DIFFERENCE

David Williams takes us on tour around Michelin Licensee Future Developments.

Stoke-on-Trent is known as the Potteries for its heritage in throwing all kinds of clay, from fine bone china to toilet pans. However, in recent years the city has become a logistics hub housing many distribution centres. A major player here is Future Developments – a manufacturer supplying car care products and aerosols to large retailers up and down the country.

18 months ago, the firm inked a deal with Michelin where it became an official licensee for the UK and Ireland. Dave Williams, Sales Director of the firm, explained: “We manufacture specifically for niche markets. We never had a brand before and Michelin came to mind because it was in local [Michelin has a niche tyre production facility in nearby Shelton] and they were keen to do it”. He continued. “We’re looking to create a brand over the next two to three years by bringing in and making products with a difference”.

With 700 products to manufacture, a large space and the essential amenities are required. While touring the site, Future Developments seems to have all the facilities to hand with a 7,000 sq ft site containing three shipping containers for raw materials and bottles, an aerosol storage plant and a production warehouse where over 10,000 Michelin-branded products are produced each day, before they’re tried and tested on site. Once approved and set to the required standards, products are boxed up and packaged for distribution.

PRODUCTS AND PROMOTIONS
Another well-used area is the mock-shop showroom, which has a plethora of retail products sporting the Michelin brand. Wheel trims, inspection lamps and breakdown kits were displayed on shelves next to the firm’s other wares such as insect repellents and stain removers for the household domestics market as well as graffiti removal – a regular purchase among city councils across the UK. Ray Bowles, Managing Director of Future Developments, said. “We distribute all the Michelin wiper blades as well as snow brushes, ice scrapers, snow shovels and wheel trims”, adding that the firm has expanded its wiper blade distribution overseas.

Williams mentions that retail customers can benefit from some handy upsell opportunities such as Michelin point of sale (POS) display stands. He adds. “Customers can purchase our promotion stands to upsell their products in store. Another example is our screenwash, which we’ve designed so it can interlock with other bottles for stacking in shops. From a retailer’s point of view, it looks presentable, doesn’t crush and is easier for stacking”. In addition, the team provide fitting videos and aftercare support to retailers and end users.

POINT OF DIFFERENCE
While designing things like formulas and bottles is an element of the business, it is not the only one. Williams highlights that the multicoloured triggers within the car care range are ‘unique’ selling points in themselves, whereby, each bottle has its own mechanism, designed to make application simpler for customers. He says. “We don’t just develop the product, we also develop the trigger. For example, we have developed a pre-compressed trigger which allows easier application and restricts any leaks onto fingers and hands during use”.

A similar example Bowles and Williams demonstrated was their AdBlue container. Although this formula can’t be altered, this didn’t stop the team from creating another application solution. “We can’t make AdBlue different from anybody else because it’s a standard product according to regulations”, said Williams. “However, we can differentiate the way it’s delivered. We have done this by creating a siphoned nozzle with 360° action, which can be used in different positions to fill into the car”.

PARTNERSHIP
Recently, a number of factor chains have expressed interest in the firm’s products. Williams expands. “We recently signed a deal with Euro Car Parts who are taking on the Michelin brand. They requested a couple of products including our new Screen Wash sachets and they’re also stocking Michelin’s Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS)”, adding that the firm’s wiper blades have also sparked interest. Bowles and Williams have also been in meetings with battery suppliers, factor buying groups and accessory store chains, any of whom could become potential supply partners in the near future.

The firm is now planning to extend its fleet of vans and silver range of glass, leather and wheel cleaners (to name a few) launched at Automechanika Birmingham this year. Whatever market they’re supplying, the team will continue bringing out products that will not only make sales for retailers, but more importantly, ‘make life easier’ and simpler for the end-user.

Posted in Accessories, Car Care, Cooling, Factor & Supplier News, Garage News, General, Lighting, News, Out and About with CAT, Retailer News, Styling, WipersComments (0)

DIAGNOSING AND FIXING FAULTS FIRST TIME AROUND

DIAGNOSING AND FIXING FAULTS FIRST TIME AROUND

Dinos Christoforou takes us around his family-run garage business, ‘Spiros Motors’ in North West London.

Ex-F1 technician, Spiros Christoforou, opened his garage business in North West London 35 years ago, and has enjoyed steady growth ever since. “We have got contracts with HR Owen Sports Car, which means we get a lot of prestige sports cars coming through from the dealership” said Spiros’s son Dinos – who is also a master technician at the firm. “This includes Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati. We have our own USP of fast cars that we service on a regular basis”.

While some garages have been known to still use older diagnostics, coupled with the newer technologies coming into the market, technicians should be regularly updating their skills both in terms of equipment and training, according to Dinos. “It’s hard to stay up-to-date in this industry because everything is changing” he said. “If you don’t keep up then you will start falling behind and I think many garages find it difficult because they’re always trying to cut down their prices”, adding that his staff are fully up-to-speed with tooling, training and the technical know-how to repair these models correctly.

WORKSHOP LAYOUT
This was evident from the workshop layout, which has a new automatic tester lane (ATL) installed for MOT on the right hand side with five dedicated service ramps lined up on the left. The site also contains an engine room as well as a dedicated car park space outback, which Dinos notes, is the only independent to possess one in the Park Royal area. With a handful of garage networks operating in close proximity and JT Car Repairs next door, we were curious to find out if this has impacted business. Dinos said. “There are around eight to 10 local garages in this area but we’re all in different leagues with one another so there is no cross over or competition between us”.

DIAGNOSTICS
Being a diagnostic specialist for most car models, means the team is well equipped for whatever enters the ramp. For troubleshooting and detecting fault codes, Spiros technicians will use Launch UK diagnostics and for more complex issues, the Autologic or Bosch KTS tool is the preferred unit of choice. Being a Bosch Car Service member also has its perks, according to Dinos, which is noticeable in the foyer area where many Bosch training qualifications are framed and hanging on the walls. “The Bosch training is world class”, he said, “They provide us with training from diagnostics up to service and master level technician”, adding that himself and his uncle are the two qualified master technicians on site.

Workshop contains five service ramps

SERVICES
To say the garage only conducts MOT and general repairs would be an understatement as there are many other services within its remit including air conditioning, bodyshop repair and fitting AlloyGators, which we were lucky enough to see Dinos fit to a BMW Z3 fresh off the track. Explaining his reasons for offering this service, he said. “It started with my mother who had a Porsche Carrera. She kept hitting the kerb and had to change her tyres nearly every two to three months as a result. They should normally last up to 12,000 miles on that vehicle.” He adds. “We told her to get rid of the car because it’s costing thousands on tyres a year, but someone from the racing community suggested AlloyGators and we have been impressed with them ever since”.

However, after fitting AlloyGators for nearly 10 years now, the master technician has found a number of fitment errors among some tyre fitting centres. He elaborates. “I have found people have failure of alloys because they have gone to a tyre fitment centre, where they have pumped up the tyre, handed back the keys but haven’t gone back around them for the final fitment”. Dinos makes sure that every AlloyGator fitted has ‘sunk in’ properly by applying pressure with a rubber mallet around the wheel, once they’ve been trimmed and fitted accordingly.

Although there’s been discussions between Spiros and his son about opening a second garage, they have decided to put it on the back-burner for now due to the growing demand of vehicles entering its current site as Dinos points out. “The way our business operates, it’s very hard to open a second garage because me and my father are hands on. Every job that goes through the garage, goes through us so we will carry out the quality controls and road test the vehicles when jobs have been completed”. He concluded. “It’s difficult to expand for these reasons however, we want to continue providing that high level of service and be there for our customers”.

Posted in Garage News, News, Out and About with CATComments (0)

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