Archive | Out and About with CAT

MAINTAINING CUSTOMER RETENTION AT ALL TIMES

MAINTAINING CUSTOMER RETENTION AT ALL TIMES

Vince Blackmore shows CAT around LVW’s Rollings branch in Wrexham

Vince (L) and Harold

Vince (L) and Harold

While in Wales, we visited Wrexham Rollings, a long- established distributor and part of the LVW Group.

Since its acquisition in 2008 and subsequent relocation across town, the branch has gone from strength-to-strength, according to Regional Manager Vince Blackmore, who’s been a long-serving employee and witnessed the firm’s growth first hand during his 32 years of service. “I joined Rollings in 1985 when we were situated in the middle of Wrexham at the old Brooke Street building”, he said. “The LVW Group saw the sales results in the business and took advantage of this opportunity by acquiring the store from previous owner David Evans nine years ago”.

Now based from a 10,000 sq ft facility, Blackmore is responsible for overseeing the performance of the Wrexham store as well as LVW’s Flint and Oswestry sites. However, those are just to name a few in
the distributor’s portfolio as Blackmore explains. “In 2011, LVW bought the Rollings branch in Oswestry and acquired parts distributor Moparts in Liverpool”, adding that the firm also possesses its LVW Automotive outlets in Birkenhead and Ellesmere Port, bringing the group’s network to six sites.

Wrexham Rollings houses 30 staff and 15 vans, a few of which on our visit were lined up symmetrically while they loaded for a run. “Our vans deliver locally within a three to four mile radius and we have timed runs for the mountainous regions reaching as far as 30 miles”, replied Blackmore, who also informed us that plans to extend its fleet is currently a ‘work in progress’.

An army of exhaust silencers

WAREHOUSE TOUR
After a bit of background history, Blackmore took us around the warehouse to go through the day-to-day running of the operation. From the ground floor up to the mezzanine, we were impressed with how organised each aisle was as product groups were stacked tidily along the shelves with no signs of overstock. “Coil springs, steering and suspension and brake pads are just a few of our fastest selling lines” explained Blackmore. “We are also a member of the IFA buying group which gives us buying  power to order stock at affordable rates than if we just went directly to the supplier as a non-member”. Even ‘ugly’ exhaust silencers looked good glimmering as they hung up side-by-side in the large warehouse awaiting an order.

CUSTOMER RAPPORT
As we continued our tour, Blackmore explained that the store has accumulated over 450 customer accounts and counting with 80 to 90 percent of the base comprising garages and workshops. However, like nearby Wrexham Motoring Supplies, Rollings has kept both existing and new customers at the core of the operation. “Our customers are not just an account number, they are personal and have been with us for 30+ years because staff have built up a great relationship with them” Blackmore replied.

“For example, if there’s something wrong on a customer’s 2009 Insignia, the customer will ring and we will get the parts right and delivered to them quickly first time around. It’s all about customer service and building that relationship”, adding that the branch uses Autocat to track down the necessary components for the vehicle model in question. Surprisingly, the store has even built up a strong rapport with its next-door neighbour ‘Volkswagen Wrexham’ (which despite the name has no connection with LVW). “There is no friction at all”, said Blackmore. “The guys from Volkswagen just come in and collect their parts. There is no competition between us”.

Counter stocks many aftermarket brands

TECHNICAL TRAINING
Vince told CAT that the branch holds a range of technical evenings, presentations and training courses on site for garage customers to keep them abreast of the latest developments. Past courses have covered an array of topics including hybrid systems; oil along with supplier training and ongoing technical talks from companies such as Gates. Blackmore elaborated: “We have constant supplier courses such as common oil training, clutches and we hold technical and presentation evenings for customers in our warehouse space”. We were intrigued to find out what Blackmore had pencilled in for the coming  months. He said: “We recently had a Gates Fan Belt and Tensioner Training course, but the next one will be the timing belt side of it which will take place in the Spring time”.

Before wrapping up proceedings, Blackmore discussed the firm’s upcoming plans, which involves increasing customer retention and organising its ongoing training programmes for the rest of 2017.

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GOING ABOVE AND BEYOND CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS

GOING ABOVE AND BEYOND CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS

We pay another visit to the Rogers family at Wrexham Motoring Supplies

Jonathan and Alun Rogers

Jonathan and Alun Rogers

As a CAT Award nominee, we thought it was high time for a return visit to accessory store Wrexham Motoring Supplies.

The third generation retailer will hit its 50th milestone next year as an independent supplying garages and ‘DIY mechanics’ in the town of Wrexham. Founder Arthur Jones established the shop in 1968 and kept it solely as a family-run entity that was later entrusted to his daughter Gaynor and son-in-law Alun Rogers after he died in 1971. Since then, Arthur’s grandson Jonathan now heads up the operation alongside his father.

To say the father and son duo were shocked was an understatement after finding out they’d been shortlisted for the Retailer of the Year Award “We were surprised to say the least,” said Jonathan, “I even e-mailed the Editor to find out how we got nominated, but we were very thankful and humbled to have been considered for the award”.

STORE LAYOUT
We felt the Rogers family did not give themselves enough credit for what seemed like a clean and tidy establishment stocking a number of well-known aftermarket brands with customers popping in and out for various items and the occasional chat during our visit. From Bosch wiper blades to Laser tools there were many accessory shop staples hanging up on display behind the counter for technicians and car enthusiasts alike. The middle of the store encompassed a range of low viscosity oils from Millers and Castrol, which were lined up in single file across the shelves; complemented with a variety of car care products and kits for extra road safety and vehicle maintenance.

Store is clean and organised

Store is clean and organised

CUSTOMER SERVICE
“Our fastest selling lines are brake pads, oils, bulbs and filters”, said Alun Rogers. “If someone comes in for a bulb or wiper, we will fit it for them because they’re not the easiest thing to fit, and won’t charge for fitment as we’ll hopefully see the customer return later”. Jonathan concurs, explaining that the driving force behind the retailer was going beyond customer expectations with a decent range and free fitting. “We bank on the personal side of the continual customer where most of them come back. Some wipers can take up to ten minutes to fit but we don’t charge for this because we want to help our customers.” he said, adding that the firm also responds to call-outs from garages and DIY enthusiasts for vehicles in need of a jump-start.

Although competition is quite fierce in the area with the likes of ECP and CES just a short distance from the store, Jonathan reiterates the fact that customer service has been a key element to keeping the business afloat while standing out against the local competition. “Our main competitors around here are CES, Euro Car Parts and the LVW Group’s Rollings”, Jonathan continued: “Personal service makes us stand out and we still maintain an element of being a bit ‘old fashioned’ where we’re up-to-date with everything. We offer personal services, and customer satisfaction is our top priority, which is why we’re still here because we’ve become close friends with our customers”.

PRODUCTS
More recently, the Rogers family have extended their product portfolio by supplying Wix Filters and introducing welding gas. Jonathan said the introduction of gas came into effect due to growing customer demand and no rental charges on the cylinders.

Being a UAN member also has its perks allowing the firm to attain more ‘buying power’ from aftermarket brands at cheaper rates. Additionally, the membership offers seasonal promotions that the Rogers can take advantage off as and when required. The store’s website and Facebook channels has been a strong source for advertising and increasing its client Rolodex, as Jonathan points out. “We have a Facebook account and website which we are in the process of updating. We also do some local advertising at car rallies and the Wrexham Football Club”.

For the near future, the team have no drastic expansion plans, apart from continuing Arthur’s legacy and growing their customer base with some more clients already coming onto the books in due course. We look forward to revisiting the Rogers Family for another brew in 2018.

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WE’RE ON TOP OF THE WEALD

WE’RE ON TOP OF THE WEALD

Gregory Spink shows us how products are made at accessory brand Valet Pro.

Greg Spink

Greg Spink

It’s a bright and fresh day in Sussex Weald – except for the farmyard-come-industrial estate that we are visiting today where ‘rotten’ might be the best adjective to describe the air. The stench… “That would be the Dragon’s Breath” says Gregory Spink, referring to a wheel cleaner currently being produced in one of the units just upwind of where we are. “It makes a big impact, but it smells awful, hence the name”.

In a world where even a strong toilet bleach smells like a spring meadow, it is a bold marketing decision to not only put an evil-smelling consumer product on the shelves, but to refer to it in the name as well.

Neither is the packaging anything to particularly write home about. However, it does spell out the difference between Valet Pro and other auto chemical producers. The team at the company describe themselves as car detailers, and products are designed for efficacy rather than packaging, a point that is driven home to us as Spink explains in detail the PH neutral properties of the wheel cleaner, and how the ingredients change the state between the of the contaminant so that it becomes water soluble.

In spite – or possibly because of the way the product has been designed for function over form, it has built up a keen following among car enthusiasts, who regard Dragon’s Breath and the rest of the firm’s product lines as a kind of ‘secret sauce.’
Accordingly, Valet Pro is available through independent retailers where Spink believes that the best advice can be given: “If you get a product in the supermarket, you are not going to ask the guy stacking shelves if a wheel cleaner is suitable for your type of allalloys? Of if a polish is too abrasive?” he said. “Whereas an independent is more likely to take the time to find the right product. We often get calls from retailers, as well as from Joe Public, asking about things such as removing tree sap, and different types of sap and so on”.

In fact, Spink finds the way the retail aftermarket is structured as being very complicated. “I find the marketplace just bizarre because you have businesses. like manufacturers that retail and distribute product, plus you’ve got retailers that want to be distributors and you’ve got distributors that have retail” he said, adding that no-one really knows their place anymore. “I don’t mean that rudely, but retailers get upset when brand owners sell their product to the general public and the brand owners get upset when retailers don’t push their product enough” he qualified. “Distributors get upset because they get cut out of the deal because manufacturers go direct to retailers”.

There’s one loser in this situation, according to Spink. “It rules out the independent retail shops who are getting frustrated that work really hard with other brand owners, only to find that they haven’t got the market that they used to have”.

To counter this, a lot of Valet Pro’s retail customers have styled themselves as ‘boutiques’ for detailing cars. We see some pictures of accessory shops where the firm’s wares are displayed as if they were rare and exotic ointments.

One thing that might surprise about Valet Pro is the amount that is produced in-house. Apart from the afore mentioned Dragons breath, all sorts of other products are prepared in the facility, including pre-wash, bug remover and (by our count) three different types of snow foam shampoo. It would be unfair to describe the production lines as being small, but they are not like the huge automated production lines of some of the biggest players in the market.

However, all of the products are mixed with precision and Spink is willing to invest in more automation as demand rises. It isn’t just the products that are made in-house either.

The team are proud of the fact that all of the marketing material, right down to the labels on the bottles is also designed in-house. It’s this can-do attitude that has made the company such a must-have among enthusiasts, which is backed up by work with various car forums and websites such as PistonHeads.

We are sure that it won’t be long until many more independent retailers will want to stock more specialised ‘boutique’ products. Just try not to breathe in the Dragon’s breath.

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KEEPING CARBON AT THE CORE

KEEPING CARBON AT THE CORE

Christopher Shelley takes CAT on tour around Dymag Wheels production facilities in Chippenham

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Whether you’re a fan of superbike racing or a sports car enthusiast, there’s no doubt you would have come across Dymag Wheels, who have produced wheels for 43 years and more recently introduced some extremely light – and very sexy – rims made from carbon fibre.

The firm has been busy of late with a new Research and Development programme, designed not only to bring the wheels to market, but also implement an efficient and profitable manufacturing process, as Christopher Shelley, Chief Executive of Dymag Wheels, explains: “The product we have developed with the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative – a funding programme to improve global competitiveness, has enabled us to develop a product and low cost high volume manufacturing process, which are our two key things to market”. Shelley has also been working closely with the National Composite Centre in Bristol on the production of these carbon wheels.

PRODUCTION
We were keen to see the production process in action. “Typically we make the wheels to order which includes the colour, style and application before we distribute them to customers” said Shelley, adding that it would not be unusual for a set of four wheels to cost £14,000.

The first stop on our tour was the Machine Shop, home to milling machines whose purpose was forging motorcycle wheel hubs and centerpieces to the wheels, before ending up in the Paint Room next door, which on our visit, had a number of BAC Mono Wheels awaiting a spray job. However, the unit that caught most of our attention was a two- minute drive up the road where the main production is based. Shelley elaborated: “We are looking to develop the manufacturing process here with the help of the National Composite Centre, where we have a couple of other rooms like that over there; developing machines to automate the manufacturing process.” He added: “We lay up carbon wheels individually where we look to bring more semi- automation to speed up the manufacturing process and improve repeatability”. If all goes to plan, Shelley said the facility is hoping to roll out 10 carbon wheels per day.

PROJECTSDymag Wheels in production
Before hitting the road, Shelley wrapped up proceedings by discussing the firms business propositions for 2017, which includes building a UK and international dealer and distribution network. “We have a lot of investment going on where we’re looking to Dymag Wheels in production progressively build up our own distribution company”, replied Shelley. “Dymag Japan has been set up in Yokohama, we are also setting up Dymag USA, and selling directly to dealers in the EU from our UK base”, adding that the Dymag China group will complete the companies plans for ‘world domination’.

Shelley informed CAT that the wheel manufacturer is going through a tooling programme to expand its current range of sizes and fitments and will be presenting its next generation product at the SEMA show in Las Vegas. All of this, plus housing its seven units under one roof in a 20,000 – 40,000 sq ft facility in the Wiltshire area, it’s fair to say the company’s hands are full at the moment. We definitely will roll by for another visit to see Shelley and the team in their new digs later this year.

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STOCKING BUSINESSES OF ALL SHAPES AND SIZES

STOCKING BUSINESSES OF ALL SHAPES AND SIZES

Ross Sissons invites CAT on a tour around ABM Motor Factors in Plumstead

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You’ll be familiar with the old trope ‘the only constant is change’. While this well-worn expression could be used for much of the aftermarket, it can be particularly well applied to ABM Factors in Plumstead, which has dealt with the many changes in our industry over its 45-year history.

The business was established by Allen Burton in 1971 who brought in sons Nigel and Lloyd to eventually take over from him. After Burton’s passing, the brothers now head the operation.

On our visit, Branch Manager Ross Sissons was behind the counter to welcome us and provide an insight into the business. “We currently have three depots at the moment. ABM is our main one and we also have two depots in Catford and Dartford that are set up like branches”, he explained. “We also had another shop we originally started up the road called ‘Plumstead Motor Spares’ but we closed it down and migrated up here”. We were curious to find out what the abbreviation ‘ABM’ stands for. “Allen Burton Mick”, Sissons replied, adding that Mick is the owner of Stockwell Motor Accessories, a firm that the original company once had a joint venture with, but the initials had become well known after the JV ended, so the ABM name stuck.

COMPETITION

Sissons, who joined from Partco some 12 years prior, said: “Our stock availability is second to none. We pride ourselves on having a better spec than other competitors and the bigger players that are more driven on sales” he said, adding that this branch doesn’t make huge amounts of outgoing sales calls. “We don’t feel we need to call our customers all the time. They’ll come to us because they need help and they know we will assist them the best we can”.

Unsurprisingly, product availability has been key. This was evident on our tour around the factor’s labyrinth stockroom space, with brands including Mahle filters to Apec braking callipers and Key Parts clutch kits. “Our biggest pride here is our stock availability. Instead of keeping the top 35 products of one group category, we will hold the top 200. That’s how we run our business”, said Sissons.

Offering customers both a premium and budget alternative option has helped cater to businesses of all shapes and sizes, allowing the factor to compete on both levels. Sissons elaborates: “What we tend to do with the main product groups is keep them in two separate bands, so we’ll keep a brand like First Line as proprietary and Key Parts as tier two, so we have something else to sell”. He continued: “We have most part numbers for both types so we have an offering for all customers”.

As we continued our tour, Sissons explained that all stock and orders are recorded on MAM Autopart as each product group is stacked and lined up in separate rooms across the main f loors of the warehouse. The factor was also home to a workshop space in the basement that specialised in A labyrinth of exhaust parts manufacturing brake pipes for a range of classic vehicles.

As the tour came to a close, Sissons told us that being a GroupAuto member has its perks, providing the factor with seasonal promotions and updates of its latest gear that will generate sales all year round. ABM also has many suppliers that carry out regular stock cleanses.

HYBRID TECHNOLOGY
Sissons is fully aware of more hybrid technology to come, and is preparing the ABM team by enrolling staff onto training courses. He concluded: “We do try to promote training from within and I have put team members on courses. We have done courses with Delphi including a Vehicle Electronics programme, so we can diagnose and resolve customer queries over the phone first time around”.

When asked if opening up more factors was on the cards, Sissons said the firm’s main strategy is bulking out sales and stock availability with its current stores. We look forward to seeing what change the future holds for the company.

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NEW PHONES BUZZING IN WORTHING

Steve Reeves shows us around a South Coast factor that has received an upgrade

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Today is a busy day at CPA Worthing, though to be fair it is always busy at the original branch of the twelve-strong chain.

However, the extra rucus today is caused by the installation of a new IP-based phone system. As we arrive, Nick Fulford from the Parts Alliance’s IT team is busy testing connections and setting up screens, which when up and running, will display info on ring time, missed calls etcetera.

CPA Worthing was originally setup by Nick Best and Keith Anderson. A number of other names familiar to the aftermarket also joined the company in due course, including Operations Manager John Austin who remains with the company to this day. However, it is General Manager Steve Reeves who we are meeting today.

SYSTEM
“We’ve got a great system going in, backed up with mobiles so we are not going to miss any calls” said Reeves, indicating to Fulford who has his hands full testing several new handsets. “We’ve accepted it with open arms” he said, adding that as one of the larger branches in the Parts Alliance network.

The original name of the business is Car Parts and Accessories, so it should perhaps come as no surprise that the customer area resembles a traditional accessory shop, albeit one inside an industrial unit. Around half of the room is taken up with an L-shaped CPA team on new phones counter that on our visit had five staff members variously serving walk-in customers and picking up the soon-to-be- replaced phones.

CPA team on new phones

CPA team on new phones

“The way and the speed that you pick up the phone is important” stresses Reeves. Telephone policy is something that is strictly enforced at CPA as it remains the main way that customers form their impression of a business. “The garages want to know that they are dealing with people they can trust – with my guys they can” he adds.

The main stockroom is large – although no-one is quite sure exactly how big. What we do know is that it boasts a large mezzanine for the slower moving items and has a room used for meetings and as an office.

EXHAUSTS
Down in the main stock area, we notice a large amount of floor space was dedicated to exhausts. “Exhausts will become a shrinking market” asserts Reeves. “With the the exhausts you’ll find that some parts don’t move for three, four or even five years. It’s ugly as well. There may be a plan to shrink some of our exhaust stock as there are specialist centres. If Joe Public wants a rear box, we can obtain one of those on the same day from a supplier. Long have gone the days when a third of a building this size would be exhausts. You’re hanging up fresh air and I want the space for other products”.

As with any branch in this buying group’s network, there are all the brands you might expect: Delphi, Denso, NGK and so on. We also noticed some Yuasa batteries stocked alongside the group’s usual range of Banner products as well as Comma Oil held in various grades and quantities. A team of three people picks the stock, with seven vans running in and around the surrounding area. There is also an inter-branch ‘tea van’ to keep stock balanced across CPA. “Getting stock to customers quickly is like a hot pizza because delivering a cold one is not going to be any good” he concludes.

With a focused team and the new business systems to help keep the business on track, we are sure that CPA will be delivering ‘hot pizzas’ for many years to come.

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IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, JOIN THEM

Ahmed Khot invites us down to Heston Auto Parts in Hounslow

heston_auto_factorsThe business started in 1999 with Ahmed Khot running the shop after his father passed away.

Prior to the store’s opening, Khot’s father had been an active figure in the UAE aftermarket. “My father’s originally from India and he went over to Dubai where he set up a massive network of auto parts companies”, explained Khot: “We had 11 branches in the Middle East that we used to export from and with the experience my father accumulated out there, he brought it back to the UK”.

Khot’s father set up six factors in the UK but due to illness, he closed all the partnerships leaving Ahmed in charge of Heston Auto Parts to continue his work.

BUSINESS STRATEGY
Establishing a store in Hounslow which is a member of the CAAR buying group, led to a number of opportunities. Although this is a highly contested patch for all parts of the trade, Khot noticed the number of private hire companies in the area that served Heathrow airport “We looked at specific cars of our local market which are mainly cabs and chauffer companies, so we’ve targeted them and made sure we’ve have kept the necessary day-to-day parts in stock available so that when they come in we’ve got it” he said.

Interestingly, Khot has looked at the dozen or so businesses that exist on a small industrial area behind his store and has worked out ways of doing business with them all, rather than working against them. A partnership with one named A&N Auto Repairs for example has helped Khot find gaps for growth and margin opportunities while supplying spares to the technicians on a daily basis. “We’ve learnt a lot from them so we tend to know what’s going on in the market” he says. Having strong links with the local MOT centres has brought in more orders and kept those tills ringing each week.

DISTRIBUTION
Again, using Khot’s business philosophy of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, he has used the giant GSF Car Parts branch in nearby North Feltham to his advantage. “GSF has really supported us and has been a big help with technical information and boosting our knowledge of the European side”, he said. Equally, he doesn’t consider Euro Car Parts, who are very strong in the local area, to be an enemy. “With ECP, you always need a big brother on your side instead of fighting them, be with them” added Khot.

The firm now holds over 140 customer accounts and sends a lot of parts to Africa. Being part of the CAAR Group has also got its perks, allowing the factor to develop its online market and distribute to its European customers.

PRODUCTS AND STOCK
With the value of stock totalling £225,000, Khot has invested heavily in MAM catalogue software to monitor his wares, especially with the recent £20,000 extension that now houses a range of braking, suspension and spark plug parts. “We have invested quite heavily in MAM and it’s needed because of the size of our store that goes right out the back”. He explained that half the shop is dedicated to service kits and filtration that has proved a popular sell to DIY mechanics.

UPSELLING
As we enter the prime time for flat batteries and MOT services, Khot plans to bring his battery wares and ancillaries to the front of the store in a bid to up-sell to garages during the winter period. “I will be bringing our winter products and batteries to the front of the store, keeping all our summer wares at the bottom”. He added: “We have recently gone into parts for motorcycles and scooters and it’s proving to be quite good”.

The weak pound has been no barrier for the parts supplier. In fact, there are expansion plans afoot. “We want to start developing more product lines and importing products from abroad again” said Khot. “We are trying to look for a place for an MOT station which will have a motor factor at the front and will be two-in-one to take our business one step further”.

We look forward to catching up with Khot and his team again soon to find out how the new MOT and motor factor business has taken off.

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A1 MOTOR STORES AWARDS AND SUPPLIER ‘SPEED DATING’

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Salloway (middle) presented awards

There might be far fewer conventions and ‘jollies’ abroad these days, but we’re pleased to say that the A1 Conference took 85 delegates and 35 supplier’s reps to the delightful Grand Majestic Hotel on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Italy. Particular mention should be given to the five suppliers, which sponsored the convention, namely Tetrosyl, Comline, Trico, Platinum and FPS.

On the day of arrival, the guests enjoyed a trip on the lake, plus a decent evening’s feed. However, in the morning after breakfast it was down to work for the Supplier meetings. Members paired up and had strictly timed five-minute sessions with each supplier. Of course, if the discussions needed to go on longer then there was plenty of opportunity later, but the point of the exercise was to introduce members to suppliers that they may not have previously had a dialogue with.

AWARDS
a1_award_winnersThe evening event was a black-tie dinner. A1’s Head of Operations, Simon Salloway called everyone to order and announced the winners of the 2016 A1 Motor Stores’ Supplier Awards. There were only four to be made, and the accolade was taken very seriously by the suppliers as all the awards were voted for by the entire membership. See the side panel for who won.

Actually there was one more announcement to make and it was an emotional one too. A1 members Phil and Pauline Taylor from Motormania were retiring straight after the conference. Motomania has been a member of A1 for all but two years of the group’s existence and Phil had a few words to say before signing off. He said, “In all the years of being involved in membership and heading up the executive as Chairman in the past, I have never seen the group in such a healthy and exciting position. A1

certainly does have a part to play in our industry and I wish I could turn back the clock and still be part of it. I think Simon Salloway is bringing the changes and new initiative to A1 that we need and I’m sure the group will grow from strength to strength. Pauline and I would like to thank A1 members and suppliers, old and new, for allowing us to have such an enjoyable career and we wish you all success moving forward.”

We wish the Taylor’s all the best and look forward to another great event next year.

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KEEPING IT GREEN AND CLEAN ON THE ENGINE FARM

David Eszenyi shows us around Ivor Searle’s remanufacturing facilities in Soham

Ivor Searle

Ivor Searle’s history began 60 years ago when the eponymous agricultural engineer made his mark on the industry by setting up his engine reconditioning business in the village of Wicken. After Searle’s passing in 1956, sons Colin and Michael eventually joined the business rebranding The Wicken Crankshaft and Bearing Company to Ivor Searle Ltd.

The duo relocated to the 10,000 sq ft. Soham-based facility in 1983 where they went on to sell remanufactured engines across the UK. “Colin decided to learn more about the business and so he carried it on”, said Commercial Director David Eszenyi: “He thought the key is stock availability selling an engine off the shelf rather than waiting for it to come in and fix, which was a bit of a turning point for the company”.

33 years later, Searle’s vision lives on bigger and better than before with an extra factory space operating a stones throw from the main building; specialising in rebuilding engines and cylinder heads back to OE spec. Meanwhile, a 15,000 sq ft. facility was opened in 2012 behind the existing factory for the production of reman gearboxes and turbochargers.

WORKFORCE
With a large space to operate, Eszenyi was bought in as Factory Manager in 2012 due to his knowledge and expertise of the automotive industry, having previously ran manufacturing facilities for the likes of Rolls-Royce and Prodrive. Along with Eszenyi and Colin Searle overseeing the operation, the company employs 100 staff across its three facilities while delivering to over 1,500 automotive distribution outlets. “We run a 50 mile radius where we pick up and have stock delivered by TNT”, said Eszenyi. “They come in every day while we load up the trucks for next day delivery. TNT brings back the old core for us, which is important when the engine is fitted.”

Cylinder head work in progress

Cylinder head work in progress

WEBSITE
With around 2,000 customer accounts on its books, the firm has found the recently installed Ecat trading platform along with a revamped e-commerce website that draws data from Car Web and MAM has helped to generate more business while taking some pressure off sales staff who deal with around 500 calls each day. Eszenyi notes: “By the time you put the phone down, we might get five to six quotes from the same registration numbers from garages of customers ringing around trying to find the best price”.

FACILITY TOUR
Our tour started with the Head Shop, which might sound very new-age, but in fact is concerned with the top end of engines. Eszenyi walked us through the procedure: “We have a stringent process where we strip the unit down. Once it is down to its component parts, they are machine tested, crack checked and put back to OE specification”, he said. “We provide an engine rebuild service where we pick up the engine with a 10 day turn around and deliver it back to reman spec”. He explained that the company could deal with many types of engine, ranging from popular classics to LCV diesel and petrol models up to four litres.

Worn parts are scrapped

Worn parts are scrapped

The Head Shop was coherent in layout with the first room used as a stripping bay to break down the engine components before undergoing a deep steam and clean process. Eszenyi added: “We treat pistons as consumable parts and they all go in the bin along with the gaskets and bearings, before putting new ones in”. There was a lot of rattling and twanging further on as the team re-built and sprayed the engines and cylinder heads in the workshop area. We managed to get a close up view of a reman built V12 classic Jaguar engine before it was packaged and sent out for distribution.

When asked about the training involved, Eszenyi said: “Cambridge has been a predominately growing area in engineering. Here it’s growing so you’ve got no choice but to train everybody properly as long as they’ve got the mechanical knowledge”. The firm has also taken on apprentices from colleges in and around the Cambridgeshire area to provide them with the necessary skills to carry out engineering on reman components.

The final stop was the turbocharger and gearbox factory, which followed the same order, as the parts were broken down, cleaned, rebuilt and re-sprayed before they were boxed and sent off to stockists. Eszenyi wrapped up the tour: “Every garage in the network will know Ivor Searle for engines, but it’s the aftercare where we win a lot of work. When something goes wrong we deal with it. We are like the Waitrose of the aftermarket”. He added: “The warranty staff fix so many problems over the phone thanks to their in-depth experience and the aftercare service we provide”.

Europe is the next market

Europe is the next market

EXPANSION
The company has some projects lined up with plans to expand its export business further into Europe by introducing next day delivery to its European customers. Eszenyi explained: “We are going to push further exports into Europe because the market is healthy as there is a lack of reman product”. He continued: “Depending on the courier, it could take four to five days to go there so we want to supply next day delivery as we do in the UK”.

Eszenyi said the reman firm hasn’t ruled out producing alternators, brake calipers and axles further down the line, but for now, it will continue bulking out its fastest selling lines and distribution to the UK and Europe. We look forward to catching up again with the team at Ivor Searle soon.

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

SUPPLYING CLASSIC CARS ONE PART AT A TIME

Howard Robinson takes us around Collectors Car parts in Egham

howard-robinson

Owner Howard Robinson

Collectors Car Parts first opened its doors to the public in 1982 and since then it has gone on to become a treasure trove of long- obsolete components, stocking nearly every part imaginable for classic cars.

Howard Robinson has been the owner of the operation since day one, and little did he know that his hobby as a young man would turn into a large business venture supplying components to customers across the UK and overseas. Robinson previously owned two factors in the Heathrow area, but due to the large quantity of stock in his possession and some customer parking issues, he relocated his business to a large warehouse space in the Thorpe Industrial Estate, Egham two years prior. We paid a visit to the parts enthusiast to find out how business has taken off since the move.

While entering, we were taken back by the size of the facility with one third of the space catering to Robinson’s motor factor and manufacturing business and the other
section home to a large hall filled with parts, or at least with boxes that are filled with parts. “I moved here in September 2014 but we couldn’t move into the main hall because the builders were piling the floors”, said Robinson, “The estate was built on infill so it was sinking and we couldn’t do anything for six months”. However, this didn’t leave a chink in his armour as Robinson built his own mezzanine floor to continue business and line his wares on the shelves.

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Shelves filled with classic spares

CUSTOMER BASE
Although there’s still some unpacking to do, this hasn’t stopped the business from running with customers dropping in and motor factors on call every day enquiring about his classic spares. “I have customers calling me from all over the world but one of the big companies on my books is a factor chain who call virtually everyday for parts”, said Robinson: “Monday is always my busiest day. The phones just go absolutely ballistic with calls I can’t cope with so many coming in”. For his UK base, the one-man- band uses APC to deliver parts around the country while using a local international freight company to distribute products overseas.

Robinson has built up a strong customer base over his last 34 years in the trade and accumulated most classic car components between the 1920’s and 1980’s. If this space wasn’t enough, he also owns a small farm containing hundreds of sets of pistons up to 1980 just a stone’s throw away from the warehouse. Robinson elaborated: “I’ve probably got the best comprehensive collection of parts books anywhere in the UK” he said. “It took many years to accumulate so many books and change part numbers and so forth. I do all British car parts from the 1920’s right up to the 1980’s or anything that has been made in the UK I’m sure to have it somewhere”. From braking and water pumps to exhaust silencers and trims, Robinson has parts that cater towards ‘the bottom end of the market’ including Ford, Vauxhall, BMC and many more.

PRICING
With so many parts at his disposal, logging them onto a computer management system
would prove a daunting task, so we were curious to know how Robinson keeps track of sales and stock. “Although I have a computer myself, I’ve been bought up with the old system
of card indexes, books, changing part numbers and I think it’s nearly as quick as doing this old stuff rather than doing it on a computer”, he said. “If it was all on a computer, I’d be here for the next 100 years because I have so much stock”. His parts catalogue collection is quite the spectacle with one room serving as a miniature library with shelves filled with catalogues and price lists from manufacturers and suppliers dating back almost
100 years.

Robinson’s combined industry knowledge along with his most up-to-date price list allows him to price his wares competitively for dealers to buy and sell on to consumers. He elaborated: “I came into this business because there are people in this business that charge way too much. If I can sell something for half their price I will undercut them so they don’t get away with charging ridiculous sums”.

FUTURE PLANS
Robinson has some exciting challenges ahead, which includes going into new territory specialising in motorcycle parts and hosting his own events for the local motorcycle clubs over weekends in the main hall. “I’m going to have a small shop to cater for motorcycles on the weekend, selling motorcycle silencers, trims and all sorts of things”. He will also continue running his auction in the main hall on Saturday afternoons selling anything from ‘greasy gearboxes’ to old ‘back engines and rusty parts’. “I’m always on the lookout for old spares dating backing as far as I can go. I’ll sell anything, there’s no air and greases in my auctions it’s as it comes”.

Robinson is giving himself another year to finish setting up and getting his motorcycle business off the ground, and has cordially invited us back next year to see everything in action. “The future is doing these motorcycles. If I can make this successful I will be doing the same thing opening places across the country. It’s going to be quite ataskandaneweraforamotor factor which is what I am”, he concluded.

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

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