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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”.

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THE NORTH AND SOUTH DIVIDE

THE NORTH AND SOUTH DIVIDE

Simon McMullen takes us around GSF’s new Bristol North branch.

A number of factor chains have expanded their networks recently. One in particular was GSF’s Bristol North branch, which opened three months ago. We decided to drop by the firm’s latest addition to see how business has taken off since the launch.

The first thing you need to know about Bristol North is that it is the third branch in that city, with the other two known as South and Central respectively. However, these branches are not a house divided, but that the three branches function effectively as one location and with a single manager, but are able to put in to reach wider across the city than would be possible from one location.

In terms of logistics, Bristol South is the regional hub, supplying North and Central as well as various branches across West England and South Wales with stock. Area Manager Mark Donovan notes that the system has been designed so stock is quickly replenished across the business. “Bristol North is supported by the two other locations so they can keep what we can’t keep. We have an hourly van going backwards and forwards to bring stock to and from other sites”.

Inside, the reception looks like a modern car accessory shop, rather than a trade factor’s satellite store with a variety of car care products for retail customers. The sales and front-of-house team appeared polite and busy while they dealt with customer queries both face-to-face and over the phone. “Both the independent motor trade and national accounts business proved very successful within the first six to seven Weeks of opening” explained Simon McMullen, Regional Sales Director, who also joined us on our visit. “We mainly opened this branch for logistical purposes as we found there was a big avenue of customers we could service in the area” he said, adding that the M5 motorway access has helped facilitate this.

DELIVERIES
The store delivers within a 15-mile radius across its network of delivery vans and is looking to add motorcycles to the fleet.

WAREHOUSE LAYOUT
Situated at the Aztec Business Park, the new 9,000sq ft. branch employs 14 staff and includes a mezzanine floor, stocking a range of fast selling lines. Braking and service items are a few of many wares occupying the upstairs space, supplied by reputable brands including Valeo, Bosch and braking brand TRW. The ground floor is home to LuK clutches, Banner Batteries as well as exhaust silencers hanging up neatly in single file.

With bulks of stock being delivered to and from its neighbouring sites, we were keen to find out how the firm keeps track of purchases and customer orders. “We have our in-house system called EDP, a tool for stock management and sales,” McMullen replied. “This allows us to go back to our stock hubs in Birmingham. If you have an item that doesn’t sell in a recognised period of time, EDP recognises it and withdraws the product from the branch in question, bringing it back to the central branch where it is distributed nationally”. Staff working the night shift can expect an overnight delivery from GSF’s Birmingham hub, followed by three more deliveries via its regional distribution centre throughout the day. To take on this task, the team receive enrolment and ongoing training to control stock entering and leaving the premises.

SERVICES AND TRAINING
Similar to the Snap-on tool van concept, McMullen highlights that GSF’s kitted out tool vans have proved a hit in this area where staff will travel to local businesses and demonstrate their latest offerings to garages, while picking up leads for MOT bays, four post lifts and diagnostic equipment. “We treat all our customers as people and not account numbers”, said McMullen. “It is important that we always try to build positive and long-term relationships with them”.

Reflecting on his employees progress so far, McMullen, said. “I’m very proud of the guys and what we have achieved here. We spent countless hours painting, decorating and putting stock away before the launch of this store. It’s been a general team effort and I can’t thank everyone enough”. Both McMullen and Donovan are now aiming to bring Bristol North up to the same success of its brother and sister sites and is considering to acquire a fourth store in the city. The branch will continue rolling out new product lines as it continues to grow within the GSF group. We look forward to catching up with the team and potentially visiting another Bristol store in the near future.

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PICKING THE WAY OF THE FUTURE

PICKING THE WAY OF THE FUTURE

We visit a fully automatic logistics hub in Germany

You can’t read a press release in 2017 without mentally editing out buzzwords such as ‘lean’, ‘just in time’ and ‘finding efficiencies’and in some ways you can see why. In these times of giant trading groups and service in which next day delivery might as well be a month, if your business involves pushing boxes, then you need to find the best way to do it.

For the Ferdinand Bilstein Group in Germany this meant automation. While it is based on or around the site on which it was founded in Victorian times, there is nothing old fashioned about the firm’s main logistics hub in Ennepetal, Germany as it features a huge and fully automatic plant building to store and push out in the region of 130,00 SKUs every day.

Efficiency was clearly the deciding factor when the firm chose to build an automated warehouse, but it is also worth noting that Ennepetal is very hilly so physically building a manual-pick warehouse with the capacity that the firm needs would be very difficult as a great deal of extra land is needed to make up for the lack of height.

A deal was done with a firm called Witron Integrated Logistics Corp., headquartered in Parkstein, Germany to develop and act as contractor to build, commission and maintain the hardware, known as Automated Storage and Retrival Systems. This wasn’t the first venture for Bilstein Group with Witron as a smaller operation had been commissioned elsewhere on the Ennepetal site a few years previously. That first project was a four-aisle tote (as the crates that are used on such systems are known) picking solution proved to be extremely successful and is still in operation.

Given the success of the first project, the new machinery was ordered and put into commission around five years after the first.

EXPERIENCE
It is one thing to describe an automatic warehouse on paper, but it is entirely different to see it running in front of your eyes. As you can see in the stats, the main part of the warehouse is much higher than is usual, as there is no need for regular fork lift trucks because robotic cranes are built in to each aisle and can access each tote location as quickly and as easily as finding a cell on a spreadsheet. There can be no people inside the aisles while the machine is running – indeed there can’t be because an automatic stop is built into a high metal gate that prevents anyone getting too near the hardware. This meant that the robots can run at very high speed in safety across the grid of 227,000 double-deep tote locations.

Pallets come to the picker

Another point to note is the lights – or lack of them. These installations are often referred to as ‘dark warehouses’ because there is no need for artificial light, and in this case the large storage space really does look like night. An algorithm dictates the location of each tote-contained item and this will be automatically updated if the order frequency changes for example. There is no need for human intervention.

Alongside the tote picking machinery, there is a row of machines dealing with palletised storage. Using a similar logic system, there is room for some 61,000 pallets also stored double deep.

After the robot has selected the pallets, they roll on conveyors to modular packing stations known as ‘pick to light’. A (human) picker takes the number of items displayed on a lightbar in front of them out of the pallet. They then push a button and the pallet rolls away for the machine to take it back to its storage location, while the next pallet is dispatched to the picker.

PACKING KIT
Another major part of the business is repacking bulk products into kits – timing belt kits, for example. As anyone who as ever been on the tools will testify, there is nothing more annoying than finding at the critical point that there is an incorrect or missing part from the kit. At Bilstein, automation has meant that this is all but impossible as the system weighs each kit for any discrepancies. There’s no need for the workers to go rummaging around for the parts needed to make each kit either, as the tote-picking machines mentioned earlier deliver all the crates needed to a number of stations in a process known as ‘goods to person’. After picking the items needed, the product tote zooms away on the rollers, to be followed by the next tote until the order is complete.

There is much more that could be written about the details of an automated warehouse, and this is only a brief insight as we saw and understood the machinery – undoubtedly a representative of the company could do a much better job of explaining it’s intricacies. Fortunately, you may get to see a similar system in the UK as Bilstein Group has commissioned similar equipment to be installed at its new project under construction in Markham Vale. We look forward to bringing you the full details soon.

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THE HEART OF NORFOLK

THE HEART OF NORFOLK

Adrian Syder explains that the traditional market town accessory shop still has a role to play in the community.

Strange to say, but there are not that many accessory shops left that literally keep add-ons for passenger cars at the core of their business.

However, brothers Adrian and Mark Syder run a brace of shops that do just that in Stratton and Wymondham, Norfolk respectively. While other avenues have been explored in the past, they have not been as fast moving as the core product. “We have a few bikes outside, but they haven’t been a massive seller for us” he explained. “At the [A1 Motor Store] convention recently, we were talking about how you have to be really ‘in it’ to be a volume bike seller. One of the guys said he stocked about 200 different models – but then you get known as a bike shop”.

ACCESSORIES
Curiously, while the bikes themselves haven’t been great sellers, the volume of bike accessories sold has increased greatly since stocking complete bikes, even though inner tubes and the like are products that the shops have always stocked.

Similarly, many former accessory shops have focused on being trade factors, but this is an area of limited interest to Syder. “We don’t get involved in trade factoring as we tried it some years ago, and even then it was difficult with the amount of competition” he explained. “That said, there is an industrial estate up the road with a few businesses that will dabble in and out of our store, so we have a gold card for those trade members. We also do trade-sized barrels of antifreeze, engine oil and the like. This is because it is an agricultural area and the farming community will come to us for that type of product”.

TRADITIONAL
So bikes and trade sales are fringe, but where the business excels is traditional products. On the day of our visit to the Stratton branch, it was pouring with rain and it was clear that wipers represented a good percentage of sales. A bay just outside the stratton shop is easy for motorists to pull into, and Syder explains that the shop offers free fitting, which is clearly signed on the road outside. Unlike many stores, Syder doesn’t fight on price of wipers, reasoning that only stocking premium ‘blades will keep the customers happy and mean that the margin is sufficient to justify free fitting.

Stock is sourced through A1 Motors Stores, of which Syder is a long-term member, as well as FPS and direct accounts with Tetrosyl, Haynes and Draper Tools.

Owner Adrian Syder

FAST MOVERS
Other fast moving lines are the accessory shop staples of bulbs, waxes and polishes. Paints also sell well and the stores offer a comprehensive, and current stock of Haynes manuals. Draper tools, various service parts, demister pads and the obligatory display of ABS wheel trims also feature in the main displays of both shops as well as a small number of tuning and modifications, such as a functioning car audio display with a number of different head units and speakers to try out. “We have a guy that can fit the car audio if need be” explained Syder. “But it isn’t like it was fifteen or twenty years ago as the market for replacement head units has passed”.

STAFF LEVELS
The two stores have four permanent and two part time staff working between them, and all of them can work in either branch. “Everybody is capable of being at either branch, which I like as it gives us f lexibility” said Syder, adding that Wymondham was where the business was founded in 1988, but moved into an ex-butcher shop, which was a larger and more centrally located store, a year or two later. The Stratton branch followed soon after, and Syder briefly toyed with the idea of a third branch to sell alloy wheels, body kits and other ‘Max Power’-style accessories. “I’m glad I didn’t really, as the bottom fell out of that market!” recalled Syder. Fortunately, the car accessory side continues to grow and has been very good for us”.

Posted in Factor & Supplier News, News, Out and About with CAT, Retailer NewsComments (0)

KEEPING IN LINE WITH TRADITION

KEEPING IN LINE WITH TRADITION

Ian Hughes shows us around Wilcox Limousines in Wigan, Lancashire

Whatever the economy is doing, there’s one business that will never run out of customers, and as a reliable supplier to funeral directors across the nation, Wilcox Limousines has enjoyed steady orders for almost 70 years.

OFFERINGS AND SERVICES

Founded by William and May Wilcox in the late 1940s, the Wigan-based firm originally provided chauffeured vehicles to the nearby Eagle Studios, but a turning point came when Wilcox began to buy and sell limousines in addition to hiring them out. Another key deal for the business was with Daimler to supply coach built bodies on the DS420 platform.

It’s fair to say the family’s hard work paid off for them operating across three locations and generating a company turnover in excess of £20m. The current Wigan site was our stop today comprising a 55,000 sq ft. warehouse space, 60 staff and plenty of shiny limousines to feast one’s eye on. We met William’s granddaughter Leila who provided an insight into the third generation business. “We are a family business selling to family businesses”, she said. “90 percent of our turnover is UK-based funeral directors and we recently launched our Jaguar XF Hearse for the overseas market which is rapidly growing”.

To say Wilcox Limousines only caters to funeral directors would be false, as there are many services in the firm’s itinerary including classic car restoration and prototype projects for car rallies. Leila elaborates. “We also have people coming to us for supercharged limousines from commercial backgrounds. At our Northampton site we perform classic car restoration and one off prototype projects where we have a strong development team in-house”.

WAREHOUSE TOUR
Production Director Ian Hughes took us around the warehouse to get a gist of the business. The first point of call started in the depot where a number of new and used Jaguar XJ and Volvo S80 models were lined up for service. For vehicles coming directly from the VM’s factory, a job number is generated along with a spec sheet and route card. Hughes added. “From that point, a pre-delivery inspection is carried out to ensure there are no Jaguar issues we can’t solve, otherwise, it goes back to the local dealer who can claim it back on their warranty”.

Hearse production

Once given the all clear, the vehicle is stripped down to its shell removing the glass, wiring and interior to begin the process. “Once the glass has been taken out we have a glass transporter that takes it to our Northampton site” said Hughes. “Bodywork extension is carried out there using aluminium for the Jaguar XJ hearses and limousines ”. A key factor when constructing these vehicles is ‘keeping them in line with tradition’, meaning each hearse is measured to the correct height allowing enough head space for undertakers to wear a top hat inside without fear of knocking it over.

After the bodywork extension is complete, the hearse is hand painted and its original components restored. “All the parts that came off the job will be fitted back on the vehicle”, Hughes continued. “We will then install the side windows, carpets, interiors and complete the deck work, hearse seating and the rest of the tailgate”, adding that the firm buys the exact materials originally fitted to the vehicle from its VM’s supplier.

TOOLS AND TRAINING
The vehicle will then enter the ramp and is rigorously tested for leaks, fault codes, followed by a test drive in different driving conditions ensuring it meets or champions that of the VM’s original specifications. This is backed-up with Jaguar’s diagnostic tools and training on site as Leila explains. “We have invested over £1m in tooling and equipment. As the VMs release new technology we will be implementing it while working alongside our key manufacturers”. Hughes concurs. “Our first point of call is our Jaguar dealer. We have our own Service Region Manager from Jaguar who visits us frequently to make sure we are up-to-date with the latest diagnostic tools and training offerings”. A detailing bay is used at the final checkpoint where the hearse/limousine gets the once over and a full inspection, checking every nook and cranny is intact before it’s sent out for delivery.

EXPANSION PLANS
Leila and her family have some exciting plans in the pipeline, which includes marketing expanding into new territory. She concluded. “We have never marketed overseas, but now we are branching out internationally with our Jaguar XF hearse as well as progressing with our car restoration and prototype businesses. I think the long term plan will be expanding our Wigan site rather than build more premises around the UK”. The Wilcox family are also brainstorming ideas to commend the firm’s 70th anniversary next year with talks of a 1940’s themed celebration on the cards. Whatever they decide to do will be a great event to commend May and William’s legacy.

Posted in Car Care, Factor & Supplier News, News, Out and About with CAT, Steering & Suspension, StylingComments (0)

PAYING ATTENTION TO DETAIL

PAYING ATTENTION TO DETAIL

Pri Chauhan shows us around a recruitment business that has an unusual point of difference.

Pete George and Pri Chauhan (R)

Imagine for a moment that you own a successful recruitment business and you wish to expand, what would the next step be? Perhaps you’d hire more staff and find a larger office? You might want to reach out to more potential clients through social media such as LinkedIn or Google Circles.

PG Automotive, a firm that wanted to expand from a small business suite wished to do all of these, but simply renting a f loor of an office block must have seemed too pedestrian for the management duo of Pete George and Pri Chauhan. Both are huge petrol-heads and the recruitment business that they own is focussed on the aftermarket… So perhaps it wasn’t such a huge leap of logic that they decided to expand into car detailing. The idea for the business was hit on following a meeting with Reep CEO Chris McDonald.

EXPANSION
The industrial unit chosen for the expansion is a lofty building, which PG fitted out with an upstairs area used for the recruitment agency offices. These are what you might expect, but it is the ground f loor that is altogether more interesting. A reception area resembles a boho New York loft, complete with contemporary furniture and lifestyle magazines. This leads through to a number of client rooms, which have floor to ceiling internal windows that look over the detailing bays. These rooms, which are also tastefully furnished can be either used for clients visiting the recruitment consultants, or for people wanting to watch and wait as their vehicle is detailed. “We did a lot of it ourselves” Chauhan recalled. “It cost Pete (George) a bad back and me a double hernia”.

Don’t confuse this operation with the sort of hand car washes you see in closed-down petrol
stations on trunk roads around the country. Reep comprises of some of the highest-end detailing products in the industry including Swissvax UK, Koch Chemie and Gtecniq. Indeed, it does not refer to itself as a distributor of car cleaning materials – the website prefers the term ‘world class surface technology’.

SERVICE
Whatever you want to call the service, the vehicles on the work area f loor on the day of our visit show that PG’s networking skills have resulted in a client base that most independent garages can only dream of. The car nearest the door to us was a mid-1960s Mustang convertible and it was probably the least valuable vehicle in the building. Waiting in the queue were two Ferrari 458s, an Aston and several Porsches and while we were visiting another car, which we think was a Lamborghini Aventador was unloaded from a curtain side trailer.

Ferrari 458 looking shiny

Having the detailing business has worked well for the recruitment firm as Chauhan says it gives the firm a point of differentiation and links it inextricably with the aftermarket. “I’ve enjoyed bringing clients here and they get it straight away. If there is a particular car in that they like we’ll arrange to see them while it is in and they can have a picture with it – though they can’t sit in it!” smiles Chauhan.

The bays themselves are described as F1-themed, though to our mind they more resembled spray booths in a bodyshop. Each one is temperature controlled and evenly lit and none have anywhere for dirt or contamination to build up. Alongside usual detailing facilities, the Gtechniq ceramic protection mentioned by Chauhan has been popular as it is tougher and more durable than traditional paint protection offered by dealerships.

One area where the bosses don’t get their hands dirty is in the detailing itself. As a recruitment company, it wasn’t too hard to find experienced professionals that wanted to work in a place such as this.

Indeed, it hasn’t been much trouble in getting anyone through the door as the team found at a launch event on a cold, wet Sunday in February. A capacity crowd turned up at the industrial estate to see some of the exotic cars that had been brought by customers to the gleaming facility. We’ll be interested to see how this hybrid business develops over the coming months.

Posted in Out and About with CATComments (0)

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