Archive | Out and About with CAT

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.

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DEALING WITH HAZARDOUS WASTE

DEALING WITH HAZARDOUS WASTE

Ross Barnes explains there is an ethical issue as well as a financial one in reprocessing catalysts.

You’ve most likely heard the old saying: where there’s muck there’s brass”. This might be true, but a more accurate phrase could be: “There’s money where there is hazardous waste”.

This is the case at Autoparts Precious Metals, which has become one of the first companies authorised to deal with RCF matting.

TOXIC SUBSTANCES
RCF matting is a toxic substance found in catalytic converters and it is part of the thermal insulation that separates the core of the device and the outer can that holds it onto the exhaust system. Think of the most deadly kind of asbestos and you are on the right lines.

The good news is that RCF is only found in a minority of catalysts. The bad news is that no-one knows which ones as there was never any requirement on the part of the producers to declare or label products with the material. As such, every single catalyst that is recycled needs to be treated the same way. You can’t differentiate” said Ross Barnes, MD of Autoparts Precious Metals. “All catalytic converters have to be treated as hazardous waste if they are going to be smelted for material extraction”. He adds that a typical converter weighing four kilos will have no more than fifty grammes of matting in it, but that is not the point. It is a known carcinogen, and Autoparts Precious Metals is one of a tiny handful of recyclers in the UK that are allowed to deal with it.

However, before this can happen there is a certain amount of paperwork to do. “The first thing was to apply for a variation permit” said Barnes. “We are a processor, so we had to apply for an entirely new hazardous waste handling permit, which we now have and we are one of the only few in the country to have it to date”.

The legislation was late in coming as the problem has been known about for years. “Catalysts have always been hazardous waste” explains Barnes, adding that the Environment Agency that have introduced the changes in the rules have themselves been seeking advice on the best course of action.

PERMITS
Barnes explains that getting hold of the permit was difficult. “We had to use a consultant” he said, adding that the plant had to be thoroughly inspected. “We’ve had to have our extractors checked and monitored, but they are all up to spec as they had been serviced regularly and all cleared first time”.

MD Ross Barnes and Purchasing Manager Tina Courtnell

Not all of the catalysts and DPFs that come into Autoparts are smelted. “As a core dealer, we purchase a lot of DPFs for re-use” he said, explaining that complete units destined for re-use simply require a transfer note.

We’re keen to see this operation for ourselves, so accompanied by Barnes and Purchase Manager Tina Courtnell we head into the main hangar, where core is stored. The main warehouse is neat and well ordered, although we are quite pleased to see that the smelting of the scrap cats does not take place on site.

“Once separated the metal goes off for scrap steel – it is non hazardous, while the ceramic, which is coated with washcoat and precious metals goes off to our partner’s smelter in Germany and then the RCF has to be properly disposed of” Barnes assures us. “When it leaves us there is a consignment note and we’ve separated the hazardous part from it and the rest goes back into the system”.

CORE COLLECTION
Although RCF is the conversation of the day, recycling catalysts and DPFs is only a small part of the operation. ABS units, A/C compressors, clutches, EGR valves and electronic power steering drives are just a few of the parts that are collected for remanufacture.

The warehouse is built in a courtyard with a number of sub- units around the perimeter that have various uses. On our visit, we were interested to see that one of these units was busy re-facing used clutch kits, which is still popular for clutches fitted to performance cars (we saw a parts trolley full of clutches for the Subaru Impreza). Indeed, clutches were the original part of the business as the company was established to arrange the collection of used clutches back in 1994 when Barnes saw parts in a garage he was working in getting thrown in the bin. “At the time, there was hardly anyone collecting core for remanufacturing. Scrap was about £5 per tonne and clutches were just getting thrown in the bin”.

Clutch core storage

By contrast, prices for parts were still high in the nineties as there was very little in the way of cheap components from the Far East on the market at the time, so it was good business to supply those that were able to remanufacture with quality core.

ETHICAL VALUES
However, it wasn’t just the financial issue that appealed to Barnes. There was an ethical element to it as well. “My boss said to me ‘I can see us opening our landfills one day and mining them’. We’re not there yet, but it was forward thinking. How can you mine ore on the other side of the world and make it into starters, alternators or clutches… and then just throw them? You’ve only got to get them out of the ground somewhere else and it is going to run dry” he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing with catalytic converters, because precious metals make it viable”.

Equally, high-tech parts such as ECUs, actuators and ABS systems are collected, for which the firm has been working with factors, where parts are purchased as a ‘sort of package’. “We can even offer a service where the customer can box parts up and send them to us” said Barnes in conclusion. “It is worth money, and more than that, if it can be used somewhere then it should be.

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SERVING EVERYTHING THAT IS AUTOMOTIVE

SERVING EVERYTHING THAT IS AUTOMOTIVE

We visit ‘Small Garage of the Year’ winner Simon Taylor

It’s fair to say Taylor’s winning streak has gone in his favour as when we arrived, there was a stream of customers and a logjam of cars waiting for attention on the forecourt. “We weren’t sure whether it was because of Brexit, or the economy or other reasons that we’ve been so busy”, said Taylor “But it seems to be lasting and we are getting more customers from further afield now”.

With a handful of garages and a Honda dealership operating in close proximity, we were curious to find out how this independent has ‘survived and thrived’ while others have been forced to roll down the shutters for good.

UNIQUE SELLING POINTS
While the garage is not selective and will operate on just about anything and everything that is automotive, there are a number of specialisms. For a start, it deals with LPG conversions and all that entails as well as having a skill set and a whole lot of diagnostic equipment for JLR products, and Land Rover in particular. Nonetheless, Taylor’s team will trace the fault on whatever is presented to them. “Although it would be nice to say that we specialise in specific vehicles, our customer base is completely varied. Generally, we work on Land Rovers, classics and even agricultural vehicles including tractors for our farmer customers”, says Taylor, adding that the workshop, on occasions, has taken on work from the Honda dealership who have also diversified its range to remain competitive in the area.

The experienced in-house technicians have played a major role in the garage’s success, according to Taylor, who are equipped with years of industry knowledge and expertise between them.

To complement their skill-set, Taylor makes sure his workforce are fully trained with the latest diagnostic tools and software on the market to speed up vehicle turnaround. “We are part of the Delphi Diesel Network and utilise its DS100 tools for diagnosing faults”, he says. “We also use Autologic and Launch UK diagnostic platforms”, The firm has also upgraded to Haynes Pro’s system to source and install the correct components first time around.

WORKSHOP TOUR
The workshop space is home to both car and motorcycle bays and even a small waste oil burner (SWOB) that wasn’t in operation during the tour. The garage is one of a handful in Leicestershire that can MOT motorbikes. As is common in rural garages, there were vehicles crammed into every available space, with cars ranging from a pretty Triumph TR4, to a number of new looking 4x4s, right down to a couple of Hyundai Coupés from the last century. “The garage’s original structure was a butchers shop and later home to a petrol station”, Taylor explained, adding that an old fashioned law imposed by the local pub still prohibits anyone from drinking alcohol on-site.

Busy morning in the workshop

NEXT STEPS
Winning the Award two years in a row has encouraged Taylor to give the garage a revamp with the addition of a new reception area and roof to be complete in the next couple of months. “I often apologise to customers who are sitting around and explain to them that it’s not as glamorous as the main dealer, but they said just because you take it to a main dealer doesn’t mean you’re going to get a good job”, Taylor continued. “It is a bit chaotic in the reception area but they know they will get a good job done because all they want is a good service and value for money”.

With the emergence of the Connected Car and hybrid technology, Taylor is in the process of enrolling staff onto training courses and considering installing an electric charge point as more of these models enter the parc. He concluded. “At the moment, I’m looking into how we can best deal with the technology that is coming through. Courses for these vehicles are getting better because initially, they were few and far between but over the next five years, we are going to see a lot of changes”.

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MORE THAN JUST FILTRATION

MORE THAN JUST FILTRATION

We take a tour around Mahle’s plant facilities in Telford

Mahle’s Telford site

Say ‘Mahle’ to most garages and they’d think of the traditional blue and white livery, as well as its extensive filtration range. In fact, the firm produces up to 1.1 billion a year across 170 production sites worldwide. However, filters are just one of many lines produced by the firm. In fact, the total number of products is set to increase as it prepares for electric and hybrid technology coming into the market.

ACQUISITIONS
The parts manufacturer has made gains amidst market consolidations over the past few years. It acquired the majority of shares in Slovenia-based Letrika in 2014 and Mahle-Behr took over Delphi Thermal Systems in 2015. In addition, Mahle has added mechatronics and hybrid systems to its portfolio for the same reasons as Jonathan Walker, Managing Director of Mahle Aftermarket, explains. “There’s so much consolidation happening at the moment and we’re aware of it happening elsewhere”, he said. “What we’re doing is adding additional businesses technical capabilities to what we can do as the systems interrelate”.

This was clearly evident at the firm’s Telford-based facility, which used to manufacture Dunlop tennis rackets, but is now home to an operation employing 206 staff of whom 90 work on the shop floor producing up to 30,000 components a day. From filters and manifold systems to valves and thermostats for passenger cars and commercial vehicles, were just a few of many parts coming off the production lines.

SHOP FLOOR
With a vast space to operate, the management team has implemented a new lean strategy over the past four years, both to drive productivity, and also make it a safe and comfortable place to work. “Part of the shop f loor management is making sure people know what is going on hence why we have direct production data coming live onto the shop floor every hour”, said Walker. “The management team can then see how each area is performing so they can tackle any issues that may arise”, adding that the new structure has significantly reduced management meeting time to as little as fifteen minutes.

The factory is split into four sections with fast moving components placed at the front of the premises. We were keen to find out more about this setup. “We have high and low volume manufacturing areas because the positioning of the factory is all about cost”, Walker replied. “We’re always trying to add value for the customer rather than wasting money when it goes on additional resources”.
The plant also features multiple assembly stations where a filter is produced every 6.8 seconds. Walker elaborates. “The operators will solely focus on assembling the components that are delivered by the logistics team by their train systems. Once the rack becomes empty, he or she will drop it to the bottom one below, at which point the logistics team will walk over, grab the barcode at the back, which tells the people in the warehouse that the operator needs another box of components so they can then bring it back on the train system”.

PACKAGING AND DISTRIBUTION
Once parts have been built, tested and receive the green light, the final step is packaging them for distribution. Whether it’s an aftermarket or OE component, Walker points out that both products undergo the same rigorous manufacturing processes with only the packaging being the differentiator between the two.

BUSINESS STRATEGY
Recent launches include Caremetix cabin filters, with air conditioning compressors set to launch in the middle of this year. Walker concluded. “Not enough people know we’ve been in the UK since 1996. In the UK aftermarket, it’s filtration that we’re known for but it’s really important we change that perception to encompass all of our other products that we do by bringing our ranges that we make as a fit first to the independent automotive aftermarket”. We look forward to catching up with the Mahle team again in the not so distant future.

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KEEPING REMAN AT THE CORE

KEEPING REMAN AT THE CORE

Tom Curtis shows CAT around Shaftec’s HQ in Hockley

Long-established brake and steering remanufacturer Shaftec has been on a multi-million pound expansion programme over the last few years, having relocated the majority of operations from its previous Nechells site to a modern 42,000 sq ft. industrial space in 2015. The move has since enabled the Tecdoc data supplier to double its production and stock capacity, supplying over 6,000 drive shafts and 1,300 CV joint references to the aftermarket, backed-up by a recent brand and website revamp. This is where we met with Shaftec Sales Director Tom Curtis who took us through the day-to-day operation.

CORE
Our first stop began at the delivery depot where staff carried out their daily runs to collect and return old core for a second chance of life. However, there is a mandatory procedure to undertake before products are restocked on the shelves. “Our drivers go and collect the core which is booked in electronically”, said Curtis. “Everything has to come back in Shaftec boxes for two reasons, one, it’s easy identification because it’s got our part number on it and we know what parts are in the box, which is checked with images when it comes back in. Separate to that, the driver’s sheet will tally up the return with what’s in the box so they can match up to each part”, adding that the firm will usually receive up to 20 pallets a day.

CHECK-IN
Parts brought back are checked- in individually through the company’s online booking system. With many components to get through, Curtis and the team have adopted a quick and efficient process that incorporates separate check-in points for each product category. A check-in station is also utilised for stock not fit for remanufacturing which is something crucial that Curtis is trying to make customers aware of. “We’re traing customers to look for the right returns. In turn, our customers are training garages to make sure that when something comes back off of the car that it’s fit for remanufacturing” Curtis continued. “Things like this can carry a £100 surcharge and if you reject them, it’s going to cause upset so we try to educate our consumers as much as we can from that perspective”.

Calipers await a second life

PRODUCTION
The next phase involves bringing components to the production benches where operators will strip down driveshafts and calipers to bare metal, before adding in new pistons, seals and CV joints later on. Before this can be executed, parts must first enter a deep clean process via the Shot Blasting Machines to remove all traces of rust and grease. “The Shot Blast Machines will take rust off to make it a clear part and we’ll use a Soda Blaster System for more intricate parts where rust gets into certain areas of the component”, said Curtis. After this, the casing gets a fresh coat of paint.

ORDERS
The firm can process up to 300 orders a day managed through Shaftec’s in-house production system. This provides staff with a run down of all the components required for each customer purchase. The system follows a similar set up to core check-in whereby operators will construct driveshafts and calipers at separate assembly points along with computer systems, assisting them with the essential CV and outer joints needed for each customer order. Curtis elaborated. “Our IT system tells operators what they have to build and what model the CV joints are. Our programme also tracks the status of who’s building it and how many are being built each day”.

Before ending up in Shaftec branded packaging, calipers are pressure tested in all car conditions and receive a part number after the all clear. “We have three testing machines to test each caliper before it’s boxed up” said Curtis. “Like a traffic light, it either passes or fails and typically 1/100 will fail and end up in scrap”.

MOVING FORWARD
Once our tour finished, Curtis explained that the firm’s next agenda is increasing stock capacity further by building another mezzanine floor to cater for its steering portfolio. He concluded. “We almost have all of our wares in-house but eventually, we want to bring the remaining units from our Nechelles site into this space with the addition of a new mezzanine floor for steering racks and pumps”. The supplier has also said it has taken on more electrical steering systems as hybrid and Connected Car technology becomes more commonplace in the years to come.

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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.

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

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