Archive | Out and About with CAT

A NEW CHAPTER FOR ANDREW PAGE

A NEW CHAPTER FOR ANDREW PAGE

Steven Frost and Shay Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BIG IDEAS FROM A FAMILY BUSINESS

BIG IDEAS FROM A FAMILY BUSINESS

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

Workshop space serves all marques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CLUBBING WITH THE TRADE

CLUBBING WITH THE TRADE

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

New logo on signage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9,000 items including many crash repair parts

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

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

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

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

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

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GETTING A NEW ANGLE ON SAXON

GETTING A NEW ANGLE ON SAXON

Claire Seymour shows us some fast-moving products at a brand distributor in Hungerford

POS with current range

As is often the case in Aftermarket Lives visits, I’m admiring a warehouse, but if the truth be told it is probably the least interesting thing about the company that I’m visiting today (though it does have an exceptionally low roof height, which is due to planning restrictions in a residential area, apparently).

What is interesting is the products distributed by Saxon. By our count, the firm distributes 27 brands and hundreds of different products to chain stores and supermarkets, independent retailers and garage forecourts and online vendors alike. Most of the brands are distributed on behalf of other compnies, but some of the names, such as Sakura and Metro Products are wholly owned by Saxon.

With that in mind, it seemed like a good place to come to find out what products are trending and what belongs in the bargain bin. The answer, as I found out, is a little more traditional than you might think.

TREE GROWTH
Curiously, given that hardly anybody smokes in their vehicle these days, the humble air freshener is still the best selling product by volume in the warehouse and by far the best selling brand is Little Trees (nee Magic Tree) which despite the updated name, and slightly more realistic outline of an evergreen, is still essentially the same product that was invented in 1952.

That said, there are dozens of fragrances with names such as ‘Silly Citrus’ and ‘Summer Cotton’ to give the product a novelty each season. However, as Saxon’s Commercial and Products Manager Clair Seymour tells u it is the most traditional scents such as ‘Vanillaroma’ and ‘Black Ice’ that make up the majority of sales, with another long-standing product called ‘New Car Scent’ coming in third place. This struck us as curious – after all, who wants their car smelling of the glues and plastics that give new cars their distinctive smell?

Nonetheless, thousands are packed and shipped out to retailers from the Hungerford depot each day. Some like the contents of the boxes to be mixed, others like them with one ‘flavour’ at a time, while some clients like the trees to be pre- packed into quantities of three or six, which makes them more suitable for online retail. Saxon has done a supply deal with Amazon and the tech giant has a button that allows the consumer an option to ‘subscribe’ to have a regular delivery of a six-pack of Trees automatically sent in the post.

GUARD DOG
Sakura is a traditional accessory shop brand, which since becoming a wholly-owned Saxon brand has adopted a uniform brand identity and packaging style. This is good, because accessories as diverse as car vacuums, wheel trims and luggage straps are sold under the same brand.

Today the brand also offers a lot of light in-car tech: think of USB chargers, power inverters, FM transmitters and the like. The best selling line is none of these though: Indeed, it is a new version of a very old product that is delighting retailers this season, namely a dog guard. The guard differs from others, because it clips on to the head restraint supports on the back seat, rather than being a push-fit. On our visit, there were pallets full of these guards, which along with the related boot liner kit are doing big business for the firm. “It’s amazing the amount we are selling of these guards” said Seymour, explaining that the company looked at how it could improve the design following customer feedback.

OLD SCHOOL
Perhaps one of the most curious examples of a product thought to be obsolete is Stoplock. The bright yellow steel bar was an effective if unsubtle way of stopping joyriders stealing 1980s- era cars. However, the introduction of radio chip keys
made the Stoplock feel like a very twentieth century product, and in line with vehicle thefts, sales volumes declined sharply.

For a while, it looked like the existing stock POS with current range would be run down and the product quietly dropped, but something remarkable happened. A spate of thefts where criminals had managed to steal BMWs by hacking the OBD port led police in the West Midlands to advise motorists with high-end vehicles to start using such a lock.

“It is surprising trend” said Seymour, “But vehicle thefts have increased 12 percent since 2015, reversing years of decline and people were asking for a physical deterrent”.

Sales went up as people, understandably wanted to keep their car safe. Sales received a further boost when another group of wrongdoers worked out how to clone key fobs by using a weak radio signal when in close proximity. This led the company to retool and introduce new products that could fit over the bulge of the airbag on some luxury 4x4s. The company also introduced a neat black carry case to hide the lock in.

There are any number of new options one can have when ordering a new car, but for now it seems that the traditional products are the best.

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MAINTAINING A PROFESSIONAL STANDARD

MAINTAINING A PROFESSIONAL STANDARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The owner plans workshop expansion

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

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

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

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

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MAJOR PLAYERS IN THE MINI MARKET

MAJOR PLAYERS IN THE MINI MARKET

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minis in the customer area

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

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

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

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

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RUBBER PLANT COMES BOUNCING BACK

RUBBER PLANT COMES BOUNCING BACK

Fabrication line in new plant

If you think of the Dunlop brand, you’ll probably come up with the eponymous Fort Dunlop, the giant building sat next to the M6 which I remember in my youth as being vast, foreboding and, well, old.

However, this building was a spring chicken compared with Dunlop Suspensions’ former building in Coventry’s Holbrook Lane. The WW1-era factory was sprawling, dark and low. It was also riddled with holes – some apparently from stray bullets sustained in the dog-fights over the city in the second war.

MODERN
While the historic value was not in doubt, it didn’t really work as an avatar for a modern, high- tech business. “People visiting the site would think ‘failed 1960s UK manufacturer’ and once you’ve formed that view it is very hard to dispel it” said Ian Hamilton, MD of the company. A move was on the cards, and the view of the management was if they were going to be in the new site for as long as there were on the old, it made sense to build something bespoke. “We did as much as we could, because we were only going to do this once” explained Hamilton.

As such, plans were drawn up for a brand-new site at the Prologis Park industrial area. The build was projected to cost in the region of £5m once the plant was taken into account, and the new building would feature the latest environmental systems, such as integration of thermal processes and an advanced soak away under the car park. It was going to be the first of its type in the area, however, this came with its own problems.

EXPANSION ISSUES
“One of the problems with being ‘first through the door’ is it is you that tends to get shot” explained Hamilton. “For a start, we were stuck between two county councils, with most of the building being in one, and the car park in another”. Interestingly, the footprint of the new build is much smaller than the old, with 60,000 sq ft as opposed to nearly three times than at the old place. “We didn’t use much of it really” said Hamilton. “Although every nook and cranny was stuffed with things, because when you have the space, people will fill it up. I’ve learnt that in any future business dealings to buy the smallest space needed. It saves so much money, because if you haven’t got anywhere to put it then you don’t buy it!” he added.

It isn’t only the building that has enjoyed a reboot. Working practices and machinery have modernised to keep up with the times. Processes that once took thirty burly men to complete can now be done by machinery, allowing employees to concentrate on lighter and more technical work. On our visit, the firm was busy producing a batch of air suspension for a bus manufacturer on one line, and a number of aftermarket products for Range Rovers on another. It is also worth pointing out that there is real manufacturing going on here, with CNC machines buzzing and autoclaves heating. It is not simply an assembly and distribution centre.

The lean systems in place also allow for small batch sizes. “The rivals are on the volume trail” asserts Hamilton, adding that the items produced are not exactly bespoke, but ‘tailor made’, which allows the firm a USP. “We assume our competitors consider volumes of less than 100,000 not to be worth the engineering time” he said, adding that CEO Chris Davis could identify ways of producing strong aftermarket references.

Dunlop Suspensions (officially known as Dunlop Systems and Components Ltd) had an interesting time in the last century as it was one of the pioneers of the disc brake and claims to have invented the ceramic disc. The company worked on many automotive projects, including the four wheel drive Jensen Interceptor FF. However, it was the rubber cone suspension on the original Mini, which had been designed by Alex Moulton and was produced by Dunlop Suspensions that captured the public’s imagination. The firm produced parts for the Hydrolastic and Hydragas systems that were standards on BMC cars of the era, but a disastrous merger with Pirelli indirectly lead to the whole Dunlop group of companies being sold to BTR in the 1980s. BTR gradually split them up and sold them off, with the Systems and Components division transferring to Trelleborg AB at the end of the 1990s. However, a management buyout in 2007 allowed the company to modernise, culminating in the building we are looking at today finally being completed in 2014.

As the old proverb goes, it is an interesting time to be a manufacturer in the UK. The effects of currency fluctuations and the threat (or opportunity if you like) of leaving the single market is hanging over those in the supply chain. Nonetheless, this company has shown that it can adapt to the pace of change – and long may it continue to do so.

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AFTERMARKET LIVES: VISIT TO NGK

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hemel Hempstead DC

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

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

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

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

STANDING OUT FROM THE COMPETITION

STANDING OUT FROM THE COMPETITION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bushes begin production in liquid form

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

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

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

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

REMAINING LOYAL AS AN INDEPENDENT

REMAINING LOYAL AS AN INDEPENDENT

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

Smiles all around at new branch

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

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

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

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

Shop gondolas

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Factor & Supplier News, Garage News, News, Out and About with CAT, Retailer NewsComments (1)

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