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VIEW OF THE FUTURE: STATION VIEW GARAGE, DORKING

VIEW OF THE FUTURE: STATION VIEW GARAGE, DORKING

One only has to poke around Station View Garage to see that automotive diversity is the order of the day.

Our tour of the 6800sq ft workshop is soundtracked by the guttural roar of a TVR Chimaera’s V8, and takes in a variety of customer cars ranging from an engineless VW van to a crusty Peugeot 309, and even a pair of well-used Citroen 2CVs.

But times are changing, and two of the firm’s technicians have taken part in high-voltage training courses provided by Groupauto’s Auto Care network, with the aim of attracting more zero-emissions custom. But, for the moment, it’s business as usual; when asked if there’s been an uptake in local EV ownership, Co-Director Andrew Pirt says: “We see them spasmodically. There’s just not the volume.”

INFRASTRUCTURE

Part of the problem is the relative absence of any EV infrastructure in this rural Surrey town. “We’ve got people asking us whether we’ll be the first to fit chargers, because there’s nowhere in town apart from Dorking station,” says Knowle, adding that he abandoned plans for a pair of EV charge points when he found out they ‘would shut down the local grid’.

But the main reason for the lack of electric custom is that EVs just ‘haven’t got problems yet,’ according to Pirt’s partner Greg Wheeler, which is why the team is pursuing a slightly unconventional means of profiting from its newfound electrification qualifications.

READ: EDF ACQUIRES CHARGING FIRM POD POINT

KEEP IN LINE

Showing us a shiny new Hunter Elite four-wheel aligner, the duo explain that they encourage EV owners to get their tracking done to ensure maximum efficiency. “If your wheels are dragging, you could be taking 20 percent off your range,” says Wheeler, reiterating that public chargers in Surrey are scarce, making it easier for drivers to get caught short during the daily commute.

That’s not to say there’s been a notable surge in this type of work. “A lot of people are showing interest [in EVs], but I think the initial outlay is putting people off,” asserts Wheeler, referencing the £80,000 list price of the Jaguar I-Pace we arrived in. The fact that people are keeping their cars for longer could also delay the mass adoption of new technology, but there are positives to be found here as well – one longstanding customer continues to bring his trusty Ford Mondeo in for servicing, despite living 65 miles away in Southampton.

READ: ELECTRIC VEHICLES VS THE AFTERMARKET

SILENT REVOLUTION

So why get ready for electrification now, when nearly every car on the ramps still has an exhaust pipe? Well, says Wheeler, Autologic, one of the garage’s diagnostics platforms, “won’t even talk to you unless they’ve got a copy of your Level Three certification”, meaning that technical data – even tyre pressures and brake specifications, is unobtainable. He also thinks the end is nigh for combustion, stating: “We’re getting sick of diesel emission control. They’ve gone as far as they can, clearly, and they’re just trying to clean up the end product.”

But it could be a while before EVs glide, en masse, into Surrey. Wheeler notes: “We’re seeing a steady increase in them coming through the door for MOTs and stuff like that, but no significant increase in them having problems. We’re waiting to see. I think most of the independent industry is.”

However, asked if more Station View technicians will undertake high-voltage training, Knowle tells us: “We might as well send more. We don’t know when [electric cars] are going to come in, so the bigger pool of knowledge you’ve got, the more heads you can scratch.”

READ: COMBUSTION CAR SALES COULD END IN 2032

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THE VW SPECIALIST WITH AN ELECTRIC FUTURE

Like so many of London’s archway workshops, Jack’s Garage in Notting Hill has not had an easy ride over the past couple of years. But the events that nearly led to this VW specialist’s collapse – and what ultimately saved it – make for one of the most poignant transformation stories in the sector.

Established in 1995, the garage is split into three separate units: two for general maintenance and repairs, and another for specialist bodywork. “We’re winding down a bit for the end of the year so we’ve only got one car in the bodyshop, usually there’s two,” explains owner of 12 years Joseph Salama, gesturing at a bare campervan being re-assembled, before showing us a picture of an immaculate 1972 example that was picked up by a very happy customer the day before.

There’s parking for a further four vehicles in a small lane outside, and knowing everyone in the neighbourhood makes it easier for Salama to park a few on the street when business is booming – like today. You’ll see some newer stuff occasionally as well; Salama is happy to work on certain loyal customers’ runabouts – and his three-ramp shop has the necessary kit to ensure they can be looked after just as effectively as the classics.

From outside the workshop, it’s difficult to ignore the 221ft shell of the Grenfell tower block looming large overhead. Salama explains how his business’ proximity to the site of such a high-profile tragedy nearly made continued operations untenable in the months after the disaster: “It meant parts deliveries couldn’t arrive, clients couldn’t pick up cars and pay, and clients couldn’t drop off their vehicles,” he explains. It wasn’t just logistics that were under threat, either, Salama recalls several incidents where he had to comfort customers who broke down upon seeing the tower. “A lot of people don’t really register how close we are,” he says, “consciously or subconsciously, if you had a choice to come into the area, the majority of people chose not to”.

CUTBACKS

As Christmas 2017 neared and turnover reached a low point, Salama had to make cutbacks: “A lot of staff left of their own accord, and I had to let a few go. The workforce more than halved – we had 14 people, now we’ve got seven.” Two days before the shop shut for the holidays, a threatening visit from bailiffs even forced Salama to forego his own salary in order to pay an outstanding energy bill.

Now though, local businesses are picking up the pieces, with Jack’s Garage in particular enjoying a successful comeback. Old customers are returning and new ones are finding out by word of mouth, but Salama has realised that he can’t rely just on servicing and repairing ancient Volkswagens. A new element to the business plan was required, and signing a deal with German classic car electrification specialist eClassics looks to promise a significant boost.

A bright yellow example of eClassics’ electrified Beetle, known as Bumblebee, is currently on loan to Jacks Garage for customer demonstrations. To the casual observer, it is a sympathetically restored convertible that’s been upgraded with ATS sports wheels and a modern infotainment system. Take a look around, though, and you’ll start to see just how radically this Bug has been overhauled. The big clue is the relatively empty engine bay. Gone is this model’s air-cooled flat-four and manual gearbox, swapped out for a Bosch-developed electric powertrain taken from Volkswagen’s e-Up electric city car, a purpose-built single-speed transmission and an underfloor battery pack – hence the prominent new side skirts. “The driving experience is incredibly refined. The weight distribution and handling are amazing,” says Salama, suggesting that the lowdown batteries and empty front luggage bay (the fuel tank has, obviously, been removed) help to improve upon the dynamics of the original Beetle.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Salama’s relationship with eClassics was struck during a meeting at the Frankfurt motor show last September, where the Renningen-based team – funded by significant external investment from a European investor – was convinced by his enthusiasm for the project and proposal for a UK outpost. Returning home, Salama began work converting one of his own Beetles to electric power using a battery pack from an early electric Smart car, and a ‘crate’ electric motor from industrial equipment supplier Curtis. Welsh conversion specialist Electric Classic Cars provided the components for the first conversion, with Salama citing founder Richard Morgan as an ongoing source of inspiration and tuition.

“That car flies, but it’s not refined,” Salama says of his first effort. However, demonstrating that he could adapt his skill set to suit a changing motoring environment was essential to gaining eClassics’ support. “We had a very steep learning curve, and I don’t think they would even entertain the thought of including us as a partner if we hadn’t done that conversion first, and they knew what we were capable of.” Fortunately, it paid off, and planning is now underway to begin offering the same product and service offering as eClassics itself.

The majority of Salama’s staff are currently undertaking EV training sessions with the IMI, and one technician is even heading out to eClassics for a month in 2020 to provide technical input for the next generation of electric car conversions. It’s not a case of old dogs, old tricks. “We certainly have been given a lifeline,” Salama reckons.

DYING INDUSTRY

But is it difficult to remove the heart of a car that is so familiar to so many, taking away the noises and smells that so many enthusiasts adore? Salama puts it bluntly: “Internal combustion is a dying industry globally – and anybody in this industry who hasn’t accepted that fact needs to re-educate themselves.” Although his team’s bread and butter is still fixing the foibles of ageing VWs, he makes no secret of his progressive mechanical attitudes: “There are so many of them, so in terms of recycling and upcycling, this is the perfect vehicle of choice.” Having once driven a hydrogen fuel cellequipped VW bus to Morocco, Salama is convinced there are ways for classic car owners to use their vehicles guilt-free.

IMPROVING THE FORMULA

But aside from the environmental implications, what really attracted Salama to the eClassics concept were the performance and usability improvements that come with electrification. Salama says driving Bumblebee is ‘terribly exciting’ and ‘bloody fast’ – hardly praise you’d normally heap upon Volkswagen’s insectile runabout – and goes on to explain that production models will have a range largely matching the new Volkswagen models from which they take their underpinnings, and an 80 percent charging time of less than 40 minutes. And the clincher? An agreement between eClassics and the VW Group’s Components division allows classic VW owners to retain their VIN and number plate after conversion, and Salama explains that a data-sharing agreement means that “if something happens you don’t have to get it recovered all the way back to eClassics or London, you can go to any VW dealership and they’ll type the chassis number into the system and access all the schematics of all the components used in that build.” To all intents and purposes, this is as easy to own as a factory-fresh VW.

For now, then, it looks as if Jack’s Garage has been saved from oblivion. Salama has placed an order for one of eClassics’ ‘skateboard’ EV chassis, and Jack’s will have carried out its first in-house conversion within the next few months. But diversification opportunities are never far away, and he’s already plotting his next move. Ever in tune with the times, Salama hopes to obtain funding to set up a small film production outfit, and document his conversions on YouTube. And what’s more, expansion is on the cards: “I’m going to be employing more people next year when we start to get more orders – more cashflow – and I can afford it.”

“If you don’t move with the times,” Salama says, “you get left behind.” Not normally what you’d expect to hear from a fan of old cars, perhaps, but a sign of sector-wide changes that could be made in the coming years. Maybe you should mess with a classic, after all…

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REBOOT FOR ROTHERHAM RETAIL

REBOOT FOR ROTHERHAM RETAIL

There’s a new broom sweeping through Rotherham retail outlet Leisureways – both literally and metaphorically – as new owner David Clarke is having a clearout.

When we arrived to have a look around, a large stock cleanse was in its final stages. Already, lots of old references had been packed up and sent back to suppliers. As we toured the stockroom, which was busy undergoing a complete reprofile, Clarke said: “One rep who came in today said: ‘David, the value of this stock is exactly nothing but as a gesture of goodwill we’ll give you £250.’”

“Everyone who has been here has seen what is potentially a very good customer,” he added, noting that so far he’d had nothing but support and goodwill from the various suppliers who have presumably sensed that the 60 year old family business has been given a rare opportunity for growth.

Previously a member of the A1 Motor Stores group, the shop is now part of UAN, along with the rest of David Clarke’s Chesterfield-based Autosupplies Group. However, he has been careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, acknowledging that local affection for certain brands is very strong. “I’ve been learning here as well” he said.

READ: AUTOSUPPLIES COMPLETES LEISUREWAYS ACQUISITION

“I was just about to get rid of Millers Oils when the lad rang up with £700 worth of orders. He came and saw me in Chesterfield where I told him that I owed him an apology for nearly booting his stock out! I’ve done a U-turn and now you’ll see a lot of Millers’ stock in here,” Clarke declared.

LONG ROOTS

As with many family businesses, Leisureways in Rotherham can trace its roots through multiple businesses operating under different names and over various sites across the decades. Originally called Rotherham Rebore, the business was later expanded to offer car parts for the trade and the DIY motorist, as well as a range of camping and sporting goods (hence the name Leisureways).

As legend has it, a very young Seb Coe is said to have bought his first pair of trainers at Leisureways, and to have been so impressed with the service that he agreed to open a bright and airy new showroom for the firm shortly after breaking the world 800m record in 1981.

The current site was developed from an old BT building in the 1990s and sits on a plot we estimate to be around 40,000 sq ft, though various tennant businesses, including a garage, a takeaway and a therapy room, are based on the same site.

Through all the changes, the Hinchcliffe family has remained an integral part of the operation. Brothers Ron and Trevor Hinchcliffe have been at the helm for decades, with various family members helping them along the way. So it’s only natural that when the time came for them to retire and sell up, they were keen for the business to continue running, rather than see the site being snapped up by a developer.

CLEAN SWEEP

Which is where David Clarke, owner of Chesterfield-based Autosupplies Group came in. In point of fact he had been working behind the scenes with the Hinchcliffes for over a year before the deeds were finally exchanged. Even on the day of our visit, which was a week or so after the deal had been completed, both Hinchcliffe brothers were on site to assist with the handover.

But just because there is bonhomie with the previous management doesn’t mean it’s business as usual at the retailer. As someone who has spent his working life selling hard parts and body shop consumables to the trade, Clarke saw little future in trying to sell fringe products like running shoes and squash racquets to the public. Instead, his plan is to drastically improve the firm’s trade factor proposition.

“At the moment, turnover is around 90 percent retail and ten percent trade,” he said. “In 18 months’ time I expect those numbers to be turned around.” That doesn’t mean that the firm is going to reduce its retail space; the recent addition of several new stock lines and the replacement of the sports gear with displays of Bosch goods and Sealey tools suggests the opposite is true.

Rather, a radical overhaul of the firm’s offering to garages is currently underway. Once new racking is installed (some of which was being brought in as we spoke) and filled with new stock, the push to all garages in the triangle between Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley can begin. A room currently used as a sort of computer graveyard has been earmarked as a dedicated call centre and Clarke’s project manager Allan Dannatt is on site to help get things running smoothly. The number of vans operating out of the branch has already been increased from one to three, and when we mention that a building of the size could run, say 15 vans, Clarke said without hesitation: “Yes, I think that’s about right.”

The site will go some way to helping Autosupplies achieve its goal of covering South Yorkshire, but no-one is saying it will be easy. ECP are highly active in this region, as is rival independent chain Bullseye.

Still, a combination of a known and trusted local brand mixed with Clarke’s shrewd business sense and desire to succeed? We wouldn’t bet against them.

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SNAP-ON’S RED LETTER DAY

SNAP-ON’S RED LETTER DAY

It’s a proud day for the team at Kings Lynn-based Snap-on equipment. The building is spick and span, and the top team, including MD Mark Ost, are sporting their best suits in anticipation of the arrival of some VIP visitors who will be attending to present the company with a brace of highly prized and prestigious Queen’s Awards, one for Enterprise and another for Innovation.

The journey to obtaining the royal stamp of approval hasn’t been easy though. Take the building for example. Originally it was a generously sized but utterly unremarkable structure on the Denny Road industrial estate. The site is a warehouse, but it is also used for customer demonstrations of equipment, and is home to scores of office workers taking customer orders and resolving queries, so when the building was in need of a refit, it made sense to transform it into an appealing place for workers and visitors alike.

However, there was no option to move everyone out while work was in progress, which meant months of disruption while staircases were moved and built elsewhere, glass installed and wiring relaid. Even the roof was entirely replaced, which took place during the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap, which meant the office staff had to stay in their warm pullovers for several days. “Luckily, we didn’t get a single industrial tribunal,” Ost joked.

The result of months of disruption is a high-tech centre, with lots of chrome and glass, as well as a decent-sized staff break room and an outside barbecue area. Offices are open-plan and Ost told us that it is company policy for senior managers to keep their office doors physically open at all times unless they are in a one-to-one meeting.

Welcoming though the new building is, the firm didn’t win the awards for an office refurb. The Innovation prize was awarded for a new diagnostic platform known as ‘Zeus’ that differs from rivals by including an ‘expert learning’ feature, wherein a central server builds up data from jobs logged and uses AI to recommend the correct diagnostic process and likely causes of faults.

Since its launch, the company has sold plenty of units across the UK via its franchised agent network. The tools have mainly appealed to garage customers upgrading from earlier Snap-on diagnostic platforms.

However, Ost recognised that the UK market for scan tools was saturated, as even just taking into consideration Snap-on products, ‘there are more tools out there than there are technicians’. The company wanted to sell into new markets, and there was plenty of opportunity in Europe as the franchise sales model wasn’t as established over there.

Deals were struck with several mainland distributors and the tool was soon a success, which made the company eligible to receive the Enterprise Award for overseas sales.

Back to today’s event, and the local mayor, resplendent in gold chains, is standing alongside someone with the title of ‘Queens Equerry’ in front of all the Snap-on staff and local press. As testament to the significance of the landmark ceremony, Ost has turned the office phones off for ten minutes, something which has probably never happened before in the history of the company. After handshakes and a quick tour of the plant, the trophies, a pair of giant glass vases, are taken to the boardroom to be put on display, and it’s back to business as usual at this hardworking company.

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WHERE UGLY MEANS BEAUTIFUL

Marathon Warehouse Distribution and EuroFlo Emissions are like two sides of the same coin – or to be more precise, like two sides of the same yard as they share the same sprawling 15m high warehouse site in Redditch.

Exhausts are famously difficult to stock and store and are considered the original ‘ugly’ product. To complicate matters further, EuroFlo bring the product in from the Fabriscape factory in Portugal (echoed by the stylised ‘F’ in the EuroFlo logo), meaning the fragile and air-filled components have to be transported across Europe.

Colin Fisher, Sales Director, EuroFlo and MWD

Fortunately, the UK warehouse has been designed specifically for racking and storing thousands of the odd-shaped products as efficiently as possible. Arranged over four levels, the storage is highly effective despite, or perhaps because of the items that most factor branches consider to be difficult to hold and stock.

On the other side of the yard it is a similar story in the Marathon warehouse. While you will find the usual brake pad and oil filter references in there, they are not the fastest moving items. Indeed, the shelves are filled with window regulators, air suspension modules and leaf springs among many other items that are not commonly stocked by factors. “It isn’t the usual parts that are our biggest success” explained Colin Fisher, Sales and Marketing Director. “Well, they are usual for MWD, but they are the slow moving part numbers everywhere else! If you look at the percentage of business a regular factor would do in terms of items like oil filters and brake pads, ours would be completely different”.

Air ride

Air suspension is a case in point. “When I look at the types of vehicles that are equipped with it, I wasn’t sure that stocking the replacement parts would be a winner” explained Fisher. “But no factor was going to stock it, so if I have the part and the price is right I’ve got a 100 percent opportunity to sell to whoever has had the enquiry, whereas on a common part like a filter or brake pads I might have 20-30 percent”.

Marathon and EuroFlo are not the only warehouse distributors of esoteric and ugly products of course, but Fisher suggests that this model of business will rise in a consolidating market. “In tough times the factor branches will destock” he explained, adding that using a regional warehouse distributor takes away the risk of tying up cash in slow moving inventory for factor branches.

Dayco product at MWD

 

Brand store

Brands, or at least names that customers know and are comfortable with are also a selling point. Names such as Ashika and Dunlop (for air suspension) are joined by relative newcomers such as WAI, Kilen and Banner Batteries. In total, around 40 brands are routinely stocked by Marathon. “Fitting them all on a wall card is getting tricky” said Fisher.

“If you take products like clutch or timing belt kits, it is all about brands. So many have tried private labels etc, but just couldn’t sell it. We know of one supplier that has come out of belting altogether” he added. “Private labelling just doesn’t work. If you’re not Gates, Dayco or INA, the garage just doesn’t want to know”.

Private labelling has other problems for warehouse distributors. “It’s a huge restraint on time” said Fisher. “Everything has to be catalogued yourself. If I had ten private labels in the Marathon programme that I need to update every month… Well that would be challenging and it isn’t really our job, so we focus on the brand that we do control, EuroFlo, is extremely well catalogued”.

Keeping good stock levels and offering an efficient service are fundamental to any good firm in the business of supplying. But at this company, there’s one extra thing point that is its defining characteristic. “The more difficult the product group, the more we like it” concluded Fisher.

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ALL PEACHY AT APPLETON’S

By Greg Whitaker

There’s a queue as we walk in to the reception of B.L Appleton, mainly because the customer at the front, an older gent, is questioning every aspect of the service on his Vauxhall, which is par for the course for any service and repair garage.

Looking out through the window on to the forecourt, I can see that this customer is not the only one to come in a motor with the Griffin badge. The business was a Vauxhall franchise in the past.

“The amount of people that come here and say: Are you still a Vauxhall dealer? You used to be one. Well, yes, but that finished in 1990,” said Phil Evans, General Manager. “We have a good number of customers that have been coming for over thirty years”.

Indeed, the business has served the community of Heald Green, near Manchester Airport, for a great deal longer than thirty years. Founded by Basil Appleton some 80 years ago the garage has remained in the same family and on the same spot ever since. Originally based from an old barn, the outbreak of WW2 put Appleton’s fledgling business on hiatus, though the army requisitioned the premises to charge the lead-acid batteries used in field wireless equipment.

After the war, the garage served the expanding suburb and its growing number of private cars as well as servicing land vehicles used by the nearby Manchester Airport.

In time, the old barn was demolished and replaced with a complex of buildings. Basil married Mabel and had two children, one of which, Gerrard, runs the business to this day.

Back to our visit, current owner Gerrard Appleton has popped in to say hello, but has to go out again shortly after, leaving us with Phil Evans to show us around.

Mixture

While we were there, there was a mixture of private cars and fleet work receiving ramp time – the garage takes on fleet work from fleet managers and through a lease management company. Other than the Vauxhalls, there is a Jeep and an A4 in for service as well as some vans used airside at Manchester Airport with clogged DPFs. Spark ignition vehicles aren’t used due to risk of an explosion, meaning that diesel vehicles chug around at no more than 20mph, with inevitable consequences. “They clog up very regularly,” said Evans, “And when you do need to do a regen, let’s just say it gets very smokey”.

As mentioned, the garage long ago was a Vauxhall franchise, but today it is a proud member of the Bosch Car Service network and has been for the past ten years.

The garage is proud to support the local community, and one of the reasons for inviting us up was to tell us about a plan to raise money for St Ann’s, a nearby hospice. Among other initiatives, the garage will donate a fee for each MOT to the charity. “It’s the third time we’ve done this, the last being three years ago, but as it is our 80th anniversary and the hospice needs money we thought we’d do this for them again and advertise it on social media.

Looking ahead, Evans is keen to stress the garage needs to invest in training and tooling to look after the next generation of electric and connected vehicles. “I’ve been a technician since 2003, but in the last five years it has just gone mad,” he said, referring to the pace of change of technology. ADAS calibration equipment is also being considered. We look forward to a return visit – we won’t leave it 80 years next time.

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NEW BROOM SWEEPS THROUGH KLARIUS

NEW BROOM SWEEPS THROUGH KLARIUS

 

“We’d like to invite any and all of your readers to see the plant and we can show them exactly what we do and what our processes are,” Klarius’ Business Development Manager Paul Hannah said to us after we had concluded our tour of the Cheadle production site.

Klarius is on a PR drive, and there is a reason why. The Directors are facing a charge relating to selling catalysts and DPFs with incorrect type approval numbers. Whether or not this was done knowingly is up to a court to decide when the case comes to trial later in the year, but right now, new MD Mark Brickhill has the task of showing us exactly what the company produces today.

In fact, it has four distinct areas of business, namely KMT Machine Tools, Emissco solvent manufacturing, AutoLogistiks distribution and the design and production of Klarius branded products.

On our visit we were shown around by Brickhill, someone entirely new to the company and as we discovered, a man whose enthusiasm for improving processes and the corporate culture in British manufacturing was infectious.

Brickhill, who previously held senior roles at Goodyear and Turtle Wax, was keen to emphasize that his role was to put in place processes that mean happy staff and satisfied customers. “Customer, team, execution have always made for a successful business. Once you compromise on these things, you are going to trip over,” he said, adding that one of the first things to do on joining the company was to put together a plan for the next three to five years, during which he plans to take the company to a £50m turnover with a 10 percent EBIT margin, a target he describes as ‘not an outrageous number, but is broadly double the turnover and double the profitability that we had in 2017’.

To achieve this, Brickhill reviewed every process across the business and used feedback from customers and staff on the areas to improve. As a small example, boards found around factories that use the Kaizen method have for years had illustrations of good vs bad practice, but Brickhill has redesigned the boards on the production floor so they show things that merit a ‘yellow card’ or a ‘red card’ metaphor. It goes further than rugby metaphors around the plant though. “You are never going to delight your customer if you don’t have a fantastic team of people focussed on that as a key objective,” he yelled, over the noise of exhaust pipe production. “I think the most important thing a leader can do istosetoutaclearsetof directions that everyone can understand. There are two parts to it. One is the business plan and the other is the culture of the company,” he furthered.

UNCONVENTIONAL

Throughout his career, Brickhill has been keen to look at problems in an unconventional light. For example, when he was appointed European MD at Goodyear one of the issues he was faced with was the issue of lacklustre sales of heavy truck tyres. Rather than simply telling his reps to go out and try harder, he developed a new marketing campaign entirely. “We called it ‘free tyres’ because the better rolling resistance of our product meant that over the life of the tyre, it would more than pay for itself,” he said. The strategy worked and profitability increased.

Walking through the site, the KMT production area was busy making some sort of enormous jig, similar in appearance to one of those car rollers used for DIY car restoration, but painted bright yellow and about 60 feet in length, apparently used in the production of railway carriages. This is the heaviest of heavy engineering and the production ‘line’ such as it is can be configured to make any number of heavy tools. Other than heavy rail, clients include manufacturers of earthmoving equipment and ship builders.

Moving through the plant, the R&D department is housed in another building, and an area that the management are particularly keen to show us. On our visit, a Skoda Octavia was on the ramp having a new OE exhaust system tested, presumably to benchmark its performance against the aftermarket unit in development. Brickhill was keen to stress that the VCA inspector was in ‘almost every week’ and that all new to range exhaust systems are type approved as is required in most of continental Europe. The CAD team were busy drawing up the new reference so it can be uploaded to the electronic catalogues.

The company also has use of a piece of private road that winds around an adjacent area of farmland. While it might be an overstatement to call it a ‘test track’ it is nonetheless a useful way of trying new products for fit and rattles etc.

STANDARDS

After the briefest sight of the sun, it was into the main factory where exhaust systems are produced. A substantial investment has been made over the past eighteen months in hardware for rolling and bending steel tube, and the changes needed around the factory to accommodate new machinery gave Brickhill the opportunity to implement various changes to the factory and to the production method after scrutinizing every aspect of a time and motion study. “If you don’t aspire to an exceptionally high standard, you might have something that is functional, but is it excellent and great? That’s the challenge” he said. The factory, in common with other comparable businesses, is now able to make product in extremely small batch sizes if necessary, meaning that on some occasions products can be picked for delivery

New MD Mark Brickhill

within hours of being fabricated.

From a logistics point of view, exhausts are the poster child of ‘ugly’. Spindly, pokey, easily crushable with lots of loose parts, the products are difficult to store and transport. To this end, the firm established its own delivery company, AutoLogistiks, a few years back to get the products where they need to be overnight, and in the condition they are supposed to be in. On our visit, transport managers were busy loading various vehicles with stock. We didn’t want to disturb them, so we moved to the final building of the complex, Emissco.

While we were aware that the company’s Emissco arm produced a number of chemical products, such as brake cleaner and maintenance spray, we didn’t realise that they are developed and canned on site. “It’s massively exciting,” said Brickhall as we looked around the canning plant. Setting up an

installation such as this requires the line to run for as many hours of the day as possible to get ROI, so it wasn’t surprising to see other brands’ products being produced under contract. However there is, as Brickhill enthusiastically told us, ‘plenty of scope for expansion’, so talks with more clients are ongoing.

While simply mentioning the name of this company makes some in the industry bristle, there is no doubt that thanks to the work of Mark Brickhill and the team, the company as we see it in front of us today is committed to producing decent, British engineered products. But there is no reason why you should take the word of a magazine writer with little technical knowledge. We’d suggest the cynical take up Paul Hannah’s offer of a plant tour and then you can make up your own mind.

 

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EUROPE’S TOP NEW AUCTION HOUSE

EUROPE’S TOP NEW AUCTION HOUSE

First published February 2019

Auction house Aston Barclay’s new site in Wakefield has been dubbed ‘Europe’s most advanced auction house’. We felt a claim like that required substantiation, so we paid a visit ahead of its first sale.

Inside, the warehouse is huge and modern, with a painted road running through the center of the main auction hall and glass-walled conference booths along its flank. The 18-acre branch is divided into two sections: office space and auction space. The former is light and airy, providing a pleasant workplace for the 150 employees – finance teams, auctioneers, yard staff and more – who will put a steady stream of 35,000 cars every year through the auction process.

Also joining the team at the Wakefield site will be newly-acquired Leeds-based auction house Independent Motor Auctions (IMA) as well as the 30-strong team of The Car Buying Group, which Aston Barclay acquired in October last year. Over on the auction side, Aston Barclay are choosing to forgo the typical burger-van and pints-of-tea of old auction sites, instead installing a restaurant. More shocking still, there’s even an on-site gym and showers, for those who might want to spend lots of time at the center – professional traders, for example. With 15 auctions planned per month, this could certainly be the case.

The only downside to this modern minimalist design is that it looks very empty without any cars in it, which sadly was the case on the day of the media event. Still, it’s easy to imagine how impressive it will look when full; particularly the massive storage warehouse which adjoins the auction hall and boasts enough room for around 200 vehicles – a huge amount for a totally indoor space. There will be plenty of variety, too: “From bangers to Bugattis, all the way though,” quipped Aston Barclay CEO Neil Hodson. Commercial vehicles will be handled by the firm’s Leeds site – which was formerly their Northern powerhouse. “Our old premises leads itself to being a commercial center so I think that we’ll make that a dedicated center,” explained Hodson. “If we’ve got some vans, they’re better to go to the commercial center. They get more money; that’s where the commercial buyers go.” 

Digital future

In addition to the shiny new center, Aston Barclay have also been developing Cascade – a four-piece software suite to enable online auctioneering. The four products: e-Valuate, e-Hub, e-Xchange and e-Live are designed to take dealers and leasing vendors through the whole auction process from appraisal to sale entirely online. e-Live even offers a live-streamed auctioneer who will take users through a sequential bidding auction to give the sale an authentic feel. In addition to the rollout of the new digital suite, Hodson was very open to the idea of acquiring even more digital partners in the future. “I’d be looking around that digital space. If we could make some other acquisitions, I will. We’ve got a great investor in [private equity firm] Rutland Partners, we’ve got the cash, and that puts us in a great place. So if we can buy the right things to accelerate our journey, I definitely will.”

Growth

In short, it’s a good start to the year for Aston Barclay. The acquisitions and opening of the new site suggest that the wholesale used car market is in good health; a fact also highlighted in the National Association of Motor Auctions’ ‘encouraging’ December industry report late last year. Does this also reflect the health of the aftermarket? Hodson thinks so: “I think you know if that vehicle market’s turning and consumers are buying, then it has to affect the aftermarket. Selling all those cars at all those different ages – I think it’s good for the aftermarket because that keeps putting new parts and supply in there.”

Posted in Out and About with CATComments (0)

ON TOP OF THE WEALD

ON TOP OF THE WEALD

Uckfield Motor Services – The Cockill family show us around their Sussex garage

Uckfield Motor Services

What’s the most efficient way of raising your profile as an independent garage? Offering a good service and establishing a customer base that will keep returning time after time is important of course, but arranging a garage in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating to new and non-traditional customers is something that eludes many small businesses.

However, this was less of a problem for Symon Cockill. Coming from a franchise retail background, he understood that the details are important for a customer’s perception of a business. Founded back in 1988, Family-run Uckfield Motor Services was originally based in an anonymous unit at the back of a trading estate, but when the opportunity came to move to one of the customer-facing units alongside the likes of Halfords and Topps Tiles, he jumped at the chance: “Everyone thought we were mad,” he recalled. “When we put the figures on paper, we knew it would be hard work [to justify moving]”. Nonetheless, the move was a step on being a more recognised brand in the town and the business employs Symon, wife Melanie, daughter Hannah, sons Harry and Edward as well as various other technicians.

The units had previously been used by a local bodyshop and so were well suited to become a service and repair garage and part of the Cockill’s strategy was to join a garage scheme and benefit from recognised branding and visibility. Originally, the garage was one of the Unipart Car Care Centres, but left when the well-publicised problems hit Unipart Automotive. The Cockills liked the idea of garage schemes and joined Bosch Car Service for a while, but chose not to re-apply when this scheme restructured in 2015.

Instead, the garage had its own signage made, but there were a number of things about being in a scheme that the family liked. First, there was the raised visibility already mentioned. Secondly, and most importantly according to Edward Cockill is the access to affordable training courses. After speaking to a few suppliers about various schemes and ‘soft franchises’, the team settled on joining AutoFirst, a scheme developed by Euro Car Parts and for which UMS would be the 300th member.

Other than the benefits of being a member of a garage scheme, Uckfield Motor Services also offers customers an option to view work on their car, or at least part of it, on their phones, thanks to a series of video cameras that link to an app. The firm has also joined the bookmygarage and blackcircles aggregators in order to bring some work in from customers who may not have previously visited the workshop.

CLEAN AND TIDY
Touring the building, we’re struck by how clean the facility is. You might expect tidy reception area – and this one is very smart (and complete with a coffee table that uses an F1 tyre as the base). All of the bays are clean and the ramps themselves are positively gleaming. Ten people work in the business in total, and though it isn’t the biggest workshop, there seems to be a system in place where everyone can move around without bumping into each other. As with most high-level independent garages, modern diagnostic play a big part in the business and a proportion of income is spent on the latest scan tools and test equipment.

However, it isn’t all hard work. Outside the workshop is a race- prepped Citroen C1, one of many track cars owned by the family over the years. “Racing is a way of life” explained Edward, though he did note that the little car was a ‘bit slow’ compared to the other, more exotic cars he has driven on the track.

What’s next for the garage? At some point, brothers Edward and Harry are keen to build a glass frontage to enlarge the waiting area and increase the dealer-like feel of the garage.

For the time being, they are happy maintaining their reputation as one of the most popular garages in Sussex.

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

REACHING MORE CUSTOMERS

REACHING MORE CUSTOMERS

Divisional Director Steve Gray discusses the next steps for the Parts Alliance’s new SCMF branch in Croydon.

A full range is now stocked

Last month, the Parts Alliance opened two branches: namely an SAS Autoparts store in Newcastle and SCMF in Croydon. Well, that got us thinking that we have never actually been to a branch of the factor properly known as Southern Counties Motor Factors, so we jumped on the bus to South London to see if it is similar to other branches of the Parts Alliance.

On arrival, everything seems to be running efficiently as the firm’s delivery drivers set off on their early morning runs to nearby workshops and motor factors. Inside, the warehouse follows an accessory shop format with a trade counter situated at the back with well- known car care, tool and retail brands stacked against the centre walls. A sales office is also featured next door, where staff could be heard rattling phones and dealing with customer calls on our arrival.

MANAGEMENT
SCMF Divisional Director Steve Gray and Andy Rogers, SCMF’s South West Regional Business Director, accompanied us along with Branch Manager William Barrett who joins the team from his previous management post at Andrew Page in Croydon. Both Barrett and Rogers have extensive years of experience between them having worked in a range of senior roles within the supply-chain industry.

After getting acquainted, it was time to check out the warehouse. The design and structure is bright and modern, which was hard to envisage for Rodgers at the beginning, as he explained: “This building was just ‘bricks and mortar’ when it was acquired, however, we completely gutted the premises and installed a new roof, windows and reconfigured the entire layout”. Gray expands: “It went like clockwork”, he said. “It was a turnkey operation led by our project management team.”

For logistical purposes, bulk items such as Comma oil barrels have been allocated to aisles near the depot entrance in order to shift these wares to and from the site without hassle. Gray added a general point regarding deliveries: “We receive up to four deliveries of stock throughout the day from our local distribution hub in Sidcup. The main focus for us is on fast moving parts, and we have good traction on those”.

Racking was installed in double-quick time

Meanwhile, PA brand DriveTec brake discs occupied the central aisles in the new black, red and white packaging, launched in Q4 last year. In addition, the ground f loor contained filtration products from the likes of Mann Filter, plus a comprehensive clutch portfolio from major players including Sachs and LuK, stretched across the shop floor.

The upstairs mezzanine consisted of exhaust products, which were hanging up in a tidy formation, while more DriveTec branded wares could be found in the form of wiper blades. Other PA core product lines included Monroe shock absorbers and Shaftec steering and suspension parts awaiting distribution. “We opened the warehouse with 16,000 SKUs and we’ve got 50 per cent mezzanine so it’s easy to extend” notes Gray. He adds that the facility has been built in a ‘modular way with an extension pre-planned in mind’, that will be constructed along the top floor without fear of disrupting day-to-day operations.

NEXT PHASE
The Croydon site currently employs 12 staff, but the firm is now on a recruitment drive to fill more positions within its sales and warehousing departments, following expansion. Another objective for the team is to gradually increase its f leet of vans and motorcycles in particular, to bypass traffic disruptions around the area. Gray expands: “We opened SCMF Croydon with six vans, but we’re increasing this and our bike fleet because the traffic is quite bad here. As with our current fleet, we will continue to deliver within a three to four mile radius”. Motorbikes are a popular way of getting parts delivered along the Capital’s notoriously congested roadmap.

As with other Parts Alliance brands, there is a plan in place to open more SCMF branches.

Gray mentions they will be announced in good time once suitable building sites have been sourced. We will certainly drop by some of these locations as and when they’re confirmed, but for now, it’s business as normal for the team at SCMF.

Posted in Accessories, Batteries, Braking, Car Care, Clutches, Exhausts, Factor & Supplier News, Filters, Garage News, News, Out and About with CAT, Retailer News, Shock Absorbers, Spark Plugs, Steering & Suspension, Tools, WipersComments (1)

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