Archive | Out and About with CAT

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.”

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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.

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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)

THE PART WITHOUT THE SURCHARGE

THE PART WITHOUT THE SURCHARGE

Nick Hood shows us that returning old units isn’t always the core of the business at Autoelectro.

D&V testing rig

This isn’t the first time that we’ve been to Nimalec House in Bradford, home to remanufacturer Autoelectro. However, there’s a special announcement today, so we are keen to hear what it is.

Before that happens, we are given a guided tour of the complex. ‘Complex’ is the correct term for the sprawling mass of buildings, as the original was bought soon after the business was founded in the late 1980s and has been extended several times since. In fact, if you don’t know your way around it is quite hard to keep track of where you are, as the building twists and turns and is set over several levels.

Fortunately, brothers Nicky, Tony and Paul Bhogal are on hand to show us around, as is Sales Manager Nick Hood. There are all the things you might expect in a modern remanufacturing business and warehouse, such as a busy sales office, various well-ordered stockrooms (the facility is ISO14001 accredited) and a large reman workshop. There’s also a few things that you might not: For example, there is a complex photo studio hidden away which is set up so the subject can be pictured through 360 degrees, meaning visitors to the firm’s website can virtually turn an item around on screen – the idea being that users can see if a unit is directly comparable to an item being pulled from a vehicle.

The testing facilities are also impressive. Nicky Bhogal, who is an electrical engineer by profession, worked with Canada- based D&V Electronics to develop testing rigs that could not only test a wide variety of alternators, but just as importantly, were easy to set up for each piece being tested. This means every alternator leaving the building gets properly calibrated and has a full test report along with traceability.

However, the real business of the day is the launch – and that is the news that from March, more than 2,000 references will have their surcharge charges cut.

The 10 bestselling and half of the 100 fastest-moving part numbers within its sales pareto will be surcharge-free, following months of stockpiling core behind the scenes.

Nick Hood explained that ironically, the deal was possible because of the proliferation of cheap imported units in the market. “Most people fitting these new units will still keep the old core and sell it by the basket load to a core dealer, so we are looking at a proliferation of part numbers in broader terms.” he explained, adding that dealers would usually take these crates of mixed core as they came rather than picking through them. The result, perhaps predictably, is an increase in the number of the most common part numbers.

The new no-exchange offering will be sold in the same red Autoelectro boxes as the rest of the range, albeit marked ‘NEX’. An entirely new sub-brand had been considered, but after a lot of what the Bhogals described as ‘soul searching’ they decided to keep it under the same label. “We’re proud of what we do and we don’t want to step away from that” explained Tony Bhogal.

“What we are offering is not a budget product, so it won’t be as cheap as some of the Chinese units” he explained. “But it won’t be much more expensive, which allows us to compete at that end of the market, and with smaller factors that don’t want to deal with core”. On the subject of core, Hood is keen to put one myth to rest. “We are well aware that some people think we make huge money on core, and I can tell you categorically that we don’t” he said, adding that collecting, identifying and processing core is a complex, but vital part of the business and will continue to be so.

There’s more announcements to come as well. From the beginning of April, the remanufactuter will be introducing
a ‘surcharge transparency’ tool, which will assist in securing maximum profits from stock on the shelf, something we’ll be interested to know more about in due course.

Posted in Out and About with CAT, Starters and AlternatorsComments (1)

FILLING GAPS IN THE MARKET

FILLING GAPS IN THE MARKET

Sean (L) and son Daniel (R)

Sean Brown shows CAT around Brown & Geeson in Wickford, Essex

Today we are Essex-bound visiting Brown & Geeson – a parts supplier and manufacturer that’s had a strong presence in the motorsport sector since its inception over 50 years ago.

BACKSTORY
In fact, the company first started out as an accessory shop in Chadwell Heath, set up by father and son duo Ray Brown and Arthur Geeson, which saw the integration of B-G aftermarket accessories in the form of fuel pumps, seat covers and wheel trims among various other components. However, the turning point in business came when Ray discovered the importance of self-branding, as his son Sean explained: “At the time, my father realised that by buying something in, putting his name on it and in his own packaging, he could sell his products worldwide and that’s how the business started to grow”.

Following expansion plans, the business partners relocated to larger sites in Plaistow East London and Dagenham, Essex respectively, where bespoke production facilities were introduced for serving VMs, importers and parts manufacturers across the country and abroad. This eventually led to another desirable location in Wickford in the mid 90’s, however, there were plenty of major changes ahead: “The UK manufacturing industry back then was quite tough, so myself and my father Ray made a decision to sell all contracts, machinery, shutdown the company and start what was ‘Brown & Geeson Distribution’.” said Sean. “The decision was taken to come out of manufacturing and concentrate on buying and selling from where Brown & Geeson originally started” adding that the firm eventually reclaimed its original name and returned to manufacturing, that’s now outsourced overseas.

BRANDING
As it stands, Sean and son Daniel head-up the operation of whom have extensive experience in motosport both on and off track. They greeted and took us through to an office space displaying styling products such as the infamous Momo steering wheel and numerous accessories behind shiny glass cabinets, along with mannequins dressed head to toe in Team GB race wear.

Display bits and pieces aside, Sean was keen to get down to business and discuss the B-G Racing brand that is now in its sixth year. Speaking of how it came about, he said: “What we needed to do with Brown & Geeson was go back to the old days where we sold boxes with BG logos on it. I believe there are products not only for pit equipment but also for setup equipment.” He continued: “On travels around the world, I have visited paddocks in Europe and noticed gaps in the market for premium products. I thought I could create something similar and bring it to the masses, not only to ‘educate’ but give the top teams a quality product for an affordable price.” He adds that the BG platform has been well received so far as the organisation’s distribution base now stretches globally.

Barcoding system has proved effective

Daniel agrees and expands on his father’s sentiment: “The B-G Racing brand is growing steadily everyday. We target distributors in different countries so instead of selling directly to the public, we target trade and retail shops in France, Germany and many more countries. We try and offer them a whole catalogue solution so they can source all their necessary parts from one place to simplify the purchasing process”.

Sean notes that the team have recently released their Seventh Edition catalogue packed with vehicle, setup and pit equipment for motorsport and aftermarket companies. Some of the popular sells he notes include: lift jacks, work mats and hub stands, plus camber/ caster gauges and levelling trays for technicians whether they’re working in a garage or pit lane. In addition, the brand is a supplier of car components from Australian firm Aeroflow Performance and Mittler Bros Machine & Tool.

After a business insight, Daniel and Sean provided us with a tour of the facility. During our tour, the shop floor seemed well organised with Momo and B-G Racing wares stacked along the aisles in an orderly fashion as they await distribution. The top floor comprised of more styling accessories and an in-house studio where new products are photographed before being uploaded to the firm’s website. To speed up productivity, Daniel told CAT that a new barcoding system has recently been implemented to get the product logged, onto the shelves and out the door to reduce stock discrepancies with customer orders.
Of course, with any queries that may arise, the sales and admin department are on-hand and who were very busy on our arrival dealing with customer calls and queries both nationally and internationally.

Although the duo have acquired some new OEM and workshop projects, everything is being kept top secret until completion later this year.

But for now, Daniel and Sean’s main objective is spreading the BG footprint while continuing to produce products to help bridge gaps in the market. We look forward to catching up with the team very soon.

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

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