Archive | Out and About with CAT

THE NORTH AND SOUTH DIVIDE

THE NORTH AND SOUTH DIVIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PICKING THE WAY OF THE FUTURE

PICKING THE WAY OF THE FUTURE

We visit a fully automatic logistics hub in Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pallets come to the picker

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

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

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

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

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

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THE HEART OF NORFOLK

THE HEART OF NORFOLK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owner Adrian Syder

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

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

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KEEPING IN LINE WITH TRADITION

KEEPING IN LINE WITH TRADITION

Ian Hughes shows us around Wilcox Limousines in Wigan, Lancashire

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

OFFERINGS AND SERVICES

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

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

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

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

Hearse production

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

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

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

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

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PAYING ATTENTION TO DETAIL

PAYING ATTENTION TO DETAIL

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

Pete George and Pri Chauhan (R)

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

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

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

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

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

Ferrari 458 looking shiny

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

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

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

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

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DEALING WITH HAZARDOUS WASTE

DEALING WITH HAZARDOUS WASTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MD Ross Barnes and Purchasing Manager Tina Courtnell

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

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

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

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

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

Clutch core storage

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

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

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

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SERVING EVERYTHING THAT IS AUTOMOTIVE

SERVING EVERYTHING THAT IS AUTOMOTIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busy morning in the workshop

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

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

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MORE THAN JUST FILTRATION

MORE THAN JUST FILTRATION

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

Mahle’s Telford site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Out and About with CATComments (0)

KEEPING REMAN AT THE CORE

KEEPING REMAN AT THE CORE

Tom Curtis shows CAT around Shaftec’s HQ in Hockley

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

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

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

Calipers await a second life

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

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

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

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

Posted in Braking, Factor & Supplier News, News, Out and About with CAT, Steering & SuspensionComments (1)

MAINTAINING CUSTOMER RETENTION AT ALL TIMES

MAINTAINING CUSTOMER RETENTION AT ALL TIMES

Vince Blackmore shows CAT around LVW’s Rollings branch in Wrexham

Vince (L) and Harold

Vince (L) and Harold

While in Wales, we visited Wrexham Rollings, a long- established distributor and part of the LVW Group.

Since its acquisition in 2008 and subsequent relocation across town, the branch has gone from strength-to-strength, according to Regional Manager Vince Blackmore, who’s been a long-serving employee and witnessed the firm’s growth first hand during his 32 years of service. “I joined Rollings in 1985 when we were situated in the middle of Wrexham at the old Brooke Street building”, he said. “The LVW Group saw the sales results in the business and took advantage of this opportunity by acquiring the store from previous owner David Evans nine years ago”.

Now based from a 10,000 sq ft facility, Blackmore is responsible for overseeing the performance of the Wrexham store as well as LVW’s Flint and Oswestry sites. However, those are just to name a few in
the distributor’s portfolio as Blackmore explains. “In 2011, LVW bought the Rollings branch in Oswestry and acquired parts distributor Moparts in Liverpool”, adding that the firm also possesses its LVW Automotive outlets in Birkenhead and Ellesmere Port, bringing the group’s network to six sites.

Wrexham Rollings houses 30 staff and 15 vans, a few of which on our visit were lined up symmetrically while they loaded for a run. “Our vans deliver locally within a three to four mile radius and we have timed runs for the mountainous regions reaching as far as 30 miles”, replied Blackmore, who also informed us that plans to extend its fleet is currently a ‘work in progress’.

An army of exhaust silencers

WAREHOUSE TOUR
After a bit of background history, Blackmore took us around the warehouse to go through the day-to-day running of the operation. From the ground floor up to the mezzanine, we were impressed with how organised each aisle was as product groups were stacked tidily along the shelves with no signs of overstock. “Coil springs, steering and suspension and brake pads are just a few of our fastest selling lines” explained Blackmore. “We are also a member of the IFA buying group which gives us buying  power to order stock at affordable rates than if we just went directly to the supplier as a non-member”. Even ‘ugly’ exhaust silencers looked good glimmering as they hung up side-by-side in the large warehouse awaiting an order.

CUSTOMER RAPPORT
As we continued our tour, Blackmore explained that the store has accumulated over 450 customer accounts and counting with 80 to 90 percent of the base comprising garages and workshops. However, like nearby Wrexham Motoring Supplies, Rollings has kept both existing and new customers at the core of the operation. “Our customers are not just an account number, they are personal and have been with us for 30+ years because staff have built up a great relationship with them” Blackmore replied.

“For example, if there’s something wrong on a customer’s 2009 Insignia, the customer will ring and we will get the parts right and delivered to them quickly first time around. It’s all about customer service and building that relationship”, adding that the branch uses Autocat to track down the necessary components for the vehicle model in question. Surprisingly, the store has even built up a strong rapport with its next-door neighbour ‘Volkswagen Wrexham’ (which despite the name has no connection with LVW). “There is no friction at all”, said Blackmore. “The guys from Volkswagen just come in and collect their parts. There is no competition between us”.

Counter stocks many aftermarket brands

TECHNICAL TRAINING
Vince told CAT that the branch holds a range of technical evenings, presentations and training courses on site for garage customers to keep them abreast of the latest developments. Past courses have covered an array of topics including hybrid systems; oil along with supplier training and ongoing technical talks from companies such as Gates. Blackmore elaborated: “We have constant supplier courses such as common oil training, clutches and we hold technical and presentation evenings for customers in our warehouse space”. We were intrigued to find out what Blackmore had pencilled in for the coming  months. He said: “We recently had a Gates Fan Belt and Tensioner Training course, but the next one will be the timing belt side of it which will take place in the Spring time”.

Before wrapping up proceedings, Blackmore discussed the firm’s upcoming plans, which involves increasing customer retention and organising its ongoing training programmes for the rest of 2017.

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

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