Archive | Out and About with CAT

CLEAN SWEEP FOR NEW BROOM

CLEAN SWEEP FOR NEW BROOM

By Greg Whitaker

“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’ 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 MD Mark 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 is to set out a clear set of 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 problems 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 within hours of being fabricated.

Ugly poster

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 Brickhill 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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THE PAST AND THE FURIOUS

November is upon us, and for most classic car owners, the motoring season has come and gone. The leather driving gloves are folded neatly in the glovebox (if there is one), the Austin is tucked away in the garage and it’s back to the world of fuel injection, power steering and things that aren’t beige. As such, one would think that it would be a sleepy time of year for classic car specialists A-Series Spares in Ilkeston, Derbyshire. But when I turned up for a chat, the garage was abuzz with activity. Classic Minis with bonnet straps, a tuned MGB and a cream-coloured E-type Jag grace the shop floor.

The garage has gone from strength to strength in the eight short years it’s been active, having built up not just a service and repair business but also a separate retail wing and tuning subsidiary. This means that even when the classic car servicing aspect dies down in the winter, there is plenty to fall back on. “There are three parts of the business now,” explains owner Rob Stevenson. “You’ve got A-Series Spares; A-SD, which is building the engines and gearboxes; and then you’ve got Imperial Nuts and Bolts. The bolt side came about because we’re playing with old cars and no-one stocks them anymore. So we started importing them and then suddenly we’re one of the biggest importers of [nuts and bolts] from the States, so that’s a business in itself, really.”

The bolt retailing wing was initially started by A-Series due to the difficulties involved in sourcing decent parts for classic cars. “If you have to take the door off on a Mini and you bought new hinge bolts from a Mini parts supplier, a lot of the time the bolts that come through aren’t very good so as you’re holding the door and screwing it in, half the time the thread comes off.” Now, the move has paid off. Rob sources his quality parts from American factories, and UK suppliers are some of his biggest customers. “Most of the suppliers in the UK are buying direct from us now. It’s become quite big business for us.”

Classic tuning

Imperial Nuts and Bolts is running under its own steam, but what Rob seems most excited about is the relatively new A-SD tuning brand. As he walks me around the workshop, I can’t help but notice a finely-polished engine bedded in a black 1990 Mini. On the cover is an ‘A-SD’ logo. This example is one of A-SD’s ‘RS’ engine packages, which offers a high-performance upgrade for standard Minis – or any cars based around the A-Series engine – without swapping in the larger 1,275cc variant, saving on costs. “It was easy to go to a scrapyard and drag out a 1,275. But the 1,275s were mostly used in racing and most of them have had the wotsit ragged out of them. Because they didn’t make them for so long, the surcharge is around £600. So if you brought me one, I’d have to charge you £600 before I even started working on it!” Instead, Rob and the team eke as much power out of the existing engine as possible, boring the cylinders from 998 to 1,047cc before adding some final touches. “Use a really good head, good cam, and you’re getting around 90bhp. Which is a lot in a mini.”

In addition to engine upgrades, A-SD also design and develop specific components from scratch, such as aluminium radiators and security systems. There are even partnerships with certain brands – Magnecor for HT leads, Powerlite for starter motors and alternators, and Omega pistons for the performance builds, to name a few.

Evolving busines

Finally, there is A-Series Spares itself. CAT last spoke with the team back in 2015, and at the time the key feature was the garage’s namesake – a focus on the service and repair of classic cars featuring the ubiquitous BMC A-Series engine – as well as a physical and online shop selling parts for customers to fit themselves. Although that focus is still very much there, there has since been some diversification in the models that roll onto the workshop floor. “In terms of cars in the workshop we get quite a good mix now. We get quite a few of the 70s and 80s Fords, and we’re fortunate enough to have an E-type in at the moment, just brought in from the States. We do get interesting projects such as that.” Another evolution for the garage in recent years is a move away from restoration. Rob no longer keeps body panels on the shelves for instance, and the team no longer do paintwork or bodywork. “We do small welding jobs and the wiring like on the E-type but full restorations aren’t really for us. We tend to prefer work that turns around.”

But although the restoration aspect is shrinking, the business is growing. Brad is an apprentice at A-Series Spares, succeeding two who have already come and gone. “They moved in to do their Level 3 qualification,” explains Rob. “The Level 3 is heavily focused on electronics and diagnosing, and at the moment we can’t offer the amount of work.” This is where the garage’s next big change begins, in order to keep apprentices on all the way through their qualification. “We thought we’d start doing that so Brad can stay with us.” Over the next few weeks, two big ramps will be installed on the shop floor, and the diagnostic equipment is there already. Once everything is in place, the garage will begin offering diagnostic services for the newer BMW-owned Mini models. “Only in terms of diagnostics. We’re not that interested in engine builds or bodywork, but the diagnostic work and general services – discs, pads or anything like that. There seems to be a shortage of people that can correctly diagnose,” explains Rob. “We want to stay focused on the classics but equally do modern diagnostics.”

The future

At the moment, the main concern for Rob and his team is marketing. A-Series Spares has a large footprint in online retailing, but spreading the garage’s reputation locally is still a hurdle. “There’s a lot of people that don’t know us locally! Most people come in and go ‘oh, how long have you been here?’ With us being so heavily on the internet, it’s amazing that people haven’t done a Google search. It’s quite a niche market and you just assume that people know that you’re there without having to do the legwork.” To this end, Rob and Brad have been attending local shows in one of the garage’s tricked-out cars to hand out fliers, which has made a difference. In addition, there are plans to attend shows at the NEC in 2019 with an RS-spec car built at the garage. “It puts you slightly out of the restoration market, but it would be a car that someone could actually come and test drive,” says Rob. Here’s hoping we’re there to see it.

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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.

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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.

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A NEW CHAPTER FOR ANDREW PAGE

A NEW CHAPTER FOR ANDREW PAGE

Steven Frost and Shay Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BIG IDEAS FROM A FAMILY BUSINESS

BIG IDEAS FROM A FAMILY BUSINESS

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

Workshop space serves all marques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLUBBING WITH THE TRADE

CLUBBING WITH THE TRADE

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

New logo on signage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9,000 items including many crash repair parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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