Clare Butler shows us around an old-style factor open evening in Cornwall
There’s something in the air on this warm, late spring evening in St Austell. And that something is the unmistakeable smell of a barbeque, which is welcome indeed as Mike Best Auto Components is a long drive from anywhere and we are all very hungry.
We’re not the only ones. Dozens of local technicians have turned up with the promise of a free feed and a raffle at this traditional open evening. However, the point of an open evening is to introduce customers to its products and this factor (which is part of the six-branch Barum Autoparts chain) has recently signed several new suppliers.
Firstly and most significantly, the team from Motaquip have turned out in force to introduce the brand’s wares. Readers might be familiar with the name: Motaquip was formed in the early 1980’s when Chrysler sold Rootes Group to Peugeot, but retained the rights to the Mopar brand. Peugeot renamed the operation Motaquip and aimed it at independent motor factors. The brand was sold in 2014 and has enjoyed a period of investment since, which has seen it introduce new products and references. On our visit Chairman Peter Cox was busy explaining the benefit of coated discs versus the regular type to a group of technicians.
Barum Operations Manager (and Branch Manager of Mike Best) Clare Butler was also keen to introduce attendees to products from the A1 buying group, which the group recently joined. “It’s probably one of the best things we’ve done” she said, explaining that joining the buying group had already opened a lot of doors for Barum and had let the branches take control of the amount of stock that they order.
As it was an open day, we were free to wander around the stock room as we pleased along with most of the vehicle repairers from the south Cornish coast. “It’s lovely to hold something in the branch and there were no areas out of bounds to customers” Butler said. “Already, customers that have looked around have said things like: ‘I didn’t know you did O-clips or bearings and seals’. It was beneficial for them to find all of the things that they didn’t think people kept any more”.
Wandering around the 6,000 sq. ft. store, we noticed that the stock of batteries included many of unfamiliar shapes and sizes. This is because the stock, all from local distributor West Country Batteries, includes a lot of marine and leisure references. “We’ve got deals with various harbour commissioners around here” explained Butler, adding that leisure batteries had a better margin than automotive. “Not everyone will think about stocking these, but if I think I can sell it I’ll ask to have it on the shelf and then prove the point” she said. “I think we have the highest battery turnover in the company here”.
The event is now in full swing and invited guests are swarming around some of the other stands at the event: Kilen Springs, BRT Bearings and the Draper Tools van are all attracting plenty of interest. There’s a raffle going on too – which might be of more interest to us if we had remembered to buy a ticket.
“I think it is fantastically useful” said Butler. “There are customers of Mike Best who have been dealing with the branch for years who have never physically been to the depot – so it killed two birds with one stone. We had visitors ranging from ‘Fred in the Shed’ right through to some of our busiest garages. Virtually all of my staff turned up to help and support and all we’ve had is positive feedback”.
She added that the open evening was both cost-effective and helped with the style of community engagement that has been a trademark of Mike Best since the branch was founded. “It only cost the suppliers a small amount of money for the refreshments” she said. “It’s the first major event that we’ve held here at St Austell and as Operations Manager, I think we could roll it out to other depots”. We’ll be sure to attend – and not only for the free barbeque.
MIKE BEST AUTO COMPONENTS
Part of Barum Autoparts
Manager Clare Butler
Size 6,000 sq. ft.
Vans 5 Staff 12