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