CAT factor lives: CAT Components

The entrance to CAT Components
The entrance to CAT Components

CAT Components (no relation) in Hastings is trading in a crowded market.

In the space of a few square miles there are numerous independent motor factors jostling for space with some of the biggest names in the business. Euro Car Parts, GSF and Unipart all have branches in the area, and they’re all competing for business with the independents. The whole town is like an aftermarket social experiment.

Managing Director of CAT Components Tony Humphrey explained how the business started: “We started here 18 years ago, that’s when it all began. When we initially set up we were in a unit across the road which was tiny, we were there for two years then we moved literally across the yard into this building. When the lease on this building ran out we took it over and then in 2008 we bought this whole estate, and now we lease the buildings back to the businesses who are here as well.”

Manager Tony Humphrey
Manager Tony Humphrey

Tony admits Hastings is a uniquely crowded market: “We’ve always competed for business with those big names. When I first started in Sittingbourne in 1985 it was always a struggle. When we did the tour of the banks in order to get some backing for CAT Components they all said to us that we couldn’t compete with the big boys. They said it just wouldn’t work. I’m happy to say we’ve proved them wrong, and we’ve never found competing to be a problem.

“At branch level we probably compete evenly with the big boys. Huge motor factor X might be buying certain parts cheaper, but by the time those parts reach the branch with the added costs of administration their prices are pretty much the same as ours.

“The big boys come with their own problems. They have to have their own head offices, their own warehouses and their own administration structures. As a small business we can do away with a lot of that.

“By getting bigger and bigger as a business you get more buying power, but you attract other encumbrances as well. So you can compete as a smaller business, and you can compete well.”

Tony admits the past few months have been hard, with traditionally well-selling items like batteries not seeing their seasonal booms: “Sales over Christmas dropped off, a bit more than we thought it would do actually. I think it just comes down to the fact that garage customers just don’t have the work at the moment.”

CAT Components also does retailing
CAT Components also does retailing

CAT Components doesn’t just do parts. For it’s regular customer base of 150 workshops, business advice is just a phone call away. Tony admits that most of the garages around Hastings are “men in sheds.” There’s nothing wrong with that, he says, but he likes to offer struggling technicians the benefit of his business experience, especially when it comes to promoting their businesses.

Promotion can only go so far, and at the end of the day customers need to be willing to part with their cash. That’s not getting any easier, says Tony: “The main problem is that people are very mean with their money. Some garage customers won’t do a full service and MOT together. Now they want only the essential work doing.

“We’ve found during the recession that our customers in Tunbridge Wells are now ordering fewer parts because they know customers won’t pay for the extra work. Customers are frightened now, they don’t like paying.”

In these hard times Tony admits that CAT Components has in the past become a victim of the “order the same part from several different places” workshop brigade: “If it happened to us we would tell the customer not to use us again. We don’t play that game, we’re not here to be abused and that’s what it is. It’s an abuse of the factor and of our resources. We work well with our customers and the vast majority of them we don’t have any problems with whatsoever.”

“In terms of expansion at our age it would be a lie to say we’re going to open more branches. We’ve always taken the view of running a small company is better than running a big one. We think that’s better, because we deal with local people and we do it properly.”

CAT Components – vital stats

ESTABLISHED            1993

HQ                                  Hastings

BRANCHES                  2

STAFF                            8

FLEET                            5




SUPPLIERS                  Motaquip, ADL, Fuel Parts UK

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Published by Darrenmoss

CAT magazine's in-house reporter and self-confessed petrol head

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  1. Fair play CAT Components I say.Most towns in the Midlands are now overcrowded with factors.Maybe the small ones can take a leaf out of your book.Well Done