Three years ago Andy Fox lived in London working in IT recruitment. Today he operates the successful iAutoUK garage in Coventry and wants to franchise the name across the country. With a target of over 25 garage franchises within the next five years, heâ€™s got a long road ahead.
â€œI had this eureka moment on the tube,â€ says Andy, â€œand I remember looking at a chap sitting down who just looked so depressed with life. I thought that if I didnâ€™t get out, I was going to end up like that. My mother becoming ill was the catalyst, so we moved back up here.â€
Andy began to buy and sell cars with a friend. His first sale was a red VW Golf with no power steering and a lot of rust. He bought it for Â£400, selling it a week later for Â£1400. He did exactly the same the week after: â€œI did that for a while and we were successful, and thatâ€™s what raised my awareness of German brands and the market.
â€œIn 2009 we decided to open this place. I knew about the block exemption rules having spoken to customers, so I thought it was a big opportunity.â€
iAuto was born as a German marques specialist, and quickly began converting customers from what had been a main dealer dominated market. Andy says that 80 percent of his customers are direct converts from the main dealer. iAutoUK has been so successful in fact that a number of other German car specialists have opened up nearby.
The business grew quickly: â€œWe were advertising heavily, we would literally put our business cards under the wipers of every German car we could find. No matter where you were you would leave a leaflet or a card with someone. That grass-roots effort was hard work, but it began to pay off.
â€œWe made a point of trying to talk to customers about where they worked and whether there was a chance of getting in with that company. We talked to them about it and would leave cards on notice boards, that sort of thing.â€
A support deal with Andrew Page to provide training and equipment to franchisees, as well as giving iAutoUK tip-offs about possible expansion points should provide ample growth for this business in the future. Andy stresses the deal doesnâ€™t give Page a monopoly over his business, however, and certainly not over his parts supply.
Andyâ€™s wife and business partner Melissa also came from an IT background. She immediately leapt on the idea of offering a better service to the female market. Joining the Foxy car scheme was a handy tie-in for the business: â€œI like cars and always have done, but I used to feel intimidated going to a garage. I would pay money without knowing what it was for. Women should feel comfortable when coming to a garage.
â€œA Â£20 referral scheme has worked especially well for women because we take these things into account. Itâ€™s important that all garages understand that the female market is huge, and if you get it wrong, itâ€™s a big market that youâ€™ll be missing out on.â€
The IT background of both Andy and Melissa has played a large part in their company strategy. iAutoUK uses social media and online networking to bring in new business, and existing customers can earn themselves Â£20 credit for recommending a friend. Andyâ€™s reasoning is simple: â€œIf your customers use it, you need to use it. Thereâ€™s no excuses anymore.â€
For prospective franchisees, Andy says his business contacts can take away a large part of the hassle: â€œWhat we would bring to the table would be a lot of business support; there are people who we work with who can provide marketing, IT, PR and more. The great thing about being a franchise is that itâ€™s very much in my interests to make the business successful. If they make money, I make money.â€