Despite what the world at large might have told you, DIY car maintenance isn’t dead. Admittedly, driveway servicing isn’t as prevalent as it once was, nor are people tackling quite the same jobs as was once the case – for example, where a reasonably competent DIY’er might once have swapped an alternator or a starter motor with little problem, they would probably avoid fiddling around with a modern stop and start system.
Nonetheless, you don’t have to delve too deeply into any of the hundreds of car club forums, Facebook groups and YouTube channels to realise that people are still delving into dashboards and taking out complicated factory fit stereos, weedling out diagnostic trouble codes with any of the dozens of consumer code readers as well as regular servicing. A point often lost in non-specialist media is that routine servicing is in general more straightforward than it has ever been: modern cars don’t need tappets adjusting, points changing or even spark plugs every 8,000 miles any more.
It’s for this group of car owners that Sparkford-based Haynes publishes workshop manuals. Time consuming and complex to produce,each one is based on a complete stripdown and rebuild of a car with each sub-assembly being meticulously dismantled, recorded and rebuilt. Around ten new titles are published in a year, with the Nissan Note and second-generation SEAT Leon among the latest subjects.
Printed manuals have their place, for example you can’t leave a tablet computer showing the same page on a workbench without it going flat and getting greasy. However, a flick through the aforementioned social channels shows that thepractically-mindedalso like to take their information from other sources as the internet is full of ‘how to’ videos that vary enormously in quality.
It’s for this reason that Haynes OnDemand was launched. Short videos are produced while the car is being dismantled and are available to view individually through the Haynes website.
However, for retailers it’s the Online Manual product that will be of more interest. Sold alongside its paper counterparts, customers purchase a voucher to get the same manual as the print version, but also havecolour photography, colour wiring diagrams and searchable text. Also different is the licence: digital manuals are sold with a one-year subscription.
The point here, as explained by CEO J Haynes (named after his father, company founder John Haynes, but always known by the mononym ‘J’) is about giving readers a choice. “We want to get the information into as many drivers’ hands as possible” he explained. The advantages here are obvious. If a visitor wants a book for a car that they are working on that day and the shop doesn’t have it on the shelf, then the digital manual vouchercan make the difference between making the sale or not.
J admits that digital products can be a difficult concept for retailers to get their heads around, and that the Haynes team spent time on the road explaining it to them along with the other USPs of the firm’s consumer products. “Our approach is unique” he said. “We still buy the car, take it into our workshop and take it apart, photograph it and video it. Then, step by step and through real experience we write instructions that show people how to maintain and repair their car. It’s a robust, thorough and tested method” he said, adding that Haynes is, in his opinion, the ‘only company with experience in providing this sort of information for consumers’.
For professional users, the approach is different. Haynes Pro, like its competitors, is online only. Originally known as Vivid Automotive Data it differs to the firm’s consumer products in that the data comes from OEM sources, rather than hands-on stripdowns. Instead, the product contains a range of part and fitting data that has appeal to parts suppliers and designers of diagnostic equipment as well as to workshops.
Recently the Pro offering got a boost as the company used some of the proceeds of a property sale in the U.S to acquireTonbridge-based data business E3 Technical from Solera Holdings, the company that also owns rival firm Autodata. Besides its user base, there were a number of technical aspects of E3 that must have appealed, including VRM lookup, a technology Haynes would like to use across its platforms.
The firm also acquired OATS, a lubricants database established in 1984 and widely used by industry.
Print is still profitable, but the most recent half year figures show that digital streams now make 46 percent of group revenue, a figure that continues to expand. “Bear in mind that digital revenue is a combination of both professional business and consumer business” said J, explaining that he believes there is room for growth in both sectors. “We certainly believe that it is a method of delivery that is becoming more popular with people who want to act on the information”.
A few years ago the company had excess property in the UK, U.S and Australia that was a legacy from the days when the manuals would be printed and stored in-house. The property overseas has been sold, although the original site in Sparkford, Somerset, remains for sale. Moving these properties on is one aspect of turning the business around from the days when each print edition had to be produced in a large run, into one where runs are much smaller and produced offsite. Speaking about the UK business, James Bunkum, COO, said: “The restructuring has further to go, but we are now starting to see the results”.
“From our point of view we’ve seen the UK business return to profit for the first time since 2011, and following the big restructuring exercise that we did in the UK between 2013-14, we are now starting to see the benefits of that coming through”.
J concluded: “For the turnaround, it continues to be a close eye on what product is required and desirable in the market. The economy is robust, but there are challenges out there”. We’ll be interested to see how the company adapts to these challenges in the months and years ahead.