Of all the places that I thought might be my first visit of the year, a new branch of Andrew Page didn’t seem likely just a few months ago.
But things change, and so today, I’m standing at a shiny shop counter in a new branch. There are displays of tools and accessories with a number of brands and a small screen with a noisy infomercial for something called Gorilla Glue on a loop – something which I suspect will get old very quickly for the staff.
The stockroom, loaded with parts across two levels, is just as clean. Incredibly, building the mezzanine plus racking the whole branch and filling it with stock was achieved in just a week, according to Regional Manager Steven Frost, who was there to meet me along with Southampton Manager Shay Allen and Interim Marketing Manager Richard Swan.
Admittedly, this is not an entirely new branch. There was already a satellite of the Southampton branch in Eastleigh that needed to move or be closed as the lease was up and the landlord wished to redevelop the building. At the same time, parent company LKQ had a recently vacated building that had previously been a JCA Coatings counter, so it seemed logical for one business to move into the empty building.
However, don’t think that this is nothing more than a re-site. The sales team that manages customers around Eastleigh and Winchester are to move from Southampton into a bright new telesales office upstairs at the Eastleigh branch, and the team have plans to increase the headcount in order to win some new accounts.
“You get closer to your customers when you are in a standalone branch” Steven Frost emphasised, “But in a satellite branch, you become a bit disengaged as your customers don’t know that you’re up the road. So part of the investment is to get more people in”. This will likely include an extra van or two (there are currently six) and possibly extra people to handle the increased pareto and anticipated rise in orders.
The problems faced by the management of Andrew Page have been covered ad infinitum in CAT, but from a customer point of view the main issue has been inconsistent supply and ever-changing brands on the shelf. “There’s nothing worse than having to ring a customer back and tell them that you can’t get something” said Frost, adding that as an ex-ECP man, he breathed a ‘sigh of relief ’ when he heard that LKQ were behind the takeover, because he knew that range and availability would no longer be an issue.
So, is this branch a new start for the hundred year-old factor? “That’s certainly what we’ve been told” said Frost. “There are more moves and openings planned as [LKQ] want to heavily invest in this brand and move it forward. It hasn’t moved as quickly as we wanted, because of the CMA thing, but straight away this is what we want to do”.
Branch Manager Shay Allen believes that filling gaps in existing accounts and winning new business is entirely possible, due to the good and personal relationships the team have with individual customers. This trait goes back to the days of Camberley Auto Factors which several team members worked for, prior to being bought and rebranded by Page.
“It absolutely comes down to the relationship between the garage and the factor. If there is one thing that sets us apart right now it is people, and the knowledge and level of skill that they have” said Allen.
This is emphasised in the firm’s attitude to outgoing sales calls. Rather than badger people on the phone with an offer of screenwash or whatever, the sales team will prefer to visit customers to make sure they are happy with everything the factor is doing, and looking to see if there are any gaps that can be filled.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges to this expansion. Both MPD, GSF and GAU are active on the patch that the branch wants to take more of as well as the ‘friendly’ competition from the local ECP. Nonetheless, the shiny new branch sends out a clear message to the aftermarket: Andrew Page is back and open for business.