Mitch Cameron shows us around a relocated TPS Branch in Slough.
You have probably noticed the quiet growth of trade clubs over the past decade. At first, these were a way for the VMs to get the independent garages that wouldn’t normally consider queuing at a franchise’s parts counter to use genuine parts.
The idea worked, and today some of the clubs are as busy, and as lean and sales-focussed, as any branch of an all-makes factor chain.
Take TPS for example. Launched 11 years ago the trade counter started its first month with four branches selling mostly dealer-only parts and bodyshop supplies. Today, it has a nationwide network of 75 centres and has recently been through a programme of modernisation and rebranding.
To find out what these changes mean in practical terms, we’ve headed west to the Berkshire town of Slough to have a look at a branch that has recently relocated to a more modern site.
When we arrive at the allotted (and very precise) time of 11.15, the first thing to notice is the large signs across the driveway. “We were one of the first to receive the new branding” said Branch Manager Mitch Cameron, adding that the new silver logo (TPS originally stood for Trade Parts Specialists, but now has no official designation) looks very professional when combined with the new corporate colour scheme.
The new look continues inside the building, as staff are wearing a redesigned uniform that matches the silver logo. Customers, according to Cameron, appreciate all of these tweaks. “We hear a lot from the front counter that it is a pleasant place to get parts from” he said.
Actually, a partition screen between the counter and the telesales floor has a dual role as on the reverse it has a large sales board, filled with targets broken down in ways that no doubt makes sense to the nine people rattling the phones.
While the board of figures doesn’t mean a lot to us, it is clearly very important to Cameron and the team as monthly targets are broken down into weekly, daily and even hourly productivity goals. Like most factor branches, there is a morning rush, which finishes just after 11 (hence the time we were given to arrive) followed be a spike in activity in the early afternoon, mostly from garages who want to make sure their parts are ordered ahead of a vehicle arriving first thing in the morning.
Part of the programme of branch modernisation is a phone system that will be able to monitor call volumes, lengths, number of outgoing and incoming and so on. “When we get it, it will give us a much better handle on what the peaks are during the day” explained Cameron, adding that, in common with the practice at most factors, each operator has their own list of ‘regular’ clients that they build up a relationship with and a few customers can be in touch with the branch ‘seven or eight times a day’. One of the team is a bodyshop specialist, so he deals with the panel beaters around the town.
Another relatively new system is a ‘gap analysis’ tool, something many readers in factors may well be familiar with. Simply put, it looks at what customers have been purchasing alongside what they haven’t been. For example, a customer might buy many sets of brake pads from the factor, but never any hydraulic fluid. The tool can pick things like this out and the sales rep can then find out why, and see if there is an offer that will persuade the garage owner to change their buying habits.
The branch’s fleet also deserves a mention. There are 11 vans, which is not untypical for a branch of this size. However, the branch has also acquired a small hatchback car (a VW of course) that has been converted to carry a small amount of stock and be used for client visits. “The idea of that is we have some part time drivers in the morning to cover the busy period. In the afternoon when it is a little quieter, we can send some of the telesales guys out so they can meet their customers face to face” explained Cameron. “This is something we’re building on, that we hadn’t been doing particularly before”. It has been said many times before, but there is never any substitute in the aftermarket for getting out and shaking hands with people.
The factor’s fleet also boasts a motor scooter for local runs. Traffic in the area immediately around the industrial estate can be pretty gnarly first thing in the morning and the bike is just the thing for small deliveries.
Some 9,000 lines are kept in the stockroom. Brake parts, oil and filters are the fastest moving lines as you might expect, although around 15 percent of stock holding relates to crash repair and body refinish (On our visit, the side panel for a Caddy van was waiting to be delivered to a customer). As you’d expect, TPS delivers many OE parts from the parent company, but in a move to compete with others it also has a second-tier line called ‘FourPlus’, which as the name implies are parts for vehicles old enough to be out of the warranty period. All products in the range come with a two-year guarantee and meet the VM’s quality assurance standards.
The phones start to get busy again as the afternoon rush begins, so its time for us to leave. However, if you are in Slough and you notice that there are a lot of Volkswagen Group cars on the road, now you’ll know how they stay there.