Kamran Saleem shows us around one of the most modern garages in Solihull
Long-term readers of the magazine might remember a report on a venture known as iAuto. Launched in 2012, the owner (who came from outside the motor trade) thought it would be reasonably straightforward to establish a modern garage in Coventry specialising in German marques. Once this was done, a key point of the business plan was to expand through selling franchises.
On paper, this sounded like a wonderful idea. A plan was formed to open several garages in the Midlands and London in the first year with ‘dozens more’ set to open the following year. The first franchise opened in Solihull in a bright, modern workshop lead by a team, spearheaded by Kamran Saleem. Saleem had a motor industry background, having previously worked in PCP and car sales, but it was quickly clear that getting a franchise up and running was never going to be quite the turnkey operation the founders envisaged.
“Because we were the first franchise things weren’t ready in terms of market roll out at the time” explained Saleem. “We opened in January 2014 and there were two other [branches planned to open] in Croydon and Guildford”.
“For various reasons, they didn’t open as quickly as anticipated and those branches not being open affected the amount of cashflow coming back into the business”. Saleem and his team had made an investment of around £400,000 into the business.“That money had got ties and had returns that needed to be made on it, so we needed to accelerate faster than iAuto could provide at the time” he said. “So in December 2014 we decided to part company”.
Out of necessity, the newly independent garage was rebranded Motor Serv,but the involvement with iAuto hadn’t quite finished as Saleem’s team were offered the chance to buy the flagship Coventry branch, partly to free up finances for the franchise and partly because the owner realised that the day to day frustrations of running a garage get in the way of setting up a franchise model.
After doing a market study, Saleem found that many of the existing customers of the Coventry branch were willing to travel to the larger and newer Solihull branch. The staff were offered transfers, which suited the majority as the facility is larger and newer than Coventry.
Saleem’s next issue is common to many new businesses, namely how to build a customer database from scratch. First of all, a good amount of marketing was done, online, through leaf lets and in the local press. More recently a sales team has been recruited to get on the road encouraging businesses that might have multiple vehicles to give Motor Serv a try.
The next challenge is to keep getting repeat business from these customers. For this, a servicing plan has been introduced, with a number of added extras. “We’ll say to the customers when they pick their vehicles up something along the lines of ‘It was an interim service today, but the next one will be a full service. We can offer you our Gold servicing plan, which is the cost of your next service divided over twelve months – and as a Gold member you get all the following services for free” said Saleem, pointing to quite a long list highlighting benefits, which includes the MOT test, any regular bulbs and wheel alignment among other points such as thirty minutes of diagnostic time and an A/C system check.
“It’s like a gym membership. We want to create a ‘lock-in’ effect for anyone who brings his or her car along to us. When people come over here, their reaction is ‘ah, it’s massive and I didn’t even know it was here.’ Once we’ve managed to entice people here, we want them to come back” he says.
Of course, another important part of getting people to come back is making sure their vehicle has been properly repaired. To this end, Motor Serv has a head start as the technicians are all experienced and the equipment and facilities are relatively new. However, Saleem has found that investment in front-of-house staff who can resolve customer problems before they become serious issues is a boon.
The commitment has already paid off as the firm recently won a local award for customer service – not bad for a relatively new company. We look forward to seeing how the business develops in years to come.
SIZE: 10,000 sq ft
VAG Group vehicles
TECHNICIANS: 5 (plus two support)