Who’s going to fix your car tomorrow?

In her first article for Aftermarket, Rebecca Pullan from Carmaster in Harrogate she gives her perspective on the impact of tech companies on our sector
Published:  29 June, 2020

Disruptors. These exist because technological advances often create a new, more direct route towards an end goal. They are often so innovative that they appear, almost as if by magic, like a Doctor Who-style door to an alternative universe. Unbelievable things that appear in your everyday workplace. Just ask any estate agent or travel agent. They are not fiction.
Naturally, for the end user they also offer ease, convenience or financial benefit. The best of these so-called ‘disruptors’ offer all three. Hello Uber...But beware. No business is immune while we have entrepreneurs from outside the sector who think they understand what we need to be doing.

In my opinion, Who Can Fix My Car.com cannot be defined as a disruptor. The definition is too good for it. There is no doubt that the motor trade is Dickensian in a lot of ways but is this the revolution that it needs? I don’t think so. Let’s look at a few parts of the jigsaw.
In order to bid for work on Who Can Fix My Car, you must pay an initial membership fee (cost one). This is the first cost that you will encounter in the process.  And who is the most likely to win? You guessed it. The cheapest. A good quality, value for money, modern thinking workshop will never win. The word win is a verb, showing success. You won’t find any here, at either end.
This competition does not benefit the customer. Instead, while they may initially feel the financial benefit, work is often of poorer quality and can lead to further problems down the line. There is no profit left for the investment in the specialist equipment required to maintain modern cars or the staff needed to operate it. When margins are eroded like this, it’s really no surprise that so many talented colleagues are leaving our industry. The overall result of this is a skills shortage and an inability to provide a decent service to the customer. By ‘winning’ the work you must also pay the fee (cost two).

Servicing fees are often in excess of £12+VAT. Despite this, many workshops are offering to complete a service for under £100. And yes, that does include VAT. Which begs the question, what is the customer actually getting for their money?  Excuse my little diversion.    
What does the customer get for this money? What does a service mean? Anyone? Even the main dealers are confused by this. Our local dealership will call during your ‘service’ to ask if you want the ‘brake service’ at additional cost! Hmm. This confusion leaves plenty of space for even more derogation of the classic service. Perhaps we could just wash it and top up the oil?

A final note from me: Say you do win the job and you’re a great garage; you’re taking a view. Say I’m wrong (this is most extraordinary, as my husband will agree). Now what happens?
You have a new happy customer whom you have wooed with your very best and probably at rock bottom prices. You might have even made a loss. Later, they need those pads and discs, you remember, the ones you advised? Do they call you? Nah. They start the whole process again.


Brakes off! It’s time to accelerate…

Published:  25 June, 2020

 Six top marketing tips for garages from Kalimex’ retained marketeer and the international #1 bestselling marketing-on-a-shoestring business author, Dee Blick

“Wiper” away your worries: TRICO highlights upselling opportunities

Published:  08 June, 2020

TRICO is reminding garages that upselling wipers can be a handy additional income stream at a time when other work at an all-time due to COVID-19 and the MOT extension.

Coronavirus: furloughed workers and what it means for business

Published:  05 June, 2020

Getting the details right is vital for businesses looking to furlough staff under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

GSPR – Is it a four-letter word?

The General Safety Protection Regulation is a mouthful, and it’s going to be here to stay from 2022. What will it mean for independent garages in practice?
Published:  04 June, 2020

The Americans love acronyms. They even have an acronym for acronyms – ‘TLA’ is a ‘three letter acronym’. Well, there is now a new acronym to remember, but this one is from the EU and has four letters (should that then be a ‘FLA’?) – ‘GSPR’, or more correctly known as the ‘General Safety Protection Regulation’. The official title is the ‘REGULATION (EU) 2019/2144 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 27 November 2019 on type-approval requirements for motor vehicles and their trailers, and systems, components and separate technical units intended for such vehicles, as regards their general safety and the protection of vehicle occupants and vulnerable road users’, a snappy little title that does not roll off your lips as easily as ‘GSPR’. This new Regulation has now passed into EU vehicle type approval law and will impose changes to vehicle design for all new vehicle models that are entering the market (i.e. new vehicle type approvals) from 6 July 2022.

Let’s look at what this new Regulation is all about, and what relevance does it have to independent workshops.
The motivation behind this Regulation is to address the problem of 25,300 people dying on Europe’s roads in 2017; a figure that has remained constant in the previous four years. Moreover, 135,000 people are seriously injured. In addition to the safety measures to protect vehicle occupants, there are also specific measures to prevent fatalities and injuries of vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians to protect road users outside of the vehicle.
By mandating these new safety systems, there should be a reduction in these figures, but equally, these vehicle systems will need diagnostics, repair and re-calibration, so there is a welcome potential for independent workshops.
In simple terms, the legislator has imposed new safety related systems for new vehicles, but these systems are mainly Advanced Driver Assist Systems, or ‘ADAS’ as a better-known acronym. The list of these new systems is:

The good, the bad and the ugly: Third party work providers

Andy asks whether online aggregators are good news for garages, or whether they are storing up trouble
Published:  26 May, 2020

A hot topic within the industry, and one that I cover in my business courses, is online service providers;  third-party booking sites or aggregators – or whatever you happen to call them. Let’s recognise what they are, and examine why these aggregators exist in the first place.  
Think from a consumer’s perspective. Chances are that when you go on holiday, you reserve a hotel through a third-party booking site, for example, Expedia or Hotels.com. My guess is that this is exactly what you do because in today’s fast-paced, tech-savvy world, third-party booking sites have become the norm. Consumers are driven by price point and ease, both of which are met through a wide variety of online service providers.
While this seems like a win-win situation, there is the obvious downside of enabling consumers to be disloyal. In the age of e-shots and social media, deals fall into consumers’ laps, and it’s only natural to take the better deal over brand loyalty.
Most garages don’t have the necessary skills to create such platforms, and thus create the resulting footfall. Fortunately for us, these online service providers have identified our repair sector as another service industry that could become part of the digital revolution.

Digitally minded
The digital world is here to stay and we have to accept that. It’s a good idea to take a step back and examine who our future customers will be in this world.
When I look at my children, 18, 21 and 23 years old, I see the next generation of customers, not the 45 to 55-plus who have been visiting our garages over the last couple of decades. My daughters purchase at least 90% of their clothes online, which is astonishing to me. We in the garage sector have to engage with these digitally-minded youngsters.
Like all other service businesses, there is the good, the bad and the ugly. I was extremely critical of these aggregators when they first appeared in our sector. To be honest, I still am. I don’t agree with many of the practices currently used by these sites. That being said, there are advantages to partnering up with one. The main one being access to new customers.
For a consumer, the first and most obvious advantage is price, and this is where a major problem exists for me. Prices found on third-party sites are often less expensive than the listed prices a garage may advertise. For those who have attended my courses, you would have heard me say on many occasions, these ‘come and get me’ prices do very little to aid our bottom line in an already highly competitive market. However, us garage owners aren’t always squeaky clean when it comes to pricing, are we?

For example, I often see adverts for a ‘Service & MOT - £99.00’ or something very similar. How many of you have seen a MOT price go up? I certainly haven’t. Most prices advertised are anything from £19.99 to £24.99. This comes down to what we include within a service. If I asked 10 garages owners what they would include, they would give me at least five different versions. So, if we can’t decide what a service consists of, how do we expect the public to do so? Can we really blame online service providers for taking advantage of this inconsistency?
These websites are here to stay. Let’s stop criticising them all and try to work with the better ones to make them understand our businesses a little better. That way everyone can benefit.
If I were to open up a garage again, there would be a couple of areas which would have to be certainties in order for me to consider signing up to a third-party booking provider. Firstly, I would need control of the customer from start to finish. Secondly, I would have to be in control of the parts buying. As a compromise, I would accept a small fee to get access to a new customer.
At the end of the day, however, I would prefer to focus on the overall service levels provided at my garage, providing a customer experience that is unmatched in the local area. I would put more resource and energy into a social media presence and website offering, as this is an area that garages regularly struggle with. There are many decent, better qualified companies around that can provide specific digital services, so make use of them.

Direct route
It has become more important than ever that your website is responsive, has simple and intuitive navigation, and enables customers to book quickly and securely. A good website will increase enquires and bookings. It will direct users to the information they want to find and guide them through a simple conversion process. Social media should also be taken into consideration, as it is one of the easiest and most direct routes to engage with customers. You must ensure your brand is active within the channels your customers are using.
In the end, what I am trying to get across is that before we look to attack these online service providers, we need to realise that these platforms exist because we have not kept up with the digital revolution. These aggregators have simply taken advantage of our industry, and given that they are unlikely to be going anywhere, should we really shun them before truly understanding why they are here in the first place?

The good, the bad and the ugly: Third party work providers

Andy asks whether online aggregators are good news for garages, or whether they are storing up trouble
Published:  30 April, 2020

A hot topic within the industry, and one that I cover in my business courses, is online service providers;  third-party booking sites or aggregators – or whatever you happen to call them. Let’s recognise what they are, and examine why these aggregators exist in the first place.  
Think from a consumer’s perspective. Chances are that when you go on holiday, you reserve a hotel through a third-party booking site, for example, Expedia or Hotels.com. My guess is that this is exactly what you do because in today’s fast-paced, tech-savvy world, third-party booking sites have become the norm. Consumers are driven by price point and ease, both of which are met through a wide variety of online service providers.
While this seems like a win-win situation, there is the obvious downside of enabling consumers to be disloyal. In the age of e-shots and social media, deals fall into consumers’ laps, and it’s only natural to take the better deal over brand loyalty.
Most garages don’t have the necessary skills to create such platforms, and thus create the resulting footfall. Fortunately for us, these online service providers have identified our repair sector as another service industry that could become part of the digital revolution.

Digitally minded
The digital world is here to stay and we have to accept that. It’s a good idea to take a step back and examine who our future customers will be in this world.
When I look at my children, 18, 21 and 23 years old, I see the next generation of customers, not the 45 to 55-plus who have been visiting our garages over the last couple of decades. My daughters purchase at least 90% of their clothes online, which is astonishing to me. We in the garage sector have to engage with these digitally-minded youngsters.
Like all other service businesses, there is the good, the bad and the ugly. I was extremely critical of these aggregators when they first appeared in our sector. To be honest, I still am. I don’t agree with many of the practices currently used by these sites. That being said, there are advantages to partnering up with one. The main one being access to new customers.
For a consumer, the first and most obvious advantage is price, and this is where a major problem exists for me. Prices found on third-party sites are often less expensive than the listed prices a garage may advertise. For those who have attended my courses, you would have heard me say on many occasions, these ‘come and get me’ prices do very little to aid our bottom line in an already highly competitive market. However, us garage owners aren’t always squeaky clean when it comes to pricing, are we?

For example, I often see adverts for a ‘Service & MOT - £99.00’ or something very similar. How many of you have seen a MOT price go up? I certainly haven’t. Most prices advertised are anything from £19.99 to £24.99. This comes down to what we include within a service. If I asked 10 garages owners what they would include, they would give me at least five different versions. So, if we can’t decide what a service consists of, how do we expect the public to do so? Can we really blame online service providers for taking advantage of this inconsistency?
These websites are here to stay. Let’s stop criticising them all and try to work with the better ones to make them understand our businesses a little better. That way everyone can benefit.
If I were to open up a garage again, there would be a couple of areas which would have to be certainties in order for me to consider signing up to a third-party booking provider. Firstly, I would need control of the customer from start to finish. Secondly, I would have to be in control of the parts buying. As a compromise, I would accept a small fee to get access to a new customer.
At the end of the day, however, I would prefer to focus on the overall service levels provided at my garage, providing a customer experience that is unmatched in the local area. I would put more resource and energy into a social media presence and website offering, as this is an area that garages regularly struggle with. There are many decent, better qualified companies around that can provide specific digital services, so make use of them.

Direct route
It has become more important than ever that your website is responsive, has simple and intuitive navigation, and enables customers to book quickly and securely. A good website will increase enquires and bookings. It will direct users to the information they want to find and guide them through a simple conversion process. Social media should also be taken into consideration, as it is one of the easiest and most direct routes to engage with customers. You must ensure your brand is active within the channels your customers are using.
In the end, what I am trying to get across is that before we look to attack these online service providers, we need to realise that these platforms exist because we have not kept up with the digital revolution. These aggregators have simply taken advantage of our industry, and given that they are unlikely to be going anywhere, should we really shun them before truly understanding why they are here in the first place?

Lockdown battery opportunity highlighted by HELLA

Published:  28 April, 2020

COVID-19 could be the ultimate cause of battery failure for thousands of vehicles currently sitting idle under lockdown, and HELLA is highlighting this as a likely opportunity for garages in the months ahead.

Mewa wipes contribute to Coronavirus employee safety

Published:  27 April, 2020

Workplace cleaning products are gaining new relevance in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic, including wipes and rags for cleaning tools and machines. According to textile management company MEWA, demand is impacting on the availability of some types of cleaning wipes, but also how they are used in the workplace.

Coaching essentials

Andy is looking at the various techniques you can employ to support your team’s development
Published:  21 April, 2020

MOT Connectivity: Time for an equipment upgrade

Published:  31 March, 2020

The last 18 months have seen several changes to MOT rules come into force across the UK, affecting both brakes and emissions. There is more to come however, and guidance issued by the DVSA at the end of 2019 signalled the introduction of further changes affecting the use of connected equipment in 2020. 
The requirement to use connectable roller brake testers was introduced on 1 October 2019 and decelerometers followed suit on 1 February 2020. To comply with the new rules, garages and MOT centres making a new site application or replacing old equipment, are required to buy connected products capable of connecting to the MOT testing service. The DVSA has also announced its intention to add diesel smoke meters, exhaust gas analysers and headlamp beam aligners to the list later this year.
Connected equipment could bring a number of benefits for garages and MOT centres. Unlike the current manual input system, connected equipment allows results to be automatically transferred as the MOT test takes place, saving time, increasing data accuracy and helping to reduce the risk of fraud. Furthermore, the data collected will allow the DVSA to spot any trends and patterns, which may require further investigation.
It is expected that all MOT tools and equipment will become increasingly connected in the future. With this in mind, garages and MOT centres should purchase products that offer this capability, in order to future-proof their MOT bays. While purchasing new equipment will undoubtedly raise financial concerns for some operators, they should regard such equipment as a long-term investment which will improve efficiency and deliver returns over time. Buying low-value alternatives is a false economy and could result in downtime due to equipment failure. While high-quality equipment provided by market-leading brands typically comes with after-sales support, including upgrades and retrofitting options.
Before purchasing new equipment there are several factors to consider and connectivity is increasingly important. To assist them in making the right choice, garages and MOT centres should select a product given on the DVSA’s approved equipment list or one that can be upgraded as and when necessary. They should also consider that further rule changes to increase connectivity are likely to be introduced in the future. Choosing easily compatible products that can be linked through the same software and controlled from just one station will result in a far simpler solution and a reduced chance of installation issues. 
Where possible, garages should also look for equipment that can perform more than one function, for instance, MOT bays that also offer wheel alignment. Dual revenue options unlock a host of other business opportunities and ensure that equipment can be used its full potential, even in quieter times.
Ultimately, growing use of connected equipment is likely to become a differentiator for garages and MOT centres in the year ahead. Those that decide to embrace automation can expect to benefit from faster MOT test times, improved customer service and less downtime due to faults or errors.

The Financial Ombudsman Service wants YOU

Adam’s look at the FOS considers its decisions, how they are enforced, and why making a complaint can be really worthwhile
Published:  30 March, 2020

Part two

The Connected Car

The independent aftermarket risks being cut out of the loop by the connected car, but there could be ways for garages take back control...
Published:  25 March, 2020

When I was at school, no one liked the playground bully – you remember the kind of person who liked to push the other kids around, always wanted to take from you what you had and liked nothing better than ‘rubbing your face in the dirt’, just because they could.        
There is a modern equivalent in the automotive world – the ‘connected car’. To be fair it is not the car that is the problem, but the vehicle manufacturer that designed and built it. I would like to explain exactly what the problem is and how it will be the equivalent of the playground bully in relation to your business.
In simple terms, the way that communication to a vehicle and its data is being supported is changing. Today, the OBD connector still exists and provides direct, free of charge access to in-vehicle data when the vehicle is in the workshop when you connect your multi-brand diagnostic tool to start the repair process. There are even plug-in devices (often known as dongles) that are connected to the OBD port to allow data to be monitored when the vehicle is being driven, but mainly for fleet operators. Perhaps, so far, so good.
Now the change of paradigm. The design of the car today (well actually yesterday – its already happened) has changed. It is now designed to allow remote access via a telematics interface and with the in-vehicle computational resources to host and run on-board applications for vehicle related services.  This is the ‘connected car’.
Who can directly connect to this ‘connected car’ and access all the data, process it in the car and offer services to the driver? Only the vehicle manufacturer, and there lies the problem.

This evolution in vehicle technology is driving (excuse the pun) a wholesale change in the way that the repair process will now be conducted. For the first time, the vehicle manufacturer is able to be in direct contact with the vehicle driver/owner and has consequently been able to enter the aftermarket. This is important, as this has been the most lucrative sector that the vehicle manufacturer has never previously been able to enter, or when they have tried to do so via its main dealer network, has resulted in only limited success.
Think about your business model for a moment. You have customers who call you, or visit your reception, to ask if you can help service or repair their vehicle. You ask a few questions to ascertain what the problem might be, or conduct a diagnostic check to see what faults may be present, and then provide the customer with a quotation to get their vehicle back on the road.
Now look at this from the vehicle manufacturer’s perspective. They can check the vehicle every time it is being driven and run monitoring, diagnostic or predictive checks to see what repair or maintenance is required. They already know the details of the vehicle and what service or repair methods are needed and the corresponding spare parts. When the time comes for work to be done, they can calculate what this would be in terms of time and parts and send a quotation to the vehicle owner using the in-vehicle display (HMI functions). Examples of this type of service offer already exist today and ask the driver what level of service they would like, when they would like it and where this work could be provided. This might be a main dealer close to their home or close to their work. A simple press of the on-screen icon, or even a voice command confirms their choice and the acceptance of the quotation. I bet that you would like to be in a position to be able to do the same, or even simply to offer your competing quotation. Well hard luck, you can’t.
The vehicle manufacturer blocks all direct access to the vehicle and the driver for independent service providers. Currently, the best offer from vehicle manufacturers is to use a ‘back-end’ interface from the vehicle manufacturer’s server where data (well actually information – there is a big difference) is made available at a price. You might simply get the vehicle mileage, or a DTC, or the next service date – happy days! However, the best bit, is that to get even this information, you have to register with the vehicle manufacturer, declare your service that you would like to provide to your specific customer, and then use the remote services contract that must first exist between your customer and the vehicle manufacturer to transfer the data/information via the VM server to you, before you can provide any form of service offer to your customer. Does not sound too appealing, does it?
So welcome to the world of the connected car - and the best bit is that you will not know the customers you have lost, as you will not know what service, maintenance or repair work they needed, because the vehicle manufacturer will have known what was needed even before the vehicle owner did and then proposed their service offer directly to them without you even knowing.

Perhaps there is some good news on the horizon as vehicle ownership changes towards ‘mobility as a service’ and people do not buy cars, but simply buy transport. The vehicle owner becomes a corporation who runs a large fleet of vehicles and needs them serviced locally to where they are being used, but to ensure that they can offer competitive mobility services, they will need the lowest cost for labour and parts – and with their bargaining power for individual independent workshops, it could be a race to the bottom to offer the lowest price. The answer lies in working as part of a team with your suppliers (e.g. diagnostic tool or parts suppliers) who can negotiate better corporate deals and help streamline your business to meet these new challenges. The days of simply talking to your customer and giving them a price before telling them that their vehicle will be ready at five o’clock are rapidly disappearing, to be replaced by working in a wider eco-system of remote access to the customer and their vehicle and competing not with the workshop around the corner, but with corporations, both as partnership suppliers or as competitors.
Tomorrow’s business model will not be just more of the same as what you were able to do yesterday. Welcome to the world of the connected car and the new playground bully, where you will need to gang-up to defend yourself.


Dealing with customer complaints

How a business deals with customer complaints should positively reflect its overall attitude to customers, and leave them feeling valued
Published:  19 March, 2020

Running any business, and perhaps more so a service business like an independent garage, you have to learn to recognise there are different types of customers with different expectations.    
How we deal and adapt our services, the customer journey to meet and exceed these expectations are essential if we are going to succeed in having a healthy profitable business. This function must be adopted by everyone in your garage regardless of size.
Occasionally however, we are faced with challenging customers who complain, usually in a passive aggressive manner. These customers feel they have a reason to be upset. I always used to say to my team at Brunswick Garage, that there will always be a small percentage of customers that we will never be able to please, and importantly we must not let these handful of customers taint our view of all customers. When you find yourself having to deal with a disgruntled customer, remembering a few simple techniques can help to defuse the situation. Both parties being upset and defensive will not amount to anything positive.

In my experience running independent garages, I came to the realisation that in virtually every case of an unhappy customer, all that was needed to resolve the customer concern was to listen to the customer, or recognise actually they weren’t being listened to.
The customer isn’t always right, but it’s not always okay to tell them that, sometimes you have to act as if they are right. Active listening, eye contact, nodding your head in agreement, being on the same level with them, expressing empathy, and relating to how the customer is feeling can be incredibly helpful. Remember to place yourself in the customer’s position or frame of mind and never patronise a customer or look for excuses. We are working in an industry where many aspects of the customer journey have to come together from the initial phone call to returning the customers vehicle keys, so we have to accept that sometimes things go wrong however much we try to avoid mistakes.

Once you have been able to establish some rapport, you may find a mutually agreeable resolution to the problem, and you must do whatever you can to achieve this outcome. Explain to the customer what you are going to do to help the situation. It could be engaging the customer in a test drive to better understand the complaint, admitting the garage made a mistake, or if possible, offering the customer a lift back home, work or a loan vehicle while you resolve their issue. You must assure at all times the customer feels that you are truly trying your best to resolve their concern and provide them with the least convenience as possible.
Research indicates that customers prefer the person they are speaking with to instantly solve their problem. However sometimes complaints have to be moved up the chain of command, but make sure they don’t add to the customer's frustration. So, wherever possible, resolve the issue yourself. This has the added advantage of demonstrating to those senior to you that you are willing to manage difficult situations yourself without resorting to escalation.
If you really can’t solve the customers concerns, take ownership of the issue and ensure that the complaint is effectively escalated and that you follow up to see what the outcome is.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you say you are going to do something, you should always do it. Don’t be tempted to tell customers that someone will get in touch with them in an hour when they might not get a call for a few hours. The customer won’t thank you for it in the long run. Always be sure you can meet the promise you make.

Many of us have worked in the automotive sector for so long we forget what it is like to bring our vehicle for repair. Knowing what your competition is doing can also pay dividends in other ways too. It can help you set yourself apart by creating a business experience, an atmosphere that is different from any other garage locally and far beyond.
Keeping perspective when it comes to the customer experience will help you to create a positive customer experience and maintain a solid customer base. At Brunswick Garage we were of course never happy to receive complaints, however we used it as a prompt to better our service and if a customer made the effort to write or email us with a concern, we displayed their comments in reception with the thank you letters. We wanted to show our customers that we were not perfect, but also show them we took complaints very seriously and we always aimed at achieving a positive outcome. Learning to handle challenging customers will build respect for your business and ultimately result in higher customer retention and profits.

When we receive complaints, we often look upon them in a negative way. However, complaints can be really useful to any garage and although it doesn’t feel like it at the time, the complaint is extremely positive in that it helps highlight problems with our service and procedures.
The alternative to receiving customer complaints is not receiving them and carrying on just the way we are, oblivious the negative impact our actions are having on customers who perhaps won’t return or will be complaining to their friends rather than to us. This is extremely damaging as we never get the chance to put right the errors that we don’t hear about. It’s a bit of a cliché, but complaints really are a gift.

How to turn 60 minutes into £500k

This month John takes a look at a case study to show you how slowing down can remove your stress and earn you more
Published:  03 March, 2020

Something I find myself wanting to say all the time: “It’s easy to find technical information, easy to diagnose that car, easy to increase the profit within your garage.” I am wrong of course. I’ve been running automotive businesses for long enough to know it’s not easy, but what I do know is it’s not complex either. In fact, it’s often simpler than you think. I might even say, straightforward.
However, if that’s the case, why is it that many of the garage owners I speak to are frustrated (not unhappy just frustrated) with their businesses? It’s an important question, and when these frustrations are given some thought solutions often appear. Here’s the great thing. The solutions we discover are common to most garages, including yours. While it may not be easy, it is straightforward. “How do I find solutions to my frustrations,” I hear you ask? All you have to do is be like the Cadbury’s bunny.

Slow down and take it easy
“Slow down, I wish!” This one of the most common responses when I ask my clients take a little time for the important tasks in their day. Between answering the phone, running the workshop and dealing with everyone’s questions how are you meant to slow down?
If you are looking for a different outcome (less stress in your workshop and an increase in profit) then you’ll need to change your actions. Not dramatic changes, just small ones on a regular basis. It’s these small changes that when taken regularly have an unprecedented effect on your garage. Let’s take a look at how slowing down and taking 60 minutes helped one of our clients recently and how you could do the same.

Problems + no time + no clarity = frustration
Like most things in life, a solution to a frustration is simpler to come by once a system is devised to deal with it, and that’s the route we took with Emma (name changed). Emma owns a great garage with her husband. They’ve been in this industry for years, love what they do, have a big team and are good at it. That doesn’t mean there aren't frustrations though.
On a call Emma recently said: “John, I’ve got a problem and it’s driving me nuts. Why is it that my technicians can’t tell me that their parts are wrong for the vehicle? It’s affecting the time taken to complete the job and affecting when the car goes back to the customer. I love our techs but this just keeps on happening. How can we fix it?
I can almost see you nodding along while reading Emma’s words. It’s a common issue in many workshops and can often dictate whether you have a good or bad day at the office. The solution though is straight forward you just need a little maths.

Time + clarity + thought = solution
We took 60 minutes of critical thinking, dedicated to defining the problem and its solution. The interesting part is that we found solutions Emma wasn’t expecting. In fact, the technician was only a small part of the problem. To ensure success though, you have to get off on the right foot. I like to start the process by defining the desired outcome. So that’s what we did and started with the end in mind.
Emma initially voiced her frustration with the technician not informing her that the parts were wrong. When dissected however, the frustration was actually a desired outcome was not being achieved. The outcomes in this instance being the car ready on time and a happy customer, alongside the efficient use of resources and the profitability of the workshop.
With those defined, let's turn our attention to brainstorming possible causes and Emma’s options for the solution.

Cause and effect    
We now have our desired outcomes and a reason that they’re not happening defined as incorrect parts. Let’s take a look at all of the possible causes of the incorrect parts. It could be:

The Financial Ombudsman Service wants YOU

Part one
Published:  27 February, 2020

The FOS offers help to businesses who are having difficulties dealing with financial issues, and it is free to use. Read on to find out more

Evo to evolution: Performance 3000

Aftermarket heads way out west to find out what gets the pistons pumping at Yeovil-based Performance 3000
Published:  01 February, 2020

When Aftermarket visits a garage, we usually find ourselves in a polished, visit-ready environment. At the very least, they will shove the clutter in a corner until we’re gone. That made it extra refreshing to poke our heads inside the door of Performance 3000 in Yeovil. Forget oily rags, this was a genuine building site, and we couldn’t be happier to be amidst the meat of a “what we will be doing to our business” anecdote.

Co-Founder Mike Randino talked us through the plan: “We have a warehouse that is now empty and is now in the midst of being knocked down as we speak, ready for moving our two commercial ramps. This will give us the space for putting in our new Class 7 MOT bay. To the right we have another warehouse, this was originally full of performance suspension, exhausts, air filters etc.  When we finish, we will have three commercial four-poster ramps, and two two-poster ramps. At the moment, we are only on two four-posters and two two-posters.

“James Trott, my business partner, is actually an engineer and we have a machine shop. That is now located in our main warehouse. This was just done during lockdown, I had seven weeks to list lots on EBay. This produced a nice income to help us through the period, and released a lot of space.Once we have got our MOT bay in, and all our ramps in there in the correct place, we can then start working on moving forward.”

The change is part of an ongoing evolution for a business that was previously a mainstay of the performance market: “I used to be well into performance vehicles. We have come away from that market now.”  

As Mike said, the direction of travel has changed, and with it, the typical customer. No more cash-rich boy racers then?
“Today, we have more of the professional middle-aged customer,” he confirmed. “This is a total change. I believe my experiences in the performance market helped me to get to the stage where I am now though. That is where I learned about customer service, and I find it natural.

“Back in 2004 when I started the business, the internet still wasn’t as massive as it is now. As a result, the performance market was all about socialising, working people, getting into groups, being friendly. This was all customer service. Even if they were not buying anything, you still had to give the professional approach. When they wanted to spend £5,000 on a performance engine rebuild, they remembered you.

We wondered if some of the professionals coming in are the grown-up versions of the earlier customers, who suddenly found the urge to have a really smooth ride, and were willing and able to pay for quality servicing:” There are a few, “ mused Mike, “but not as many as you would expect. I would say it is a whole new customer base really. There are a few exceptions where they have matured and got better jobs and bought a better car and no longer want a noisy exhaust, they want a comfortable ride, and they have come out of that scene as well. Our labour rate has increased quite a bit compared with when I originally started in 2004.”

Spooling back before Mike and the guys went all respectable, and before they went all noisy, we wondered how the garage got started in the first place: “I began my apprenticeship at one garage,” revealed Mike, and nine years later I bought it with my close friend James. That’s it – that’s my history. I have worked at one place, and then I bought it.

"That’s the dream, surely? Well, while consistency has its advantages, there are a few shortcomings, as Mike explained: “Because I have only ever worked at one garage, in the early stages of ownership, I lacked the wider experience of how a garage can be run. What I had learned here was the only way I knew. Over time, I had to develop.

“When I started employing people with wider experience, who have worked at five or six different places, I found some of the things I had missed out on. Now I have gained that experience, but it has taken me a long time to get to that position.”
On the other hand, this has meant Mike has learned the value of what people can bring to the table: “I have had staff come and go, but there are still things in place that they introduced. For example, our General Manager Tim used to work at Euro Car Parts, and many other factors before. He makes sure we are ordering the right parts first time.”

Top Garage
In 2019, Performance 3000 was a Top Garage finalist, and the business is on course for another great showing in 2020/2021 too. We wondered what Mike had gained from taking part:

“It was a great experience. Apart from the competition as a challenge in itself, you get to know the top people in our industry. That is what has changed it for me. Plus, afterwards at the Awards Evening afterwards it was nice to be able to have a chat with the judges.
“I have subsequently joined the Automotive Support Group on Facebook. When you look at the problems everyone else is having, and everyone has problems of one sort or another, you realise that your problems are not that bad.”

Mike has been getting himself out there, in a professional sense:  “It has only been in the last three years that I have been networking and socialising more with the top people in the industry. Before this I was more focused on just getting on with my own stuff and running my garage my way.

“I knew I needed some training, but you need the money too and so you just keep going. Then, after the 2019 Top Garage final and David Massey giving me the chewing out of my life about not knowing the relevant figures, I have done all four of Andy Savva’s Garage Inspector training courses. I have also completed a Diploma in Management and Leadership from Plymouth University, this also covered business marketing. Since then all I want to do is marketing now, but my workshop is not ready, and I am chomping at the bit.

“Looking at it now, I am surprised at how basic some of it is. Once I got involved in it, I was asking myself ‘why didn’t I think of that before?’ I am amazed at how easy and achievable some of it is.

This rolled into our next question, which was around plans for the future, which for Performance 3000 will be lining up the workshop and refocusing on marketing by the sound of it:

“We are working on attacking the main dealers,” confirmed Mike. “When you start looking around the area, why was I just going after the main dealer around the corner from me? If you have a Mercedes van, the nearest Mercedes-Benz CV outlet is 35 miles away from here. That is the same with Peugeot and Citroen vans. Even with Mercedes-Benz on the car side, the nearest dealer is 25 miles away. Tim is getting all the pricing ready so we can go after their customer base. It will be all genuine parts, and we will be promoting the fact that this is our approach. It is already working for us, and we haven’t done any marketing on it yet.”

Online is his weapon of choice in the battle: “Trustpilot reviews make such a difference. You can just direct a customer; ‘Read about us on Trustpilot sir’. It sells itself. This makes the marketing all the more easier, when you have something to back it up as well.”
Looking back and ahead, Mike added: “We have really come out of the performance market. I have even sold my rolling road. Now, is all about servicing, MOTs and repairs. It is definitely the way to go. When you have been in the performance market, you realise how easy a standard garage actually is, compared with one-off rebuilds. That stuff gives you headaches. They say customers can be hard work, but not if things are explained to them correctly and they are dealt with in the right way. Communication is key to everything.”  

I, Rebate

Rebates on parts are an accepted part of life for every garage. What do businesses actually think of them though, and does a rebate influence where parts are being bought?
Published:  24 January, 2020

It's a typical scenario for a garage. You have been buying parts and consumables from your factor of choice through the weeks, months and years. In that time, as you spend you are also accruing points on their rebate scheme. Eventually you have enough to get something really handy for the business, or just some nice stuff for you and the team. This can be a nice bit of extra income that can be invested back in the garage, or it can be something to splurge-spend on spurious fripperies.

Have you ever asked yourself what you really think of this though? Is it something you get in other areas of your life, major supermarkets aside? Probably not. Is it influencing your buying habits or reinforcing existing loyalties? Would you just prefer lower prices from your favourite factor?

We thought we would ask a few garages around the country how they use rebates, and if they affect their attitudes to their suppliers. 

Powering up your future business

Understanding the impact of the shift towards EVs and hybrids on your business will help you make a success of the change
Published:  04 January, 2020

Life never stands still and this also applies to vehicle design and the subsequent diagnostic and repair requirements. Any workshop business that does not evolve will, sooner or later, fail. The pace of change in vehicle design has been exponential in the last 10 years, across vehicle systems such as the development of driver assist systems, but equally for powertrain designs.
Part of the powertrain development has been for engine management, such as direct injection for petrol engines, cylinder de-activation and Atkinson cycle technologies, but these have been developments of existing internal combustion designs. There have also been different fuels, such as hydrogen, but again, evolution, rather than revolution.
The real change has been the rapid increase in the number of electrically powered cars, partly due to the development of both battery technology and volumes, with the subsequent reduction in prices, making vehicles both more affordable and useable, but the most significant influence has come from the political environment to move away from the reliance on fossil fuels.

Although electric vehicles are far from a new idea – the first (small scale) electric vehicles were developed in the 1830s, with viable vehicles being manufactured from the very early 1900s, including the first hybrid vehicles. Although the concept is not new and workshops have dealt with low voltage ‘electrics’ in the form of starting, ignition and lighting (SIL) batteries for over a hundred years, today’s electric powertrains pose significantly different challenges.
These challenges fall into several distinct categories, some of which you can directly do something about, while others which are outside of your direct control.
Firstly, doing nothing to develop your business is not the answer – the expansion of electrically powered vehicles is here to stay and the key is to understand what you need to do and when you need to do it. For the workshop, from the technical perspective, it is principally a competency issue that involves having the right equipment and the skills of the technician. Both of these will depend on how deeply you feel is necessary to be able to handle the level of work on the electrification of the vehicle’s powertrain and to some extent, this will be dictated by the demographics of your location, and your customer base.
There are several new vehicles which are now entering the market that use 48-volt systems, so these are not so challenging, but the existing and bulk of the future electrically powered vehicles will have much higher voltage systems and this is a key tipping point. To work on these systems imposes a duty of care on the business to ensure that technicians are not asked to work on potentially lethal systems without the appropriate equipment, protection and skill levels. For the workshop, this imposes a compliance for both the Electricity at Work Regulation (EWR) 1989 and the Safety at Work Act 1979.

However, the level of involvement in these higher voltage systems will also dictate the level of investment. This is illustrated by one vehicle manufacturer’s policy of implementing three levels in their main dealer networks for their hybrid or fully electric vehicles – level one is purely vehicle maintenance, level two is repair and replacement of components and level three is working on live systems.    
In both Canada and Germany, compulsory training and accreditation of all vehicle repair technicians is mandatory.
For independent workshops in the UK, this three step approach would also allow the workshop to adopt an ‘evolutionary’ approach to investment, starting with some basic equipment and then building on this with the more specialist tools and equipment as the business develops, but I would strongly suggest that the technical training should be at a higher level from the outset to ensure that the technician fully understands the wider design and functionality of electrically powered vehicle systems to know the boundaries of where the work on a vehicle changes across the three levels – a good case of avoiding that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. Once your business has the competencies, then it is about promoting this to existing customers who at some stage will be hybrid or electric vehicle owners, or to those who already are, but don’t know that you can handle their vehicles – so if you make the investment, shout about it.

On another positive point, the European Commission have confirmed that electric vehicles still need to support access to their in-vehicle systems for repair and maintenance – clarifying the mis-held belief that if there were no emissions, then no OBD connector needed to be fitted.
These are the things that you may be able to control about electrically powered vehicles, but there are other aspects that are outside of your control which will impact your business. The most obvious is the extended service intervals and the reduced level of work which electrically powered vehicles need. Fairly obviously, this directly relates to no engine components on fully electrically powered vehicles, but even if tyre wear may increase due to their increased weight, their brakes last longer due to the capturing of energy when slowing down to re-charge the battery.
Electric vehicles will require new skillsets for their repair, away from mechanical repairs into more electrical and electronic orientated repairs. This will change the profile of the technician that is needed and also create an increased dependency on downloading software updates. However, these may be increasingly over-the-air updates from the vehicle manufacturer, without the need for a vehicle to come into a workshop. Just think about what TESLA are already doing. The way that the vehicles are purchased is also changing – especially for electric vehicles – as there is a separation of the cost of the vehicle and the renting of the battery to avoid the twin problems of the higher price of new electric vehicles and the concerns around the cost of replacing a battery as the vehicle ages.
Additionally, there will be changes in the ownership of the vehicle as ‘mobility as a service’ develops, but this may be an opportunity for independent workshops to provide competitive local repair and maintenance services to these new mobility operators, but only if the workshop is competent to do so – and so there is both a threat and an opportunity presented by electrically powered vehicles.


Understanding customer relationship management (CRM)

Do you want to get a better understanding of your customers, and how you could treat them better? Then look into the factors making up CRM
Published:  04 December, 2019

Have you ever sat back and thought about the basis of our relationship with the vehicle owner? Do you truly understand the real nature of what the customer is actively seeking to purchase and what he or she wants out of this dynamic and sometimes complicated relationship?    
Understanding customer relationship management (CRM) is a combination of people, processes and of course technology. The purpose is to seek to understand the dynamic and sometimes complicated relationship between, in our case, a garage business and its customers. You need to have an integrated approach to managing relationships by focusing on customer retention and relationship development. CRM has evolved from advances in information technology and organisational changes in customer‐centric processes. Garage businesses that successfully implement CRM will reap the rewards in customer loyalty and long-term profitability.
However, successful implementation seems to be very rare to many in the automotive repair sector. I suspect this is because most do not understand that CRM requires company‐wide, cross‐functional, customer‐focused business process. Yes, that old chestnut. Seriously though, before you can implement it, you must understand what it really means, and where to put your attention for the best outcome.
So, what should we focus on in order to at try and achieve a successful CRM implementation in our automotive repair sector? Here are just a few areas that I believe need to be observed.

We cannot do the work unless we have some place to do it. Because of this, premises now play an increasingly important part in everything we do. The facility has to meet or exceed customer expectations. In today’s competitive automotive repair industry, you need to provide a clean and uncluttered environment. This means offering up an inviting, efficient professional-looking garage is of paramount importance. Nothing less will do, as the bar for the quality of service delivery is being raised throughout our sector. Customers may not give us a first chance, let alone a second, because of the way our garage may look. This is especially true if the workshop leaves a poor impression, and implies that the business is unprofessional, disorganised and chaotic.   

How does competence affect service? We would all like to think that everyone on our profession is competent, but are they? We all know the answer to that question is sadly no. Despite this unfortunate fact, consumers still have faith in us. When he or she comes in, the customer will still believe that the person or garage is competent, or that they will supply competent technicians to work on their vehicle. This faith exists regardless of whom they have chosen for the service or repair of their vehicle.
This is very fortunate for us. Despite the bad press our sector receives on a regular basis thanks to a few bad eggs at the fringes, customers generally assume those working in our industry are competent, until it is proven otherwise. The customer does not go out of his or her way to find a competent provider because they believe that they are entitled to find this – it’s a given; a natural assumption apparently.

Skill is almost always taken for granted in our industry as well, which is odd because it’s so rare. More to the point, how the skill is acquired and where the training or development occurred is really of no importance to most vehicle owners. It is however, critically important to you and me-or at least it should be. Our success or failure is the direct result of our skill and ability of our technicians and reception advisors. Yet we seem unable or unwilling as an industry to charge more for a technician who is schooled and certified in the necessary disciplines. How or why should our customers value that skill is we do not?

Ethics and honesty
These two are givens as well. Every motorist has made a leap of faith that assumes the person to whom he or she has brought their vehicle for repair is ethical and honest, despite the fact that they think the rest of us may be crooks, thieves and idiots! Ask yourself this question: Would any reasonable, rational adult take their vehicle to a someone they know to be a thief? The answer is of course not! What is it worth to the customer to know they are in the hands of an honest and ethical professional when they are buying a service about which they have very little knowledge to judge the full value-especially when media is full of stories about automotive rip-offs?

Understanding the customer
Understanding the customer is all about empathy, your ability to both know and understand the customer’s situation, feelings and motives. It’s all about recognising the customer’s wants, needs and expectations, whether obvious or hidden, as well or better than they do. Once recognised, it’s all about addressing those wants, needs and expectations by satisfying them – or at least making the effort
to try.

Chipping away in Chippenham

Declan McCormack Vehicle Repairs was one of the winners of Top Garage 2019. Aftermarket stopped by to see how the business came out on top
Published:  28 November, 2019

Three years after he moved into his current garage on an industrial estate on the edge of Chippenham, Declan McCormack is still unpacking: "I have all the tooling and equipment, I am busy all the time, and I have a pair of two-posters ramps, but I've still not had chance to get organised."  

The evidence says otherwise. In 2018, Declan McCormack Vehicle Repairs was one of the finalists in the initial run of Top Garage. In 2019, his garage was named as the best business in the new 1-5 staff members category. Not only that, we were here last year, and we didn't think he was disorganised then either.

For those of you who don't have a complete set of Aftermarket back-issues to hand at all times, Declan briefly reiterated his story: "I started in 2004 in a van, and I did three years of that. From there I went into a little workshop with a huge yard. Then we moved into a site in the town centre, and finally here. I wanted this unit 12 years ago and I missed it by about a day."
Declan's is a one-man operation, although his wife Jan does pop in to help with the books, and to remind him to come home occasionally.

"About 80% of the customers I have now I have had since I first started out,” said Declan, “Not necessarily from the van, but certainly from the first garage."

He puts the loyalty down to communication: "Being transparent is very important, showing them what's wrong and taking the time to actually explain it to them. I think that makes all the difference. I would say that I convert 90% of my quotes into work along the way."

Declan contrasted this with the approach he’s heard about from other garages: "There are some guys who have no interest at all. They just want to get the work in the door and get it out, they are not interested in the customer. I think that’s what really makes a difference, especially the older people – they like to know what's going on."

He doesn't just talk though: "Every now and then I have a customer that is away. If it's a big job I will do a video for them. I do them on my mobile phone. All I do is go to the front of the car, show the registration, and then take them round the car and then send it to the customer."

Aftermarket can take some credit for showing Declan the power of video: "I won a competition in Aftermarket about six or seven years ago. the prize was the system. They came down and set me up a Samsung tablet and all the various bits and pieces."
After a while, Declan found he could do it just as well his own way: "Rather than paying a subscription to somebody, you just need to show your customer. It is just as easy with your mobile phone.”

This is just the kind of tip we want to give our readers. You have a mobile phone?  You have email? Then you can do videos.
"It is a simple as that," reiterated Declan. “Usually people have their mobile in their pocket, making it much easier than if you have to go and get a tablet, and then you have to power it up. Using the mobile just works for me. The last one I sent was with a Kia I had here. I went around the car, showed it to the customer, and then we had a joke about it as it was a bit long-winded. There were so many things I had picked up on. When he came in he said 'I know nothing about cars - I am a video editor. For me the video you did was brilliant'. Then he said 'go ahead'. It works, but I don't do it for every car."

Of course, for this to work, it helps if you are observant and methodical: "If I have a car, I will inspect it front to back. I'll check all the ball joints, all the steering, I won't go to the extent of checking levels and that side of things, but I look at all the tyres, I look for wheels out of shape, I look for noises. Once you have the car on the ramp it takes seconds.
"I do it in a tongue-in-cheek way. A lot of garages pick up on things and then start pushing it. Then people don't want to do it because they think you are just upselling. I put it on the invoice and then I just explain to the customer 'look, while i was under there, I found this. You are going to need to do that first, that is going to want doing in the next month or you need that maybe before the next MOT'.

"By not pushing it, most people come back to you. I did one on Saturday, with a car that came in for an oil leak. New customer. I put it on the ramp and had a quick check round. It needed an inner track rod end, it had a few other things. When he came in I left the car on the ramp until he came in and then I showed him. He is coming in next week for a full service and to do the work that I showed him. It does work, but there is a fine line to not be pushy. You have got to show them, and when they can see it they will start to trust you."
Declan won his section of Top Garage, competing against businesses that were 400% bigger than his one-man operation. With this in mind, we wondered how he operates so efficiently. He laughed: "I have no idea! Along the way you see what needs doing, you do it, and then you have a plan. I probably work better under stress than I do if I have not got anything in the workshop. If I have one job and it takes five minutes I will do it five minutes before 5pm. However, once I am under stress I am fine."
Declan explained it is about compartmentalisation: "If I know I have something coming in that is a bit bigger or will be more involved, like some of the electronic stuff, then I will leave it until an evening. Then I will shut the door, switch off the phone, and just get my head into it."

One of the reasons Declan was a winner, was because the judges were particularly impressed with Declan's clarity of vision. However, Declan said this was an inevitable by-product of working on his own: "Because I am a one-man band, everything comes through me. If you are a garage with employees, you have got your front-of-house people, others to the side, cleaners, mechanics. I think half the stuff gets lost in translation along the way. With me, when something goes wrong, It’s only me that could have made it go wrong, and then I have got to work five hours extra to sort it.

“Also, because you know your customers, you know if a car will be ok until tomorrow, while that other car will be wanted back. If you know your customers you can jiggle things about. It is just the whole package. If you are a bigger business, there are so many people involved. Also if you have employees, most of the time in the garage trade, when 5pm comes employees switch off and are out the door. I can't, or won't do that."

Top Garage
Will Declan McCormack Vehicle Repairs be defending its title in 2020?
Declan thinks so: “Top Garage is the only way I can benchmark myself. I don't think I can measure myself against garages here.
"With customers, they’ll usually let you know if you have done something wrong. If you do things right though, you are never going to know about it. You only know because they are coming back. The problem is you can get into doing something and unless somebody tells you it is wrong, you will just carry on doing it. That's why it is quite nice to go to Top Garage."

Looking ahead
Declan likes a challenge, and his next one is to work out where to take the business next: "One of my long-term goals is to take on a second unit next door dedicated to electric cars. The problem is the market is so up and down. I am Level 3 qualified, I want to do Level 4. If I go that way I will need to take on staff, as I would need someone to run this side while I run the other. I would want charging points as well.

"In this trade, you can't stand still. If you do you will be left behind, and then if you do want to catch up you'll never be able to manage it. If you stand still, give it five years and you are out of it. You either look ahead and move with it, or you do some discs and pads and then go and push some trolleys at Lidl. I don't want that to be me. I like what I do, I've always wanted to do this and now I am doing it I want to keep doing it."

ADAS – Opportunity or threat?

Neil Pattemore considers the potential effect ADAS might have on businesses in the aftermarket
Published:  23 October, 2019

Last month I wrote about the way that the electronic connections between equipment or via the internet can impact your workshop activities and how the control and function of these communications may now impact the OBD connector, ‘He who controls the connection, controls the function and ultimately the business’.
However, it is not just the connection to the vehicle that is under threat, but what you are able to connect to and ultimately, diagnose, repair and re-configure so that it functions correctly via a connection to the vehicle. As vehicles move towards being autonomous, the key stepping stones are the advanced driver assistance systems or ADAS as they are more commonly known.

Key issue
These systems are becoming increasingly important to the way that vehicles are controlled and this opens a variety of new challenges to the independent repair sector in their ability to work on them. In theory, they are no different to other in-vehicle electronically controlled systems in that they use sensors, control functions and actuators to ensure that the in-vehicle system works correctly, but it is the outcome of these combined aspects which is creating the key issue for independent workshops of whether you be allowed to work on them.
ADAS systems are designed to ‘assist’ the driver, but increasingly, have direct control over the way that a vehicle reacts to situations and steers or brakes accordingly. The European Commission recently announced that more ADAS functions will become mandatory from 2022 for all new type approved vehicles.
These will include: Advanced emergency braking (cars); Alcohol interlock installation facilitation (cars, vans, trucks, buses); Drowsiness and attention detection (cars, vans, trucks, buses); Distraction recognition/prevention (cars, vans, trucks, buses); Event (accident) data recorder (cars and vans); Emergency stop signal (cars, vans, trucks, buses); Full-width frontal occupant protection crash test – improved seatbelts (cars and vans); Head impact zone enlargement for pedestrians and cyclists – safety glass in case of crash (cars and vans); Itelligent speed assistance (cars, vans, trucks, buses); Lane keeping assist (cars, vans); Pole side impact occupant protection (cars, vans); Reversing camera or detection system (cars, vans, trucks, buses); Tyre pressure monitoring system (vans, trucks, buses); Vulnerable road user detection and warning on front and side of vehicle (trucks and buses); Vulnerable road user improved direct vision from driver’s position (trucks and buses).
As you can see, quite an impressive list, but equally, quite a threat if you could not repair or re-calibrate this plethora of new systems.

Direct product liability
The vehicle manufacturers are claiming that as they have a direct product liability throughout the life of the vehicle and that these systems have a direct impact on vehicle control and safety, that only their authorised repairers (i.e. main dealers) should be allowed to work on these systems to ensure that they are repaired correctly and that the vehicle manufacturer knows who did the work, should there ever be a malfunction, so a whole new business model for independent workshop is under threat.
Furthermore, the vehicle manufacturers are also claiming that only their original parts can be used, so they are now starting to require a code for these the parts to be ‘activated’ and configured into the corresponding ADAS system. This code is only being made available to their main dealers. Some vehicle manufacturers have gone a stage further and re-classified these replacement ADAS components as ‘security’ items which further restricts access for independent operators.
In another twist to this ‘security’ classification, the current discussions at the UNECE in Geneva (to which the UK is a signatory), the vehicle type approval group may bring these replacement parts under the vehicle manufacturer’s ‘cybersecurity management system’ which will allow vehicle manufacturers to implement their own cybersecurity classification and access conditions with a wide range of requirements that may include these ‘security’ related replacement parts. They could claim that this is not a problem, as there would be no discrimination with what is fitted by their authorised repairers, so they would conform with European repair and maintenance legislation for the ‘non-discrimination’ requirement. However, this trend is likely to develop further as autonomous vehicle systems increase to, ultimately the fully autonomous vehicle.
Although the ‘security’ classification is directly a threat, there could also be a requirement that non-OEM (i.e. aftermarket) replacement parts may need to be type approved, which would not be such a problem if there were test methods for the type approval process, but in most cases, there aren’t, so testing becomes very difficult and expensive – again restricting the choice of parts which may be available in the future.

Competence and traceability
What can be done then? Actually, quite a lot, but it won’t happen unless someone actually does something to challenge these restrictions. That’s the role of the various aftermarket associations, both here in the UK and for their European partner associations.
Fundamentally it is likely to become an issue of legislative compliance and a combination of demonstrating both competence and traceability for independent workshops. This could work in a framework where workshops are verified and registered via a ‘conformity assessment body’ who then provides a certificate and pin for use when accessing the relevant parts or re-configuration codes via a vehicle manufacturer’s website or a neutral trust centre, or using these ‘credentials’ when re-calibrating an ADAS camera. The workshop would only be verified if the relevant competency could be demonstrated and the certificate system provides traceability in the event of a subsequent system malfunction.
Additionally, the vehicle manufacturer could conduct an ‘over the air’ verification of the vehicle’s ADAS status to check that it is repaired or re-calibrated correctly.
Ultimately, this may become a form of ‘workshop licensing’, but not only would this allow workshops to have the ability to develop new business models for the diagnosis, repair and re-calibration of these ADAS systems, but it would also provide a welcome assurance to their customers that the work has been done correctly and avoid the vehicle manufacturers having a monopolistic control of the work on these systems and ultimately, the future business of the independent sector.
So now, more than ever, is the time to join forces via the aftermarket associations and support their fight for your future.


Don’t let me be misunderstood: The importance of marketing

Many businesses don’t understand marketing, but they should as it is absolutely central to their potential for succcess
Published:  14 October, 2019

Marketing is one of the most misunderstood functions found in business. This may have to do with the flashy image that is often associated with the marketing profession. Perhaps it is also seen as something that is only done by marketing people and does not concern the rest of the business.    
Whatever the reasons for any negative image that marketing may have, it is essential to realise that marketing is vital to ensure the survival and growth of any business.  It does not matter whether the business is large or small or what products or services the business supplies, the truth is that marketing cannot be ignored and needs to be a part of the culture of any successful organisation.
Marketing should concern everybody in a business as it sets the context in which sales can take place. Whatever your role, you play a part in setting that context. It’s no different in our automotive repair sector.

While studying for my degree at Loughborough University only a few years ago, I came across a couple of quotes. The first was from Theodore Levitt, a well know professor of business management and a former editor of the Harvard Business Review. He said: “The difference between marketing and sales is pretty simple – sales is a process of getting rid of stuff you don’t want, while marketing is the process of letting people know you have the stuff they both want and need.”
The second was from a Proctor & Gamble executive who said: “The purpose of marketing is to provide services and products that solve people’s problems at a profit.”
This stayed with me. When I thought about it carefully and constantly, I came to the conclusion that both concepts are common. They involve someone other than yourself the customer who responds to your innovative products and services, buys them, thereby making your business life possible.
I believed for years that customers have been taken for granted, ignored, or considered part of the territory in our industry. They were after all, curious, demanding and sometimes annoying. They called incessantly, came by unexpectedly, and questioned us endlessly. In general, they were considered a pain - a cost of doing business. Of course, that was until they started making other choices, taking their business elsewhere to individuals or businesses more responsive to their wishes, needs, wants and expectations.

If you want to survive in this ever-changing business world you have to embrace a new business philosophy, making a move away from mass marketing or transactional marketing to one to one marketing or relationship marketing.
Transactional marketing is all about numbers – nothing else matters.  We’ve all seen the larger corporates like Sky TV, Vodaphone, and utility companies to name a few, offering far better terms for new customers than any existing customer can get. Lack of thought is given to how an existing customer may feel if he or she saw an offer that was never been offered to them who’ve been loyal customers over a number of years –it’s a real kick in the teeth. It’s all about pushing product or service these are not relationships at all. In a transactional business environment, making the sale is the only objective. Relationship marketing is the polar opposite. It’s about as far away as you can get from transactional marketing.
One of the biggest mistakes I see regularly within the garage repair sector is the constant advertising specifically in local press with ‘come and get me’ offers in order to attract new business. Most of these already established business whether large or small will rarely measure the effectiveness of such campaigns or analyse the type of customers they are attracting and indeed very few of these businesses actually understand the ‘diamonds’ that already exist within their database, a concept we looked into at length in the June issue of Aftermarket.
There is no point trying to attract vast numbers of new customers and provide them with a sub-standard service based on a cheap price which can cause severe damage to the reputation of the business. Another factor is that established customers tend to buy more and are less price sensitive and may be less likely to defect due to price alone.
Simply by reminding customers of their vehicles next MOT due date, or service for that matter is the minimum that any garage should be undertaking. Reminding them of specific campaigns such as winter checks or health checks if they are planning long journeys will reinforce that you care about them and keep them safe.
You can expand this two-way communication with news of any success stories within the business. Examples might include charitable fundraising by the business or any employee, training and development that’s undertaken or new services and products being introduced. This will reinforce to your customers that you want to build long term relationships with them.

The customer’s wants, needs and expectations, as well as your need a for a long and profitable relationship with that customer should be at the core of every action and decision. Everything else comes second. Marketing affects everyone; we are all consumers. Most businesses depend on marketing to provide an understanding of the marketplace, to ensure their products and services satisfy the needs of customers and that they are competing effectively.
The basic rationale of marketing is that to succeed, a business requires satisfied and happy customers who return to the business to provide additional custom, in exchange for something of value, typically payment. The customers receive a product or service that satisfies their needs.
Such a service or product has an acceptable level of quality, reliability, customer service and support, is available at places convenient for the customer at the ‘right’ price and is promoted effectively by means of a clear message that is readily comprehended by the customers in question.
Great businesses must constantly assess their customers’ requirements and be prepared to modify their marketing activity accordingly. An assessment of marketing opportunities is an ever-evolving process requiring regular revision and updating.  

Star of the hour – Robertson Gemini

Aftermarket makes a return visit to Robertson Gemini, following Neil Currie's victory in Top Technician 2019
Published:  30 September, 2019

What a difference a year makes. When Aftermarket visited Dumfries and Galloway-based independent garage Robertson Gemini in late 2018, we were doing so because its staff member Neil Currie had become a regular in Top Technician's semi finals and finals.  
We were keen to see from whence he sprang. 10 months later, and he's only gone and won it. With this in mind, we wanted to revisit to see how Neil has been shaped by his time at the business, and how he is helping to shape it in return.

To remind those readers who may have forgotten, Robertson Gemini is a family-owned independent based in the small town of Castle Douglas. Now in its 98th year of operation, owned and run by the Robertson family, the garage fields six ramps and a MOT bay. While it is equipped to cover most makes, the business is something of a Land Rover specialist, due to the rural surroundings.

Don't be fooled by the description though. There is also a thriving second-hand car sales strand to the business, and investment is ongoing as the business keeps up with technology, training and tooling, as Neil explained: "They are benefitting me by giving me the latest tools to use, so that is improving my skills, and they are sending me on training.  Working with those, and the level of car we are getting, such as some of the latest Land Rovers, is helping to keep my skills fresh and up to date with what is going on.
"It definitely makes a difference with Top Technician, as you are getting all these weird and wonderful faults. Either you have seen it in the workshop, or you have done it on a training course, or you have read about it in the literature. It definitely helps keep you at the sharp end.

"I've been here four years now. A couple of the guys have left, I am now the second longest serving. I think that it helps you if you are working somewhere where you are getting training, and you are working on the right kind of cars, and you are using the right equipment, that all helps as well. They are all pieces of the puzzle. You are more settled and you come in every day and you know your job and you don't have to think about anything. It just becomes the norm."

Neil's time with the company, and his experience has made him de facto head technician. He explained a typical day to us: "My day generally consists of most if not all of the diagnostic and electrical work. That said, I also do pretty much everything from a puncture to welding to the MOT. It depends how the day goes. If there is no diagnostics, I will do a timing belt or a clutch or something else. Then some days I will just be doing MOTs all day. We tend to anything and everything so it every day is varied, which keeps things interesting, and exciting. You are not constantly doing the same thing, getting bored. "

Neil said that this variety of work on a day-in-day-out basis is important for broadening his knowledge and keeping it fresh: "You could be getting an air conditioning fault, an alignment fault, diagnostics – it is not just purely diagnostic and electrical. Having that rounded environment helps, particularly with Top Technician. In the final this year there was only one, possibly two things that could be seen as diagnostic challenges. The rest were mechanical, measuring and alignment. My knowledge from that in the workshop environment, and exposure to all the work here definitely helped me to win it this year.  Without that I don't think I would have won it."

Toolbox Sessions
When we were last up at Robertson Gemini, we were told about their 'Toolbox Sessions'. Neil told us more about what he gets from this informal knowledge sharing: "We take some time out of the diary at the end of a certain day and then we will all gather round and we will talk about a certain subject. I just did a session on basic electrics, just going through what you would need to understand and what you would need to do. We also just did one on alignment. One of the lads went and did a wheel alignment course. He came back and went through what he had learned on the course."

This all helps with keeping yourself on track said Neil: "We all pick up niggly little bad habits along the way, so it is good to remind you how you are taught to do it on the training courses. It's not just for that though. If one person goes off on a course, then we have a gathering of everybody, and try to pass the knowledge on and a few tips and tricks. It helps to improve everybody's skillset. It also means it is not just one person doing everything.”

The discipline of taking training you have had and needing to present it to someone else also helped with Top Technician: "It always reaffirms it in your own head if you have got to show it to somebody else," observed Neil, “because you have got to tell them the correct thing and you are able to recall and are able to show them the practical things as well. It definitely helps. If anything, it plants the seed further in your brain so you know exactly what you are talking about.

"Mostly, that's what training courses are about. You learn bits and pieces over a few days, but then you have got to come home and put in some hard work to really nail it, so you can remember it so you don't have to refer to a book all the time. That is where that side of things helps."

On the success of their staff member in the competition, we asked David Butler, who is Director at Robertson Gemini, how proud and delighted they are that Neil has won and is the best in the UK?

 "All of that – all of that," replied David, with a smile. "He is a great asset to the company, he really is. One thing I would say about Neil – first he is a first-class worker, he just gets on, there is no messing around with Neil. He is very competent, and he has a brilliant approach to learning. He always wants to learn new stuff, not just here at the garage, but at home as well. He spends a lot of time researching and developing, which is fantastic. He is certainly a great asset to us. What I particularly like is that he shares his knowledge with others and tries to bring them on. We have a young apprentice here at the moment, Neil spends time helping him along, which is tremendous. It's all good."

The company is certainly not passing up on a brilliant marketing opportunity either: "He is all over our Facebook as the winner of Top Technician. We are very proud of what we have got here. We have helped Neil along ourselves. Over the last few years we have put him onto various courses and things and is always eager to learn and progress which is very important. We have supported him in that. We do that with all the staff here as well. We have that philosophy; 'let's be the best there is' and we are all striving to achieve that. Not just in the workshop – generally. We are going great guns here at the moment, and Neil's achievement is fantastic."
As we said, investment is planned and ongoing: "Among our recent investments in the workshop. is the latest Ford interface, which allows us to deal with all the latest cars. The old computers did not read the brand new cars, so we have now got that. On Friday both Neil and Jamie are going for their Class 5 MOT. We are licensed for 4,5 and 7 anyway, but on Friday those two are getting their certificates. Our fleet of Peugeot 2008 courtesy cars is one of the most fantastic investments we ever made. That has been a huge success for us. We are delighted we did that. On the sales side, we are getting up to 20 cars on the forecourt which is a lot for a small garage like us. The quality is also improving as well. "

David added: "We are really pleased with where we are at the moment. It is great stuff. "

Moving forward
In that he is the star of the hour and the reason we came back to Robertson Gemini twice in a year, we thought we would give Neil the last word. We asked him what he will be doing in the weeks and months ahead at Robertson Gemini. Neil replied: "I will continue to improve to become the best  mechanic I can be. Overall just want to keep moving forward. The motor trade is evolving at a rapid pace, so there should be plenty to keep me busy and to try and keep up with."

Loud and clear

Autoglass used the recent Autoglass Live event launch its ADAS Total Calibration Solution, and Aftermarket was there to learn more
Published:  23 September, 2019

Bright sunshine, blue skies, and 25°C. You could not have picked a better day for a live automotive event, featuring outdoor demonstrations of equipment, and more pertinently for readers of Aftermarket, the launch of a new ADAS solution. That is what Autoglass had on offer, when it launched its ADAS Total Calibration solution featuring what it describes as 'over the air' support at its Autoglass Live event in July.   

You couldn't pick a better setting either. Parent company Belron International's Milton Park HQ, just off the M25 near Egham is an impressive modern venue. Something had to give though: "In preparation for this event," said Autoglass  Sales and Marketing Director Neil Atherton, "we made a request to our head office colleagues that they work from home today. So a big apology to them, as I think Thursday is Yoga and Pilates day." You can't have everything then.

200 decision makers from across the insurance, fleet and automotive industries were there instead, on hand to see a number of presentations from the glass provider. These four sessions divided into zones looked at the customer journey, the aforementioned Total Calibration Solution that we will go into in more depth later, operational excellence, and minimising risk. It was here, in zone 4, that Aftermarket started the day.

Minimising risk
For us, the most interesting element was the ADAS side. The purpose of this session was to look at the trends impacting on vehicle glass, no pun intended. It also looked at the risks around quality and safety. This included the effect of increasing glass complexity, and of course the ADAS factor. "Windscreen repair is more important now than it has been in the past," observed Eddie Irvine,  Operations Director, Franchise Markets, at the start of the session.

Autonomous driving will also have an effect. "On the 1-5 scale of autonomous driving," said Ernst Bakker, Sales Development Manager, "we are around level 2. Here we have cruise control, emergency braking etc, all the systems that help the driver. At level 5 you no longer have a driver, you have passengers."

Eddie observed: "This is being driven by the need for safer cars, which is why we are seeing more and more ADAS penetration. To get a EuroNCAP 5 star rating, a vehicle has to have a minimum of one ADAS system.

"The ADAS market in Europe is expected to double by 2025. This causes the automotive industry some real challenges to move towards safer cars. About 9% of the current UK car parc is fitted with a forward-looking camera. SBD predict that by 2024 it will be 29%. That's massive growth, and will be linked to windscreen replacement."

Glass thickness decreased greatly over the last 15 years, while the size of windscreens has increased. With ADAS sensors being placed in windscreens, there is more strain on a larger, thinner component that is being asked to do  more than ever before. This makes proper bonding of replacement windscreens vital for safety on a number of levels, as well as the right glass. This session included a demonstration of how windscreens can be scanned to check it is correct.

This all helped to build a picture of how central ADAS is becoming to any number of sub-sections within the broader aftermarket.
On our way to finding out about the new offering, The next session provided a picture of the customer journey in a form of live performance, wryly described as a "scripted reality extravaganza". In it, four 'typical' customers and their windscreen replacement experiences were performed. From here the next stop was a presentation from IMI CEO Steve Nash.

Gary Lubner, CEO of Belron International received a certificate that shows that Belron is now an Accredited IMI International Centre. "The fact that we are now accredited for ADAS jobs as well is a big thing" said Gary. "So much ADAS is going on, I am sure for some of you this has come as a huge shock.

"We recognised this trend back in 2014. In 2015, worldwide we did 5,000 ADAS recalibrations. This year, we will do close to 800,000 ADAS calibrations worldwide.100,000 of those will be done here in the UK. Next year I think we could be doing double that again. I can assure there is no other organisation in the world doing that much calibration. No one is even close. What does that mean? If we are doing that many calibrations, we have to make sure we are using the right technology. Now, with the 'over the air calibration' service, we can service 98% of vehicles that are able to be calibrated. It also means we have to put enormous effort into training our technicians." He added: "ADAS is here to stay, and it is a fact that we have to deal with."

Total Calibration
Moving onto what was for us the main event, Neil Atherton introduced the Total Calibration solution.

First, he provided some context: "We have 560 trained ADAS technicians, of whom about 170 have been through the IMI accreditation process. The others will follow as we continue to roll out this training. I envision all of our technicians being ADAS-skilled in due course. We work with three partners, Hella Gutmann Solutions (HGS), Bosch and TEXA. In the UK it is primarily HGS. These tools allow us to calibrate, cameras, radar and lidar. We mainly carry out those calibrations in our fitting centres, but some need to be done dynamically. Approximately three-quarters of cars need to be done in a static environment. The rest are calibrated dynamically on specific road conditions. At present we have 73 fitting centres around the country. We plan to open another 10 during this quarter. We will continue to review our footprint as demand continues to spiral up.

"However, we are not able to calibrate everything, the primary reason being that when manufacturers launch a new vehicle, it takes time for the programmes and data to be released to the aftermarket. The likes of HGS and Bosch then need to reprogramme their systems to allow us to do it. Typically we see a lag of about six months. In those situations, we have had to go back to the dealer network to recalibrate the newest cars."

Explaining the Total Calibration Solution, Neil said: "What we are launching today, with new partners, gives us an ability to delve straight into the vehicle manufacturer's software, effectively giving us the tools that are available to the dealership."
The key is the over the air device. Autoglass has an exclusive partnership with  the provider, and the company will be the only one offering the service.

Neil explained how it works: "The technician plugs this device into the OBD port. That will then wirelessly connect with our hub of master technicians. They can operate the software and dive straight into the manufacturer's own databases. They will then communicate back through to the car, via the box, and they will communicate with the technician to explain what's happening on the journey. When the journey is fulfilled and the car is calibrated, they will send an electronic certification for the car. We can then install that in the cloud so we have got evidence of that calibration process taking place."

Explaining what it means, Neil said: "The Total Calibration Solution allows us to fulfill nearly 100% of calibration requirements without needing to return to the dealer network. The primary benefits are twofold. Firstly, the customer journey is much better. Secondly, in the two-stop-shop solution currently in place there is currently an element of risk in the windscreen replacement and then the calibration. Doing it in one go eliminates that risk. It also allows us the opportunity to serve the market. We can do that through a number of options. This solution gives us the opportunity to do an OE diagnostic scan."

In conclusion, Neil said: "This over the air Solution will eliminate the need for us to go through the dealers, it will enable us to be able to deliver a full diagnostic check, part coding and ADAS calibration, it reduces the risk, and it reduces key-to-key times."

Closing thoughts
Following Neil's presentation, we were able to see the Total Calibration Solution demonstrated in the on-site workshop. The live display from the Autoglass technicians showed that the technician in the workshop was provided with additional support from the Autoglass master techs via the device. The master tech provided information to the technician so he could make adjustments to the camera to put it back in alignment.

With one of the business models for ADAS being one provider in an area taking on the financial burden of the ADAS investment, Autoglass are in a good position to become market leaders if they chose to target independent garages looking to action ADAS work. With the OBD port threatened with closure within the next few years, and VM access being a problem, it is unclear if this is a long-term solution, but it is certainly an additional level of support that offers the garage sector an alternative on the ADAS question.

A reality check

Neil Pattemore finds that time away over the summer has given him time to consider the factors influencing the future of the workshop environment
Published:  12 September, 2019

This year’s summer was good, but as usual, was over too quickly – so back to work and a reality check!
However, during my summer travels some of today’s necessities of life were conspicuous by their absence. I hired a car, only to discover that the USB connection I needed to use to charge my phone and link to my favourite music playlists didn’t work. The local radio station’s dubious choices in music didn’t help relive the tedium, but when I got to the hotel my woes were compounded when I discovered that they wanted to charge a ridiculous amount to use their wi-fi – I mean seriously, who in their right mind can justify charging hotel guests for basic wi-fi – unless the hotel is run by Ryanair (who seem to want to charge everyone for everything), which it wasn’t.
So, with no wi-fi in the hotel room, I had some time on my hands, so I started thinking about the connections we expect in today’s connected world and in turn what connections are needed to run today’s workshop. This got me thinking about the problems it would face if these connections were either expensive, were restricted, didn’t work as they should or didn’t exist at all.

Form over function
Back in the 1990s I remember well being handed a new portable diagnostic tool which could connect to the internet via the mobile phone networks. Subsequently, it was able to conduct remote and bi-directional diagnostics on a vehicle anywhere in the world, when the vehicle was also connected to the internet – effectively ‘PC anywhere’ technology. However, I also clearly remember complaining to the development engineer within a couple of minutes because the functionality was too slow. He was visibly shocked and was clearly offended by my negative feedback on what was his pride and joy. Then I realised what had made me comment negatively – it was not the impressive technology, but the speed of use and the corresponding ability to run the diagnostics I wanted to conduct. In IT terms, this is referred to as system ‘functionality’ and ‘non-functionality’. Simply, the ‘non-‘functionality’ is the design of the system and the ‘functionality’ is what it can deliver. It might be easier to remember this in layman’s terms as being ‘Form over function’.
When applied to the workshop, this directly applies to a wide range of electronic connections that are needed to support your day-to-day business, and if these connections do not work as needed, how this can quickly and detrimentally impact your business activities.

Don’t miss the ‘bus’
The ubiquitous Universal Serial Bus (USB) connection is a good example. A ‘bus’ within a PC are wires that transfer data between components inside the computer, or between the computer and its peripheral devices. We have all come to use this connection for a wide variety of tasks, from using it as an auxiliary power source for many different gadgets, to a vital communications port for various functions such as printers and other data transfer requirements. However, if it does not work correctly, physically or electronically, then simple tasks suddenly become major issues.
This wired technology has moved on and most of us are now connected by wi-fi in the office environment, but increasingly also in the workshop to connect diagnostic tools to the internet. Data transfer speeds depend on the technology used and the latest generation (soon to be 802.11ax) is super-fast, which becomes more important as software updating of vehicles involves the transfer of massive data files. Generally, wi-fi connections work well, but when they suddenly stop working, it is more difficult to diagnose as it is not a physical connection than can be more easily tested. This may happen after a software update and a recent experience showed me how simple a problem can be, but how difficult it was to discover, when my PC was updated and a simple setting was changed. Over three hours of technical support was needed to discover that it was a simple tick-box setting which needed to be re-enabled. These wi-fi problems move into understanding the IT environment of certificates, configurations, permissions, log-in and passwords between the router and the various connected devices, without even starting to consider the wider communications providers that connects your workshop to the wider world.

Have a cookie
This leads me onto an increasing communications requirement which has become a fundamental part of our day-to-day lives, from both the personal and business aspects – the internet. If there is ever a perfect example of living in a connected world, this is it. However, if you think about the wide-ranging possibilities that the internet supports, do you ever stop to think about the technology behind what is happening to understand the control mechanisms that are needed for it to be safe and secure? If you visit a website, not only are there likely to be cookies tracking your choices and mapping your activities, but there will be certificates being exchanged to ensure secure communication. This may extend to log-in criteria and passwords, or may be implemented by the service provider whose website you are viewing. This becomes particularly important when you are paying for something online.
In simple terms, all this is a form of coded access, but this works not only to ensure the correct access rights, but more importantly, to stop anyone who does not have the valid access rights from interfering or monitoring what you are doing.

What then does all this lead to at the workshop level? In terms of the technology of the equipment, then it is developing to be both more reliable and faster, but the same cannot be said of the beloved OBD connector, which is not only restricted in terms of speed, but will become restricted in terms of access without the correct roles and rights authentication which requires certificates from the vehicle manufacturer. As the manufacturer controls this certificate, then it becomes ‘He who controls the connection, controls the function and ultimately the business’, so the workshop of tomorrow needs to worry most about a connection that they have no control over, but which will control their business.
Time then to sign up with one of the aftermarket associations and join the fight to protect access to the in-vehicle data!


Go large or go home? Expanding your business

Andy Savva looks at the challenges businesses in the garage sector face when they look to expand
Published:  04 September, 2019

As most of you already know, I have previously owned and managed a wide variety of successful independent garages.   

Perhaps the most well-known example of these was my last one; Brunswick Garage. I was being always asked by those within the automotive aftermarket why I don’t consider franchising Brunswick Garage. I was also asked why I don’t consider opening other sites, thereby creating a chain. Many people would ask one or both of these questions. Indeed, these thoughts often crossed my mind as well.

It sounds good to expand the empire doesn’t it? Grow the brand, make a name, and of course hopefully get a better financial return to boot. However, despite the encouragement, and my own inclination towards promoting growth, there are serious considerations that need to be made before you take the leap. The paramount one for me is my own belief that this is one of the most difficult industries in which to create a franchise.

Blaze of glory
About five years ago a garage in Coventry opened in a blaze of glory. This was an independent garage that was going to be franchised, with the aim to have one of in all major towns and cities with five years. The originator of this idea was not from within the automotive industry, which is not a bad thing, but from the banking-finance world. I remember when the second site was opened, I was asked my opinion on this venture. I said then the same as I would now.  What I told them, very clearly, that it is practically impossible for such a venture to succeed. To date I I’ve been proved right, as it has closed down, although you might have already guessed that by the way I was talking about it in the past tense.
The reasons behind my opinion are very simple, and very clear. A garage is not like any other business, where you are purchasing a product such as a coffee or a shoe. A service is perhaps the most difficult sale to make. When a vehicle owner is buying a service or repair, that person is really purchasing a promise that will be fulfilled in the future. That requires trust, skill, competence, ability, technical knowledge, and much more.

Processes, procedures and interactions
There are too many processes, procedures and interactions between customers and staff members. This web of interactions means that you can’t franchise just like that. We are dealing with emotions and behaviours that can’t just be accounted for. What works in one area of England may not necessarily work in another. What works in England may not work at all in Scotland. What about Wales and Northern Ireland? Forget about it, and so on. There are so many variables and barriers to consider, customer and vehicle demographics, land and property costs differ up and down the country.

However, no matter what your goals are as a business owner, it’s important to review the pros and cons of growing your business in order to hone your vision and assess potential stumbling blocks before they arise. Owning a multi-unit business is hard work. Here, I have tried to highlight some of the key points to consider if you want to expand into multi-site independent garage operator.


Will power: part two

Adam Bernstein continues looking at how to plan for the tax-efficient passing of business assets
Published:  30 August, 2019

Death and taxes are the two givens in life, a view popularised by a US founding father, Benjamin Franklin. And so, we need to put in place a Will if we want to pass on the most we can. Sadly, as the statistics bear our, the majority of the population do not have a Will.
Business owners especially need to be concerned about this as they need flexibility after death. It’s for this reason that Angharad Lynn, a solicitor in the Private Client team at law firm VWV, says it can be useful to leave business assets in a discretionary trust in the Will with the surviving spouse and children as potential beneficiaries of the trust: “These very flexible arrangements allow decisions to be taken after death, rather than trying to predict at the time the Will is made what the situation will be in the future. After death the business interests can be kept in trust and income paid to the children, or shares can be transferred out to the children in appropriate proportions, depending on who is most involved in the business.”
If there is any doubt whether the business assets will qualify for Business Property Relief (BPR), or if the business owner is concerned that BPR may be curtailed, a trust that has as potential beneficiaries both exempt (the spouse) and non-exempt (the children) beneficiaries can be useful. Says Angharad: “On the death of the business owner, the beneficiaries can ascertain whether the business assets will qualify for BPR. If it does apply, then under s.144 of the Inheritance Tax Act 1984 the trustees may decide to transfer the assets out to the children and wind up the trust. No inheritance tax will be payable. If the shares do not qualify for BPR, the assets could be transferred out to the spouse, again ensuring that no inheritance tax is payable, thanks to the spouse exemption.”     
She adds that provided this is done within two years of the death of the business owner, these steps can be 'read back' into the will so that it is as if the deceased had left the assets in this way for inheritance tax and capital gains tax purposes.
There is another point worthy of consideration – If there are family members who are not involved in the business, the use of a trust can protect a business. If uninvolved family members inherit shares directly they may want a say in the running of the business, even if they do not have the skills or experience to be involved. Using a trust, reckons Angharad, means the beneficiaries would not have a direct right to any interest in the business and therefore no direct influence.
Lastly here, if you are including a trust in your Will, Angharad says you should also include a letter of wishes to be stored with it, giving guidance to your trustees about how you envisage the trust being used after your death. “A letter of wishes is not legally binding, and it is important to state that you do not intend to fetter the discretion of the trustees. However, the letter can explain to your trustees how you see the capital and income of the trust fund being used after your death.”
A last piece of advice from Angharad is to ensure that business documents, such as the articles of incorporation and shareholders' agreement accord with the wishes set out in your Will. Further, she says, ensure your business has the correct documentation in place. “Take a partnership - in the absence of a partnership agreement, the provisions of the Partnership Act 1890 apply. Under this Act, on the death of a partner the partnership is dissolved. This could leave a surviving partner in a very difficult position. They would have to wind up the business, pay the debts of the partnership, and distribute whatever is left.”

To finish
Those without a Will are sending their family into dangerous territory and a painful interregnum. Quite simply, the wishes of the deceased will not be known, the law will step in and determine how assets are distributed leaving survivors with not what they expected.

The charity Will-Aid runs a scheme each November where simple Wills can be written for a charitable donation: www.willaid.org.uk

Subscription versus submission? Preparing for the on-demand future

Can independent garages survive in a vehicle-via-subscription world?
Published:  19 August, 2019

“Nothing is ever going to change, and everything is going to be alright forever” is usually the last thing said by a business owner, just before their enterprise becomes completely irrelevant. Customers sometimes take a little while to realise that something has happened that is affecting their behaviour, but once they notice they are doing something differently, it is probably too late. Then again, why should they go back? While the customers of our oblivious service provider have happily moved on, he or she is watching their life’s work quietly slip away.
This has happened to many businesses across a wide range of industries. If there is a new offering that is a serious disruptor to the status quo, only those who are adaptable and open to change will survive. Keep doing what you have always done and you will go under. Think it won’t happen to you? Then maybe it already has.

Alright, let’s take a step back from the brink for a second and think about what could be coming around the corner to change our world. Actually, maybe it is already here. I am sure most of you are aware of subscription-based services, and probably use one or two in your private time i.e. Netflix or Spotify. The principle applies to the automotive sector too. There are quite a few car-sharing services and car clubs. These tend to be on-off options that users will activate when they need a vehicle.
Vehicle leasing is probably a better example. This is not a new concept, but it has become much more common and accepted by motorists, particularly in a world where people are becoming increasingly comfortable with using a vehicle without the need to actually own the vehicle.
The big issue with motorists not owning the vehicle from our perspective is this: If they don’t own it, who does, and where does that owner expect to get the vehicle serviced? Because, if it is not at an independent garage, or if legislation does not keep up and shuts out independents until amendments are made, you are not going to see any of that business.
Let’s get back to subscriptions. We read something interesting recently from Syncron, the provider of cloud-based after-sales service solutions. The company recently released research that highlighted increasing consumer interest in subscription-based services, and the company believes this is forcing vehicle manufacturers to redefine their dealer service operations. If manufacturers look to change the rules of the game, it is always a good idea to make sure independents are still allowed play.
As Syncron pointed out, vehicle subscription services are a way for people to access what are euphemistically called ‘mobility services’ as an alternative to traditional car ownership. Through mobility services, a provider’s customer pays a flat monthly fee to a manufacturer or third-party provider in return for on-demand access to several vehicle models. The fee covers insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance. As with music or on-demand TV, this can be turned off or on at will. OEMs already employing these models worldwide include BMW, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

As you might already be imagining, in this model where the customer picks up and drops off a car when they feel like they need it, or not, there is not much need for the customer to source servicing or repairs. Where’s the convenience in that? It would be like having Netflix, and having watched the film, deciding to go outside, up the road to Blockbuster to take the tape back. What tape? Also, how can you take the tape back to Blockbuster since it is not there anymore. Aha, but there is always the independent video store…no I can’t get to the end of that sentence either. Can you see where the logical end of all this might go? Motorists that do not own their vehicles do not need to have a vehicle serviced. Neither will they be looking for servicing or repairs on a price point, as again it is not their responsibility. Where does this leave independent repairers?  Should you just chuck in the towel? Actually, things might not be as bad as you think.  

As far as Syncron is concerned, there could be an upside for service providers like the automotive aftermarket. The change in attitudes brought on by the subscription economy, as far as they are concerned puts the most pressure on vehicle manufacturers in their traditional core business area, i.e. vehicle production. With less impetus to buy vehicles, there will be less vehicles sold. That means they need to derive income from the other end of the chain – namely servicing and repairs. This means manufacturers would need to look to their dealer networks to generate income for them.
As some you may have already realised, in many ways servicing and repairs is not where the primary strength of many franchised dealers lies. This is despite the fact that most of them generate more profit from this end of the business than from new car sales. Part of the issue may be that for dealer workshops, most of the work they do will be on cars below three years old, mainly focused on servicing and warranty work. While they do try to keep as much metal from escaping as possible once the standard three years is up, for the most part their workshops do not need to perform the more challenging diagnostic work that many independents will see day-in-day-out.
Given the right circumstances, and if vehicles were owned by a third party rather than by VMs themselves, or if consumers still had the same level of choice as if they were the owner within certain parameters, independent repairers could offer a more rounded care offering that would fit with the needs required. There is some good news right there.

Overall, servicing aside, vehicle care is often reactive, with vehicles being repaired after something has gone wrong. Syncron posits that in this model, franchised dealers will need to be armed with enough information coming in from vehicles so they can pre-empt failures, effectively repairing the vehicle before it goes wrong.

Syncron looked into what consumers get from the dealer experience, in a survey of 500 vehicle owners from across Europe and the U.S. The findings were featured in a report; shifting Gears from Reactive to Proactive: How Customers’ Rising Interest in the Subscription Economy is Revolutionizing the Automotive Dealer Service Experience.
We are talking about vehicle subscriptions as if motorists are chucking their cars away left and right. However, the report found that awareness was relatively low, with more than 60% of respondents not aware of the concept. Not so much to worry about then perhaps, we can get agitated about this idea further down the line when we have got our heads around EVs and hybrids? Afraid not. Once they did hear about the idea, 57% said they were very interested in the idea. You might need to think about your business model after all.

According to Syncron, additional findings from the research report include the following:

Customers are satisfied with the dealer service experience as it stands today
Nearly 60% of vehicle owners indicated that they use their dealer for maintenance and repairs today, with more than 90% describing their most recent dealer service experience positively.

Interest in subscription services is high, but awareness is low
Around 60% of respondents indicated fixed monthly cost and included maintenance and repairs as the biggest advantages of vehicle subscription services. More than 40% of respondents also indicated they would be willing to pay a premium price for a subscription-based model.

Automotive OEMs must invest in service today to prepare for the future
More than half of survey respondents lack loyalty to a particular automotive brand when making final vehicle purchasing decisions. And, with nearly 40% of these vehicle owners indicating that a negative dealer service experience would sway their perception of a brand, the customer experience at the dealer level is more important than ever.

According to Gary Brooks, CMO of Syncron, subscription services could be a game-changer: “In the coming months and years, automotive manufacturers must optimise their current infrastructure to lay the foundation for a successful future. It’s not so much a matter of if, but when, customers will overwhelmingly demand subscription-based services. Automotive OEMs must begin equipping their dealers today to prepare for a proactive service model where vehicles are repaired before they ever fail. In this new research report, we aim to inspire and motivate automotive manufacturers to do just this as they navigate today’s ever-changing customer expectations and prepare their businesses for the seismic shift to the subscription economy.”

Positive position
What can we learn from this though, and where does the independent repairer fit in? Assuming that our representative organisations, including the IGA, IAAF, GEA etc are able to make sure that independents maintain the rights secured under the Block Exemption Regulation, independents could be in a very positive position.The connected car could provide a whole new income stream for those able to access it – and we want that group to include independents.
Garages that thrive need to be proactive to attract business in the first place – they do not have the built-in customer base of owners that dealers can rely on. Given the circumstances, and the access to remote diagnostics, independents could be in a good position. Among the exhibits on the HELLA stand at Automechanika Birmingham this year was information on CarForce, the software platform that provides real-time vehicle health data to garages. While this is not currently running in Europe, it does point towards where we are going.
Again, assuming drivers still have the choice, if independents were able to compete on a level playing field information-wise in the brave new future, they could do really well. The best thing to do at this point is to stay on top of the technology, keep up with developments and make sure your business is attuned to the zeitgeist.

TRW's 'True Originals'

Published:  15 August, 2019

ZF Aftermarket is looking to help garages boost their digital marketing. With this in mind, the latest episode in the long-running TRW ‘True Originals’ campaign provides some tips on digital marketing tools and analytics, with the idea being to help garages modernise their communication techniques.

As the company points out, digitalisation within the industry is increasing at a fast rate. Statistics showing the rising amount of time customers spend online, and how online reviews influence purchasing decisions, should be taken very seriously. ZF Aftermarket is suggesting workshops should adapt their communications accordingly.

According to Ben Smart, Global Marketing Director ZF Aftermarket, businesses can increase sales and customer loyalty through digital marketing and social media, without the need to spend a lot of money: “By 2020, an entire generation, Generation C for ‘connected’, will have grown up in a digital world immersed in an online culture and well versed in social networking methodology. Furthermore, figures show that by next year the average person will be spending 84 minutes a day watching videos online.”
Russ Stanley, Director of Revolution Porsche based in Brighouse, West Yorkshire is featured in a video as part of the campaign.  Russ explains how through early adoption of digital marketing he increased loyalty and managed to promote business growth: “Our interactive website means that customers can contact us outside of working hours, and social media has allowed us to grow far more quickly and easily. Every time we send an e-mail we ask our customers to follow us so it’s really easy to organically build up a good database. Sharing links to forums, exhibitions and other websites, together with engaging and relevant information about our team enables customers to interact.

“We also practice video servicing logging, where we send videos to our customers so they can actually see what work their vehicle needs – a good way of sharing information that really builds trust and confidence. Digital marketing costs very little other than your time, but the reach and rewards can be fantastic.”

The video can be found on #ORIGINALWORKSHOPS – a hub of advice, tips, videos and more. New web-based essays include:
What is digital marketing and how can it benefit your workshop?

Customer first: Monksbridge Garage

Aftermarket pokes its head into Monksbridge Garage to visit Top Technician 2019 semi finalist Craig Hewison
Published:  08 August, 2019

Like many garages based in small towns, Monksbridge Garage has been a local fixture for longer than the current owners have been in charge:  "It used to be a heavy goods garage back in the 1960s," explained Craig Hewison, Manager at the business, based in Dinnington, South Yorkshire.

Within one fixture is another, one that has found new life in a new era: "As a consequence of the garage's former life, we have got an enormous pit. This means we do a lot of motorhomes because no one else in the area can deal with them."

Alongside this ominous-sounding but actually-useful feature, the business operates two ramps and a MOT bay. The full complement is three full-time technicians, and two part-time that work opposite each other. "We stay busy, but we don't advertise - it is primarily long-time customers that have children who are also our customers, and they are the kids of the customers we used to have."

The business has been with the family for 17 years, but their connection goes back further:"My dad, Peter, has always been in the motor trade and he used to be a customer here. He came in one day for an MOT, and Geoff, who was the owner at the time, said he was thinking about packing it in and selling up. My dad showed an interest, so he came to work with him for a few years, to get to know the business and also to get to know the customers, and to get his MOT testing license and what-not. My dad worked with Geoff for four years, and when Geoff retired, my dad took over from him.  As he finished on the Saturday I started on the Monday as an apprentice. It was just me and my dad. It has gone from that to where we are now.

"My dad is still here but he is only part time, just two days a week.” Craig laughed: “He does the MOTs, annoys everybody and goes home!"

The business had to move with the times: "When we started the garage was like the Black Hole of Calcutta. We had the whole place rewired and everything."

Craig moved with the times too: "Early on, whenever anything came in with a management light on, or emissions on MOT or anything, it had to go to another garage in the area- the one where the guy was known for doing that sort of stuff. Everything just got sent there. One day I said 'instead of sending it out all the time, what would it take for me to learn all this stuff? ' My dad said 'find yourself whatever you need to do' and he supported me through whatever courses I needed to go through.

"I'm not saying I did it in the most efficient manner, I probably did the wrong courses in the wrong order, I did what tickled my fancy as opposed to learning the basics first. However, he never once said you can't go on that one. Over the years, with experience, I have learned more and more.  We have invested in quite a few of the dealer tools. Word has gotten around and now we are the go-to-place for the complicated faults." How the wheel turns.

Different way
While he had his hand firmly on the technical side early on, it was only in the last few years that Craig found himself on the business side of the business, and he had to learn quickly: "Four years ago, my dad had a heart attack, and he had to have about three months off work, which dropped me in it. I had to suddenly learn how to run a business, and I wanted to run it a different way. My dad used Excel, whereas I brought in Sage. We have moved onto QuickBooks since then. We moved onto an electronic diary, because just working from a paper one you couldn't work out what you've got in for a day and what you haven't. Five lines could be a 20-minute job, and one line could be a full day's job. I basically started automating a lot of things. It has changed a lot as a result.

"I know the way round cars like the back of my hand, but I didn't know much about running a business. That is why I have started doing training on running a garage. I am on the business accelerator programme with John Batten for example."
Craig is continuing to use technology to help the business:  "We have just had Garage Hive installed this week. Give it a couple of weeks to get used to it and it should increase the efficiency within the garage which should then free up more appointments for customers. Obviously then we might have to look at advertising to fill those spaces, but at the moment we are at capacity."
For someone who said they didn't know how to run a business, he sounded like got on top of it pretty well: "It’s sink or swim isn’t it!" Typical Yorkshire understatement.

A little wisdom also goes a long way: "Garage Hive is new, but the ethos behind it has never changed. My dad was a good mentor. Our motto has always been 'customer first'. it is something my dad has just drilled into me since I first started.
"Without the customer you haven't got a business, have you? Everything we do is orientated to make the customer happy. My dad taught me that from starting out on my very first day. We have never used cheap parts - we use quality ones because we don't want to do a job twice. It is messing the customer about and they might not come back. We don't bodge anything. If something is not right we sort it. If we have not included it in the quote then we stand to it - the job has got to be done right.  You can't afford to upset customers, especially when you are a small business because word gets around too quickly. Kwit-Fit can probably afford to lose a couple of customers, whereas we can't.

"Just this month, we have taken a courtesy car on. This is because people ring up and ask for an appointment for Saturday, but we are fully booked, Saturdays are booked weeks in advance, so they go elsewhere. Now we have the courtesy car. We had a call this week; ‘Have you got a slot on Saturday?’ No. ‘Ok I will leave it’. Well can you bring it down mid-week and have our courtesy car. ‘Oh fantastic I will book it in’. It is just providing that extra service.

"We will soon be able to take online bookings for MOTs, and we now do automatic MOT and service reminders. We are having a new website built too."

Craig believes this is crucial: "I don't want to be like the other garages that don't have the knowledge and don't invest and are falling behind. I don't want that to happen to us. I don't want people coming in and we are not able to help them. I am trying to get it all working so it just flows.  It is better for technicians as it keeps them happy, it is better for the business as it keeps the money coming in and it is better for customers as we can provide them with a better service. My focus is to make sure that all three are right, that way the customer should have a great experience "

Top Technician
As well as within his own business, Craig is doing pretty well in Top Technician, year-by-year: "I have been a semi-finalist twice, and I have only entered it twice. The first one I entered out of curiosity and I ended up in the semis. I let the pressure get to me though. I don't count it as a big loss as I was a nervous wreck when I went into it. The second time I knew what to expect. I did not expect to go through to the finals because of the hybrid, so I came in a lot clearer minded and I was a lot happier with what I had done." Craig laughed again:  "I don't see it as two attempts, I see it as one and a half!

“I would definitely recommend Top Technician. You learn where your strengths and weaknesses are.”

The fundamentals
Looking forward to the future, Craig commented:  "At the moment I am trying to continue improving the efficiency. With my dad semi-retired, and all this new technology coming in, we need everyone at a high level. One of my lads is my right-hand man now. He is fantastic. He can run the workshop without me, so I am trying to get him technically where I am at, that way the business can continue to operate flawlessly when I’m not here."

Craig is also looking to upsize the workshop in the long-term: "I would like to have something double the size in the next few years. At the moment the main focus is getting everything running properly so we have a good brand out there and so that we are the go-to-garage in the area. The immediate future is trying to get the fundamentals right. It is the little details that make it look professional. They inspire confidence.  I need to get my foundations laid so I then have something stable to build on. If you have good foundations, you can build it as tall as you want."

Days of future past?

Andrew Marsh considers the future of UK-based vehicle manufacturing, suppliers and the impact on the aftermarket in the UK towards 2025
Published:  31 July, 2019

Some of us remember the 1970s, where the prevailing feeling was that automotive sophistication usually came from abroad unless one spent a huge amount of cash, that our industry was led mainly by endlessly upset activists, and that our biggest vehicle manufacturer – ‘British Leyland‘ at some point – represented what the UK was all about. This was for the most part utter rubbish.
Of course, much of the above does not stand close scrutiny, but it is true that British Leyland kept giving Fleet Street a continuous supply of headlines which money simply could not buy. Red Robbo, for example was an odd man, who sincerely believed in his cause and did not apparently connect that disruptive work patterns simply made poor manufacturing processes (the cause of the dispute) much, much worse. Who could forget the geniuses who placed a brand-new manufacturing line at Cowley (now called ‘Oxford’ by the present occupiers) where the established time for people to work underneath vehicles was gloriously exceeded? Or the star who invested in the Rover 800 based on volumes of 400,000 units, yet failed to sell a fraction of that even with a facelift? Or that the very same star would later arrive to drive the rump of British Leyland (MG Rover) into the ground?
It has taken decades to shake off the implosion of UK automotive manufacturing, even though in reality the companies that needed to shape up or fail were mostly shaping up. Our national preoccupation with failure seemed to eclipse the success of the UK building 1.6 million vehicles and more than 2.7 million powertrains in 2018, even though it did take quite a few years to build those volumes back up.    
Behind vehicle manufacturing is a series of suppliers, and suppliers to those suppliers. When vehicle manufacturing disappears from a country – or in the case of many – was never present, the aftermarket becomes 100% reliant on imported components, as well as vital expertise. We need to be aware of what is happening in vehicle manufacturing even though the changes in manufacturing take place over several years.

Brexit and deals
Much is made of the uncertainty around Brexit.  Some of that is very real, but as Her Majesty’s Government knows full well the impact may be mostly concentrated on taxation. Those who remember past events will recall, the government can impose new tax levels or even new forms of tax at lightning speed. Effectively ‘such is life’.
The Brexit ‘negotiations’ have taken against a backdrop of significant international financial instability, namely the USA’s insane debt bubble and the combination of China’s vast debt bubble combined with significant over extended state investment. You can add to this potent mix long-standing internal company issues. Nissan, for example, really do not like to be reminded that they exist today thanks to the investment and technology from Renault.

Anarchy in the UK
For fans of anarchy, we seem to have apparent utter anarchy. There were three important developments.

Future-proofed: Training technicians for the long-term

Continuous progression and education allow automotive professionals to stay abreast of the latest technology in the rapidly evolving aftermarket
Published:  18 July, 2019

While experience in the day-to-day activities of a workshop is vital in building a technician’s knowledge and skills, it is only one piece of the puzzle. For example, a technician who has been servicing solely petrol and diesel vehicles for the past 15 years will unlikely be able to help a customer with a hybrid or electric vehicle. What’s more, given the safety concerns involved, it would be dangerous for them to try. What about servicing the latest safety-critical systems, like ADAS? Certainly not a worthwhile risk without the appropriate knowledge or equipment.

Systematic training in new technologies is, therefore, the best way to ensure a workshop will continue to successfully serve aftermarket customers, even in times of rapid change.

“The Auto Education Academy portal from Euro Car Parts brings IMI-approved online and practical courses together with a database of over 500,000 resolved technical queries, with an average of 600 new repairs added daily,” observed Adam White, Workshop Solutions Director at Euro Car Parts. “It provides technicians with one of the largest technical training and knowledge resources in the independent aftermarket.”

“Training is an integral part of ongoing success in this industry,” continued Adam. “It allows technicians to further their career and workshop owners to develop a highly-skilled team of professionals.”

While many would agree to education’s importance in principle, it can be difficult to carry out a training plan and accept lost revenue in the short-term. Online learning can provide the flexibility to bridge that gap.

“Repairers can login to their own skills portal to view the content of more than 75 different courses, registering and booking their place on training workshops all over the country at the click of a button,” said Adam. “They can also assess their strengths and identify weaknesses in nine key areas: Petrol engines, diesel engines, engine management and emissions, vehicle electronics, hybrid and electric cars, brakes, powertrain, tyres, steering and suspension, as well as air-conditioning.

“Results are automatically added to an interactive skills diagram, illustrating a repairer’s current skillset and enabling them to set their own training and development targets. Where gaps exist, the learner management system intuitively recommends Auto Education courses that can help increase knowledge in those areas.”

“The platform has been designed so that anybody can complete a skills overview,” pointed out Adam. “This makes the tool invaluable to workshop managers looking to monitor staff skillsets or test potential hires. Our new learning portal represents a significant investment by Euro Car Parts in helping to nurture the knowledge and skills of technicians across the country.
“As with any profession, it is important for technicians to continue professional development throughout their career. It is also the role of managers to identify gaps in their team and commit staff to training that will address shortcomings in the workshop’s capabilities. For more immediate solutions, the programme features a technical helpline that provides fast responses to troubleshooting, repair, diagnostics and technical information queries on any vehicle, from any manufacturer.”
Adam concluded: “For those with an eagerness to learn and evolve, it is an exciting era for the independent aftermarket. “We consider the success of technicians and independent workshops as the foundation of our industry and believe nothing plays a greater role, or makes more of an impact, than education.”

Tomorrow never knows?

Neil Pattemore considers the workshop of tomorrow, and how it will impact on the business of tomorrow
Published:  16 July, 2019

Last year I wrote about the changes facing independent workshops. Since then there have been further developments, and now the rate of change is increasing exponentially. You will be familiar with today’s challenges and probably aware of some of those of tomorrow’s, especially if you are a regular reader of this revered magazine. However, the workshop of the future will need to change significantly to stay competitive as well as being compliant with both commercial or legislative requirements.
If I look as some of the likely changes, they are quite wide-ranging, but together they will put increasing pressure on the management of the workshop and the business more generally. The IMI has recently stated that “management and leadership within the sector is not evolving quickly enough” and that “a skilled, competent and professional workforce, able to keep pace with the demands of new technology and changing markets and remain competitive” are necessary, which are being supported through the IMI’s ‘Campaigns for change’ initiative.

Greatest challenge
Looking at the workshop level first, then the greatest challenge remains the access to, and the use of, in-vehicle data. Taking the access to the vehicle first, it will be controlled to meet the needs of cybersecurity – needed as vehicles become ever-more electronically controlled on the way to fully autonomous vehicles. This also means that today’s OBD connector will be both restricted in the way that it can be accessed, already requiring electronic certificates to authorise access and to define what data/functions are then available, but also the width and depth of data which is also being reduced due to the very design of the OBD connector being unable to support the bandwidth needed for high-speed in-vehicle systems. The access for these systems will be via wireless communication, which is both faster and more secure, but also more difficult for the workshop to access – even if this is going to be possible at all. Vehicle manufacturers already deny independent service providers access to data via any of their telematics systems and are restricting the OBD port. To obtain the required electronic access certificates even for the OBD port, independent workshops have to be registered and authorised by the vehicle manufacturer before paying them for the required certificate. This is especially a requirement when working on ADAS systems, as the vehicle manufacturer needs to know if the repaired system is re-calibrated and working correctly, so access to the system, the re-coding of replacement ADAS components, as well as confirming the vehicle is working correctly again, is likely to be certificate based. All these access authorisation requirements are likely to need new legislation to provide independent access to the vehicle and its data.
Assuming that access is possible, the next evolution will be the use of data with supporting partners, such as the diagnostic tool manufacturers and spare parts providers. This will be necessary to quickly and accurately identify what work is needed on a vehicle and the corresponding replacement parts on increasingly complicated in-vehicle systems. This will be done by exchanging data with these service providers to provide a ‘just-in-time’ delivery of the technical support and parts needed – without this partnership support small independent businesses would struggle to repair tomorrow’s vehicles, let alone make a profit from doing so.

Vehicle ownership
As vehicle ownership moves away from individuals to ‘mobility service providers’, where the use of the vehicle will be available as short-term rental (i.e. by the hour, day, month etc.), your customer becomes the vehicle provider and they will drive down prices to be competitive in their own mobility services, so workshop efficiency becomes paramount to remaining competitive in this changing market.
In a wider context, the way that vehicles are supplied through authorised dealers is likely to change, as direct sales to mobility providers develops. As this happens, the authorised dealers are more likely to become service and repair points, and this is where the difference between authorised and independent repairers becomes more blurred. Both types of workshop will need similar levels of competence and be competitive for the service and maintenance they provide. This brings in another change for the independent workshop, where there will be an increasing need to have business management data reporting that will be needed by the mobility service providers to allow them to work efficiently with the workshops they are dealing with (e.g. financial and process management systems) that today is expected from authorised repairers.
The very real threat is that vehicle manufacturers will either fully block remote access to the vehicle and its data (the identification of what work is needed will be conducted remotely before the vehicle comes into a workshop), or will control the access via workshop interfaces, using electronic certificates, and in doing so, control all competitors while imposing their own business models and service/repair methods. Legislators are aware of this but are also deeply concerned about the cybersecurity threat and are still investigating what solution may be needed to ensure true competition is still possible for both the mobility service providers and vehicle repair workshops.
Some better news is the imminent referencing into European legislation of the ‘SERMI’ scheme, which will verify and authorise independent workshops to provide access to security (anti-theft) related data, functions and parts. This scheme is now being directly included in European legislation and once implemented, could be expanded in the future to provide a harmonised access and use of electronic certificates for other requirements. Ultimately, the SERMI could help avoid vehicle manufacturers blocking competition ‘through technical design’ – but this remains a legislative decision.

Competitive choices
The workshop of the future will look very different to the workshop of today. There will be much more reliance on the access and use of data. The sharing of this data will enable efficient and timely repair of the vehicle. This will also necessitate increased levels of business management to both fulfil the demands of mobility service providers, but also to ensure that the business has efficient management systems to underpin their ability to remain competitive – and to continue to offer consumers competitive choices. The future moves mechanical repairs into the digital age and the inherent IT skills that this will also require. This will demand changes within the independent workshop business, but will also be directly linked, in every sense of the word, to external partners – so choose your partners carefully, as your future business may be dependent on what they can provide and how this will impact your own business activities and efficiencies. It is also clear that your future business will increasingly be less independent and become increasingly interdependent on the requirements and abilities of others. United we stand and divided we fall – so seriously consider joining one of the UK aftermarket organisations who will fight for legislation that can support your needs. Welcome to the brave new world of vehicle repair workshops!


Will power: part one

Where there’s a Will, there’s a way for a business to make a seamless transition following a death, as Adam Bernstein explains
Published:  11 July, 2019

Not all business owners have the foresight of the late Richard Cousins, the chief executive of Compass Group who, along with his family, was sadly killed at the end of December 2017 when a pleasure aircraft he was travelling in while on holiday crashed. Cousins’ generosity led to the charity Oxfam being given £41m in a bequest because of a ‘common tragedy clause’ that he had inserted into his Will.
Some 60% of the UK population does not have a Will, including a third of those aged over 55. For a business owner, dying without making a Will and/or planning your succession can have a devastating effect, not only on your family but on your business too as having nothing in place can lead to an interregnum in your affairs.
Angharad Lynn, a solicitor in the Private Client team at law firm VWV, says that if you die without a Will your estate will be passed on according to the intestacy rules which changed in October 2014 when the Inheritance and Trustees Powers Act came into force. “Under the new rules,” says Angharad, “if an individual dies leaving a spouse and children, the spouse will take the statutory legacy (currently £250,000) and the rest of the estate will be divided equally between the spouse and the children. If there are no children, the spouse inherits the whole estate.”
She warns that for unmarried couples it is particularly important to have a Will as the intestacy rules take no account of such relationships: “If the couple have children, they will inherit everything. If not, the estate will go to other blood relatives. The surviving unmarried partner will receive nothing.”

Choosing an executor
It’s an executor who administers estates after death. There is no limit on the number you can name in your Will. However, the maximum number of people who can take the grant of probate is four.
Angharad says it’s quite normal to appoint a spouse or children as executors but suggests that it is also worth appointing a professional who can ensure that business assets are dealt with as you would wish. This can be an individual, such as your solicitor or accountant; alternatively, many professional firms have a trustee company that can act as an executor. She adds that the advantage of this is that while your own lawyer or accountant may have retired (or died) by the time of your death, the trustee company will provide continuity for the appointment of executors, enabling partners from the firm to act. The retirement of your own lawyer will not mean that you need to update your Will.

Assets that can be left by Will
In your planning it’s important to not forget a spouse as assets held jointly can be owned in either of two ways. Angharad says that they can be owned as joint tenants or tenants in common – and this is true for all assets, from your family home to shares in your business: “In essence, if an asset is owned as a joint tenancy, it will pass outside your Will, by the law of survivorship. What this means is that if the shares in your business are held with your spouse as a joint tenancy, they will pass automatically to them on your death and not by your Will, regardless of the provisions of the Will.”

Plan to save on inheritance tax
Tax planning after death must be a consideration and Angharad notes that one of the reliefs from inheritance tax is Business Property Relief (BPR) which is available for a business or an interest in a business, as well as land, buildings, plant and machinery used for the purpose of the business and shares in unquoted trading companies. “BPR is currently awarded at 50% or 100%,” says Angharad, “it’s a very generous relief and it is possible that its use will be curtailed in a future budget. So, when planning your succession, ensure your business will qualify for BPR by checking it meets the scheme requirements.” To qualify businesses must be trading, and if the proportion of assets held in investments is too high the business may not be able to use BPR.
The charity Will-Aid runs a scheme each November where simple Wills can be written for a charitable donation. Go to: www.willaid.org.uk

Diamonds in the database

There is a treasure trove of information in your customer records according to Andy, the trick is to know how dig out the jewels
Published:  02 July, 2019

One of the biggest mistakes I regularly see within the aftersales garage sector is the constant advertising specifically in local press with ‘come and get me offers’ in order to attract new business. Most of these are by already established business.  
Whether they are large or small, they will rarely measure the actual effectiveness of such campaigns, or analyse the type of customers they are attracting. Indeed very few of these businesses actually understand the ‘diamonds’ that already exist within their database.   
Too little thought is given to how an existing customer may feel if he or she saw a deal that had never been offered to them, despite the fact that they have been loyal customers over a number of years. This could be a real kick in the teeth.

The perils of transactional marketing
We’ve all seen the larger corporates like Sky, Vodaphone and, of course the insurance industry to name a few, offering far better terms for new customers than any existing customer can get. In my opinion this form of ‘transactional marketing’ does not work in the independent garage sector as it does not lead to long term loyalty and leads to these potential new customers hopping from one garage deal to the next one.
There is no point trying to attract vast numbers of new customers and provide them with a sub–standard service based on a cheap price which can cause severe damage to the reputation of your business. Another factor is that established customers tend to buy more and are less price sensitive and may be less likely to defect due to price alone.

Focus on relationship marketing
You have to focus on ‘relationship marketing’ and yes there are many guises however your own database and the ‘diamonds’ within must always be your starting point. It also builds a platform where the business and its customers are more likely to be able to adapt to each other’s needs and reach agreement quickly and easily. So, by getting emotionally connected and regularly engage with your existing customers will only enhance the trust and loyalty you build with them.
It can be concluded that relationships with customers help a lot growing the revenues/profits for the business. Relationship marketing is all about creating, building and maintaining the relationships with the existing as well as new customers for the long-term profits. Relationship-focused marketing is not something that will happen overnight. It requires a change in thinking and some discipline along the way. Top level management support is needed for introducing such a change.
It's quite obvious that the relationship approach is really successful, because 80% of an organisation's revenues are generated by 20% of the customers. Thus, it is concluded that building strong relationships with customers is very important for any business to grow and relationship marketing is a mantra to long-term success by retaining and delighting the customers.
Simply by reminding customers of their vehicles next MOT due date, or service for that matter is the minimum that any independent garage should be undertaking. Reminding them of specific campaigns such as winter checks or health checks if they are planning long journeys will reinforce that you care about them and keep them safe. By expanding this two-way communication with news of any success stories within the business, such as: charitable fund raising by the business or any employee, training and development that’s undertaken, new services/products introduced will reinforce to your customers that you want to build long term relationships with them.
This strategy will help you constantly create a small influx of new customers through recommendations as opposed to constantly advertising for a field for new ones. You will also greatly improve the chances of providing and exceeding the high level of service they expect, because you will not be swamped with a mass of new customers rushing to take you up on those ‘come and get me offers’. Therefore, this promotes another selection of new clientele that hopefully continue the cycle and improves the long -term implications for continued growth. Your existing customers will become your advocates; your marketing angels.  

Assets and more diamonds
Quite simply, customers are the organisation’s most important asset (along with staff too). Without them, it cannot exist. To survive, prosper and possibly expand the business, the independent garage owner must continue to acquire new customers but more importantly must never neglect existing customers or take them for granted.
Constant database management will build-up and trust and personal knowledge with your customers, which create a far more effective customer retention tool, which in turn will find you more diamonds.

Please visit www.thegarageinspector.com for business training courses and for more business tips.

BER: What next

In part two of his look at the future of the Block Exemption Regulation, Neil Pattemore asks what we might expect to see in a new BER
Published:  17 June, 2019

Following last month’s article about the European Commission’s launching an ‘evaluation roadmap’ to consider if the existing Automotive Block Exemption Regulation (BER) should be renewed when it expires in May 2023, I explained the background and how important BER is to the abilities of the UK aftermarket to conduct their day-to-day business and offer the motoring consumer competitive choices for the service and repair of the vehicles.
However, since the original BER was drafted in 2002 and subsequently updated in 2010, much has changed concerning the design and functionality of today’s vehicles, with much more likely to change in the coming years. If you think that 2023 is a long way ahead, just think about the Olympics in London in 2012 – does that seem like such a long time ago - and this is nearly twice the period between now and 2023.

What should the legislator consider? Firstly, there is the fundamental question of why the BER exists and if the original requirement is still valid. The answer is not so clear, as the original BER has already been modified in 2010 to allow franchised dealers to sell outside their geographical area and the way that vehicles are being distributed and sold is changing to different outlets (think shopping centre ‘pop-up’ shops as well as the internet).

It is also appealing for the vehicle manufacturers to oppose the renewal of the BER, as this would provide them with a much more ‘flexible’ approach to supplying vehicles – either directly from the vehicle manufacturer to the new vehicle owner, or as part of tomorrow’s ‘mobility services packages’ on a ‘pay by use’ basis – in both cases avoiding having to pay the dealer margin. It would also release them from the legislative obligations for the provisions for the aftermarket and thus avoid supporting their competitors in vehicle servicing.

Vehicle manufacturers are increasingly selling vehicles online and with the exponential increase of the ‘connected car’ retain a direct relationship with the vehicle owner/driver – again negating the involvement of the dealer. The original ‘vertical agreements’ are changing to be ‘horizontal agreements’. Equally, the legislator may also view this as a natural evolution of the vehicle distribution sector and a valid reason not to consider renewing the BER.

Aftermarket perspective
Most importantly, where does this leave BER from the aftermarket perspective? Clearly, the original key elements need to be maintained, namely the honouring of warranties, servicing in the context of leasing contracts, the supply of spare parts, the use/purchase of tools, access to technical information and access to authorised repairer networks to buy original parts. Some important aspects are also covered in other legislation, such as the access to the repair and maintenance information (RMI) under the Euro 5 vehicle type approval, but this is complimentary legislation and is not a replacement for the BER.

Critically, there are both important changes in vehicle technology and the way that the vehicle manufacturers themselves have become an active competitors for aftermarket services which the legislator should also consider.

At the moment, BER and the guidelines provide protection against a number of distortions. They serve as an important framework which allows OE parts producers the right to supply independent parts distributors as well as the independent and authorised aftermarket. These OE parts suppliers also have the right to brand their OE products with their own logo (dual branding) and the definition of ‘original and matching quality parts’ has had an important effect in the aftermarket helping to demonstrate the true origin and quality of parts to consumers and their subsequent competitive choices. All this needs to continue - especially from the position of protecting small independent businesses – the backbone of the aftermarket.

It is very welcome that the European Commission has rightly emphasized that competition policy needs to "make sure that our markets stay competitive enough to give consumers the power to demand a fair deal." However, this pre-supposes alternative choices exist.

It is therefore critical that the legislator considers how small businesses can continue to compete, as only focusing on the repair level is too myopic and does not capture the influence that BER needs to have on the entire aftermarket and its competitive eco-systems. The complexity of the aftermarket sector and the nature of the respective economic activities throughout this value chain should be taken into account to allow a better understanding of the different competitive conditions at each level of the supply chain and then legislate accordingly.

Examples of this include the trend for vehicle manufacturers to require replacement parts to be re-coded, but then either restricting access to the code (e.g. ADAS components) or charging a inflated price for the code for non-OEM parts to ensure that their own total price for the part and the code are cheaper. This is an example of another developing trend from vehicle manufacturers where ‘software as a product’ is becoming another way that competition can be distorted.

As the vehicle becomes a ‘computer on wheels’, there is an increasing concern that the (already) existing imbalance between OEMs and the independent aftermarket will further increase due to vehicle manufacturers being able to control access to the vehicle data. Vehicle manufacturers have evolved since 2010 into new and additional roles, entering as direct competitors into traditional independent aftermarket areas. Increasingly repairs are being done today directly and remotely (e.g. resetting of fault codes, coding, reprogramming, software updates) via the ‘connected car’ and this also needs to be addressed in any revision of the BER.  
There are also now the first examples of vehicle manufacturers joining forces on a common Internet ordering platform for their original spare parts and consequently corresponding to the role/function of an independent multi-brand spare parts distributor. The main competitors of independent repairers/operators are no longer only the authorised repairers/networks, but are now also the vehicle manufacturers themselves, who have much more power and much more (in)direct technical and commercial means to frustrate effective competition by independent aftermarket operators.

The traditional comparison between the position of the dealer/authorised repairer and the independent operator (the vertical ‘non-discrimination principle’) is no longer valid, due to the proprietary design of the in-vehicle telematics systems, the vehicle-generated data/functionalities go directly to the vehicle manufacturer, who then decides with whom it shares the data, or not and under what contractual conditions.

The proprietary closed design of their in-vehicle telematics systems and the unique access to the vehicle, its data and functions, enables manufacturers to vertically integrate additional services, e.g. to offer bundled telematics services over the life-time of the vehicle, and even ‘free of charge’ (e.g. remote diagnostics, remote programming, fleet management, insurance policies etc.). This has a de-facto competitive knock-out effect on all other service providers around the car.

Clearly a lot has changed since the original BER was implemented - given that it is the vehicle manufacturer itself who is now the privileged controller of the in-vehicle data and resources/function and subsequently the whole downstream aftermarket, so any new version of BER must now consider a different approach and re-assess how a competitive aftermarket can continue to offer consumers a competitive choice.


The Future’s bright: The future’s… orange

Aftermarket looks in on the new business recently opened by 2018 Top Technician winner Shaun Ferguson-Miller
Published:  03 June, 2019

We have to confess, Aftermarket's garage visit articles tend to follow a formula. We pick long-established businesses, and as part of the piece we will hear about how they got started, and see where they are now. That's great, but sometimes you want to mix things up, do things differently.   

How about, for a change, we go and see a business in its very early days, and see how a garage is built from the ground up? Yes, we like that idea. When we found out that 2018 Top Technician Shaun Ferguson-Miller was opening his own business, we knew we just had to be there.

Fergie’s opened its doors, and unveiled its big, bright and very orange sign for the first time in late February. Based in a converted warehouse on a business park on the outskirts of Thatcham in Berkshire, Fergie’s has been set up as a German marques specialist, catering for drivers of the VAG group output, as well as cars from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
With Shaun is a small team covering marketing, sales (front of house), finance, and of course Shaun’s area of expertise, all things technical in the workshop. The technical team will grow as the business picks up. All being well, he’s looking to take on two more technicians this year.

Starting out is hard, particularly if you are aiming to start at the top, but Shaun was upbeat about the businesses potential: “We’ve had a great start. Each member of the team is very focused on their individual roles and we’re hitting our targets that were set out in the business plan. It’s very early days but we’re all putting in the hours and committed to making this a success.”

They are getting the customers they want too: "The marketing team are busy behind the scenes. From day one we’ve had a defined focus on who our clients are and we’ve built a marketing plan based around that. We’re very keen to get off on the right foot and build a strong reputation based around outstanding customer service. It’s the part of the business the customer sees and touches. It’ll be our point of differentiation.”

A new chapter
Readers may remember that when he won Top Technician in 2018, Shaun was head technician at Millers Garage in Newbury. What a difference a year, and a big trophy, can make: "I have been on a journey over the last three or four years, and have met some great people in the industry. Like they say, It’s good to talk, and my new network gave me a different perspective.
“I’ve fancied going it alone for a while and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I started planning at the end of last year, and got the keys for here on 1 January."

Winning Top Technician was a factor: "I realised that I had to do it this year. If I left it for three or four years, I couldn't advertise that I was setting up, and that I was the winner of Top Technician. It would be old news. I was speaking to a lot of people in the industry about it, and I just decided it was time to go. I set about doing the business plan, looked at what I wanted to do, arranged additional finance on top of the money we had, then set about finding the right equipment to meet our budget.  I started planning in November and into December, got the keys on 1 January, and that was it. From that point we were here full time. This was a warehouse that had been used by a parts supplier. It was just a bare shell. We turned it into this within three months, and opened on 25 February, and we have been open a month now.”

Shaun was thoughtful for a moment, and then said with a laugh: "When you look back, you think 'how did this even happen?' I still don't know how it happened!"
That was then, and this is now. Let's look at what Shaun has set up: "We have four two-post service ramps, a dedicated wheel alignment ramp, and a Class 7 MOT ramp. We are setting up as an MOT station at the moment too. In the meantime, are working with a local garage that is carrying out the MOTs for us. In return, we are doing their diagnostic work. It’s a system that works well for both of us currently.

“On the tooling side, as we are a German marques specialist, all the diagnostic tools are for the VW -Audi Group, Mercedes and BMW. We have to have that as a specialist. We have some generic scan tools as well as a backup but, factory tooling is a must.”
Shaun and the team are thinking long-term. One of the things he wants to create for Fergie’s is a positive working environment. With this in mind, upstairs, we found the bones of a staff lounge: "We’re focused on building a great team and staff retention is a big part of that. Having a great place to work as well as the right culture in the company is really important. You need somewhere they can relax, and eat in comfort.”

Next door, Shaun has set aside a room for training. Training is really important to Shaun and having the right environment to do that is essential. “When we do training in the evening, they will come up here. Treating the staff right is the biggest thing for me. I want to get great techs here, so they need to be treated well.”

The staff are not the only ones getting good treatment. Shaun also became a father for the first time last year, and they have found room for a little creche for son Quinn also. We told you it was a modern place didn't we?

Apart from the technical stuff, you always need to remember that a garage business needs customers. When they arrive, Shaun has presentation covered thanks to a comfortable, warm-wood-and-armchairs reception that could be an upmarket high-street cafe: "I initially wanted it to be all white and fresh and clinical, but I had my mind changed and this is so much better. Everyone who comes in says how nice it is, and wants to chill out, read a paper, have a hot drink, they love it. Because we are a little bit out of the way, we wanted to create somewhere people can wait."

To have them waiting, you need to have them in the first place. With this in mind, Shaun sought out advice: "I did a lot of business training with John Batten at Auto iQ and he has helped me massively. I didn't think advertising was important before I started the business. As far as I was concerned it was all word of mouth. Starting a new business, that is not going to happen though. We are literally at the bottom of a road with no passing trade. I’m too busy in the workshop to give marketing the focus it needs which is why we bought in someone to do this from the start. That and our front of house team are every bit as important as the technical ability we have in the workshop.”

It's a hard slog starting from scratch, but with a young family, a big vision and a great team, Shaun is on his way: “I am doing long hours at the moment- I am here until 11pm every night. I just want to set everything up, systems, equipment, etc. All of that effort will be worth it in the long run, getting it all right from the beginning. Doing this, I have learnt almost everything in one go, from a business point of view, which is really cool. Luckily my mum is an accountant with a massive company, so she has helped with it as well. With mum's, my wife’s, and my friends support as well as a great team, it was the ideal time, and the ideal recipe. Now we’ve all just got to put in the hours and do the work.”
We know he will succeed.  

The art of self improvement

All roads lead east according to Andy, as he points towards some strategies that will help you improve your business
Published:  23 May, 2019

To thrive in today’s competitive aftersales sector businesses, the need to operate more efficiently, effectively and profitably has never been more apparent. Developing problem solvers, increasing labour productively, improving quality and reducing waste are essential factors if you are to succeed.
Increasing competition, rising customer expectations, and of course increasing technology are all squeezing already thin margins, while changing competition regulations in Europe bring an uncertain mix of threats and opportunities. Due to increasing product quality and reliability, today’s cars need fewer services (routine maintenance visits) and less service time at each visit. This means that, to maintain workshop viability, garages have to service and repair more cars each day. This has knock-on effects, such as the need for larger car parks and more admin staff to handle the extra number of jobs.
To tackle these challenges, you need to adopt a continuous improvement strategy. There are several such strategies and methods to achieve these goals, however I want to focus on two most commonly adopted continuous improvement methodologies that I used in my previous business, Brunswick Garage, and continually use today to help other garage businesses.  

Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, more commonly known as PDCA cycle, was developed by Walter Shewhart as a continuous improvement process that can supplement the statistical quality control methodology. The PDCA cycle was, however, popularised by W. Edwards Deming who introduced it to Japan after World War II and is commonly referred to as the Deming cycle. As the name suggests, PDCA is a four-step process:
In the plan stage you establish what you want to accomplish and also establish the metrics and measurement system that can help you verify whether you have been able to accomplish what you set out for.
In the do stage you carry out or ‘do’ what you have planned. This is the step where the actual work happens.
In the check phase you compare using the measurement system that you have put in place, how you are progressing towards meeting your accomplishment and analyse any deviations.
In the act phase deviations are analysed and solutions implemented to ensure they do not happen again in the future and the gains are standardized. This is also the phase where a debrief or lessons learned exercise is carried out.
PDCA cycle is one of the oldest forms of continuous improvement methodology and almost all of today’s improvement methodologies.

Kaizen 5S/Gemba Kaizen
Kaizen is a term that was coined by Masaki Imai who founded the Kaizen Institute. The Kaizen Institute still holds the copyright to the term ‘Kaizen’ and ‘Gemba Kaizen’. Kaizen is an everyday Japanese word often translated into English as ‘improvement’. Kaizen is actually made up from two words. The first being ‘Kai’ or to change continuously’ and the second, ‘zen’ meaning ‘to improve’ or ‘to get better’. Therefore, a more complete understanding of the word Kaizen would be to continually make changes to get better.
‘Gemba’ means ‘real place’ – the place where real action occurs. Japanese use the word Gemba in their daily speech. Whenever an earthquake occurs in Japan the TV reporters at the scene refer to themselves as ‘reporting from the Gemba’. So, for our purpose, we would classify our reception, workshop, car parks etc. as our Gembas.
5S Kaizen is an improvement method that brings together these tools and techniques into a unified whole with 5S forming the base that links all other methods together. For many who have heard of 5S before you may be forgiven for regarding it only as a simple housekeeping exercise. Indeed, when some people first learn of the 5S method they find it hard to understand its power and strength as an improvement tool.
In other words, 5S Kaizen allows us to change our whole method of working and develop a culture focused on continuous improvement. It can contribute towards:

Hello can we talk?

Neil Pattemore looks at the importance of effective communication for businesses – in several contexts
Published:  16 May, 2019

I have been known to say that “Communication is a wonderful thing." Usually the context of this statement is that there has not been good communication and it has resulted in one or both of us missing something or being agitated with one another for not communicating well to the other what was intended.
Probably sounds familiar to many of you, but in the business context it is vitally important that you can communicate with your customers in a way that conveys professionalism and instils both confidence and trust. This is ever-more difficult against a background of increasing vehicle technology and decreasing levels of technical understanding from your customers.
At its most fundamental level, effective communication is the exchange of thoughts, information, ideas, and messages between people. However, it’s not communication unless the transmission is understood. Communication can happen verbally, nonverbally, in writing, and through behaviour as well as by listening and using feedback.
No matter who or what audience you address, the art of communication can be a daunting task – as indeed, it is an art form. The good news is that there are seven steps to clear and effective communication for even the most challenging conversations with customers when trying to explain what is wrong with their vehicle.

So how can you communicate effectively in this increasing technical environment? One of the best ways is to imagine that you are talking to your grandmother – she may be a little slow to understand, is very non-technical and is going a little deaf!
Keep it simple: Think about how you can make the complicated simple. Do not use highly technical terms or technical abbreviations and explain slowly and clearly. A good example would not be to say: "Sorry, but your EGR valve is blocked by carbon build up on the pintle needle so now it can’t control the correct NOx requirements." Instead, say: "There is a valve on your vehicle’s engine which is required to control exhaust emissions and it is not working correctly." If the customer wants to know more you could always add: "Because it is blocked by carbon build up from the exhaust system, as it recycles exhaust gasses to reduce the exhaust emissions."

Simples! – as they say.
Does it make sense? Always ask yourself; Does what I’m saying make sense to the person I am speaking to and subsequently does the feedback I’m receiving confirm that they have understood?. When both parties in the conversation are truly able to say they understand or that it is all clear  effective communication has been achieved.
Failure to Communicate – it’s down to you: Remember, as the primary communicator you are 100% responsible for the other person’s understanding of the communication. In other words, if you don’t feel that you are being understood, you have not completed the job of communicating. Don’t try to change what you are trying to communicate, but how you are communicating it.
Stay on Message: Be clear about what ideas you are trying to express or the message you are trying to convey to the other person. What do you most want them to understand?
It takes two: Try to really understand where others are coming from. What are they trying to say? What messages are they trying to get across to you? Pay special attention not just to what they are saying, but to what isn’t being said as well as their body language. Finally, if in doubt – ask!
Sorry, what did you say? Do you really hear what others are saying? To really listen you should stop everything else that you are doing and really listen to what is being said to you. You should then summarise your understanding by being able to feed back to them exactly what you have understood them to have said. Good communication is a two-way thing.
Respect: Recognise that your message is not just about you or what you want. It’s about what’s in it for the listener.  You must mutually understand what is being said and the corresponding implications. After all, they took the time and trouble to hear what you have to say, so it’s equally important to recognise and respect that we each have different perspectives based on our positions, motivations, and needs.
Good communication for technically difficult aspects is a combination of both ‘what you say and how you say it’. In summary, keep it simple, keep it short, be a good listener and be both respectful and empathetic. Above all, avoid being condescending.

In writing
When communicating in writing, ensure that you are concise, that you write clearly about the specific point and consider that if you were in the recipient’s position, would they understand what you have written, especially in all the points that they need to know from you. Your audience doesn't want to read six sentences when you could communicate your message in three. Read what you have written and delete any words that are not needed to clearly explain what you need to say. Less is more, as long as you include everything you need to say.
Effective written communication ensures that the audience has everything they need to be informed about, and if applicable, take action. If your message does include a 'call to action', does your audience clearly know what you need them to do?

Good example
As an example of good communication, I use a local independent workshop and Keith, the manager, is the epitome of how it should be done. It goes something like: "Hello Neil, your car is in today for a full service, so we will need it until around 2 o’clock. Can I have the key please? Is this mobile number the best to use so we can call you if I have any questions or to let you know when it is ready and finally is there anything else you would like us to know about that we may need to look at today?" Followed by my reply: "Great Keith, no, nothing else, so many thanks and see you later."
Quick, polite and concise. When I pick my car up, he uses similarly simple and clear language to explain what was done, advice on any other issues they noticed before explaining the invoice, asking if everything is clear or are there any questions before requesting payment. Importantly, Keith never tries to baffle his customers with technical terms and avoids being condescending – important points in the key areas of creating professionalism, confidence and trust in this increasingly technical environment. It is a bit like your grandmother saying that the simple things in life are often the best and this applies to good communication when talking technical.  


Niche work if you can get it

Aftermarket pops in on 2007 Top Technician winner Clive Atthowe, to see how things roll at CAT Automotive
Published:  07 May, 2019

It's been a while since Aftermarket has been over to CAT Automotive. They sound out the letters you know - C.A.T. –  It is an acronym, Clive Atthowe Tuning.  The personality of the owner is stamped as firmly on the business as his name.  
"We are specialists, mainly German cars but Volkswagen is our bigger market," explained Clive. Another side is classic cars: "Classic cars are something I've always done, probably because I am a classic age. It is quite a big part of our business. I was brought up with carburettors and have progressed right through to modern vehicles. We also do a lot of tuning and a lot of modification and remapping, I just remapped a car this morning."
It is a mixed bag, but all highly specialised, as Clive observed: "We do a lot of what you could call niche work I suppose."
It's a bit more than basic servicing and repairs, but as a previous Top Technician winner, you know he is going to know his stuff.  Clive certainly has the chops, but he had a pretty good grounding early on: "I started in an old fashioned dealership. It had been Talbot and Hillman, and I was working on Hillman Imps, Avengers and Hunters. They changed franchise after a year and became Datsun. That was pre-Nissan. I was  working on Datsun 240Zs 280Cs, Sunnys, Cherrys all the early stuff. I did a five year apprenticeship there which was excellent. We learned to do our own machining, cut our own valves, using lathes, make special tools. It was a very good background. We used to do a lot of classic car restoration there as well.

"I had a very good background in those first five years. I briefly spent two years prepping used cars for a major car sales site, which again was everything from Minis to Rolls-Royces.  After that I started my own business."

For those who don't recall, CAT Automotive  first opened its doors in 1982: "I started by tuning cars, in the old traditional Crypton tuning ways. Financially it was quite tough at the beginning, so it was lucky my wife Jean had a very good job. The early 1980s was a terrible time to start a business actually.  Everybody said I was mad to start a business then, but I come from a family of self employed people and business owners. My father had  a very successful restoration business in the building trade. It is still running now, my brother runs it. It is a background of self motivation I suppose.

"Our original garage was an old fashioned dual-lubrication service bay that had been a filling station, if you can imagine that. We ran in there for 11 years. The tuning side of the business was flying, and I had always had a big interest in modifying cars and rolling road. I ended up buying a second hand two-wheel drive rolling road, but had nowhere to put it. We applied for planning permission to build a new workshop on the site but it all fell through after two years, when the landlord wouldn't give us what we wanted for the lease. So we scouted around and found where we are now, which was pretty much an empty shell and we converted that into a new workshop where we could put a rolling road in. That shows how the business changed over the years."

Today, CAT Automotive operates out of a 2,000 sq2 workshop with two ramps. About a third of the space is taken up by a sound-proof airflow cell where Clive keeps his pride and joy; A four wheel drive dyno: "The rolling road is something we have been involved in for 27 years. We started with a two-wheel drive, then four wheel drive, then we built this custom set-up about 12 years ago. As a result of having it we do a lot of classic race cars particularly, and that type of work.

"I just put the phone down a few minutes ago after speaking to a customer who just bought a MGC  that he is now going to race. We are not too sure what has been done to it, it has triple webers and cams in it. He is  bringing it in the week after next for a check on the dyno  to see what he has actually bought and what it is like. There is also a Jaguar race team we do a lot with that has E-types. That is the type of thing we get. We do get ordinary classic road cars as well, but we do a lot of race stuff.”

It is one of many niches that CAT Automotive excels within. The business is also a German car specialist, leaning particularly strongly towards the VW group: "Equipment-wise, we have in the last few years gone down the dealer tooling route. We use the Volkswagen/Audi dealer tool. We also have the dealer tool for BMW.

"We used to be a Bosch Car Service Agent. We started off in the 1990s as a Jet-Tronic agent, if anyone can remember that. Then we came out of it and went back into it with Bosch Car Service. We left that about two years ago now. We are totally independent again. However we still use Bosch equipment, such as Bosch KTS. We have also got a raft of other dealer tools which we probably don't use very much now because we have tried to guide the business down a Volkswagen/Audi route. Over the last  two and a half to three years we have chosen to specialise, we thought that was a better route to follow.

As you might imagine, Clive is not alone all day in the workshop. Along with his wife Jean providing part-time front-of-house services, Clive also has back-up in the form of 26 year old technician Dale: "He has been with me about six years now, " explained Clive, I trained him from scratch."

The team was not always quite so bijou though: "At one point there was four of us, including me. In the last four to five years, one key member of staff left and started his own business. We never replaced him, we just carried on. We were quite happy to do that."

The skills shortage is the problem:  "I have looked around to try and find a technician who is skilled enough to come straight into the business, but I have not found one yet. So instead I have just run it very lean.
"The skills gap seems to get wider every year. We do quite a lot of work for other garages and also quite a lot of bodyshop programming on their cars. The standards of work we see coming through the door is quite shocking really."

Top Technician
Speaking of standards, as we mentioned earlier, Clive won Top Technician in 2007. If that's not enough, he also came second in 2011. These days you wouldn't be able to do it in that order.

"I know," laughed Clive, "they changed the rules after myself and John Tinham competed last time, where he won for the umpteenth time, with me as runner up after having already won. We enjoyed it anyway."
Clive was something of a serial winner in his competition days: "I started off doing one of the first competitions that was ever brought into the motor trade, which was Crypton Technician of the Year. I won that twice in a row. Then I went from Crypton to using Bosch equipment, and the business achieved second place in the Bosch World Cup in 2002. That was quite a big achievement for us in quite a small garage. Then I went on to do Top Technician.  I competed quite a few times and I enjoyed it."
Clive is a great advocate for Top Technician: "It certainly makes you analyse your knowledge, and taking part certainly tests your abilities, there's no doubt about that. I think it is a good thing for the industry."

Looking ahead, the skills shortage is not the only challenge the industry faces according to Clive: "A few years ago I could usually see which way the trade was going and what was the best route to follow. Now though, it is very unpredictable. Even manufacturers don't seem to know where they are going, apart from that they are going to go predominantly electric. Even they seem unsure."

Increasing specialisation is where Clive thinks things may be heading: "With the onset of so much electronic content, and the sheer knowledge that you need for each individual brand to repair it very well, I can't see how you can cover multi-brand at that level and keep on top of if you are a very small business. If you had a technician for each manufacturer who was trained and had the right equipment, that might work, but you have to work with it and you are talking about some serious investment in time and money. Where do you find those technicians that are trained to that level?  It is very hard at the moment to predict. I think brand specialisation will become a big thing. "

Looking ahead for the business, Clive concluded:  "Our plan is to carry on adapting to whatever the future holds. This has always been my philosophy; Constant improvement through training and investment."

part two: 'You owe me!'

Adam Bernstein continues his look into the the pitfalls of making deductions from staff wages
Published:  02 May, 2019

By Adam Bernstein

There are countless cases on the government’s Employment Tribunal website, a number for garages, that relate to situations where employers have unlawfully deducted monies from employee’s pay packets. The rules are quite clear – employers need prior permission or a legal basis to deduct monies.
Andrew Rayment, a Partner in the employment department of law firm Walker Morris, says that even late payment of wages still counts as a deduction. “However,” he says, “if the employer subsequently pays the wages in full, a tribunal would not order the sum to be paid again, although it may order the employer to compensate the worker for consequential loss, such as bank overdraft charges caused by the late payment.”

How to make deductions lawfully
So, given all of the above, how can an employer make deductions from wages lawfully?
The first ‘permission’ Andrew notes relates to deductions required or authorised by statute. “This,” he says, “would include deductions for income tax and national insurance contributions under the PAYE system; and deductions made pursuant to the Attachment of Earnings Act 1971 (i.e. where the courts have made an attachment of earnings order).”
The next reason for a lawful deduction would be if it has been authorised by a provision of the worker’s contract. This means one that is set out in a written contract which has been given to the worker before the deduction was made. Here Andrew says: “The contractual provision must make it clear that the deduction may be made from the worker's wages and, obviously, the employer must also be able to demonstrate that the event justifying the deduction has occurred.”
It’s for this reason that employers should always make sure that their employment contracts contain a specific clause to authorise deductions from wages or other payments due to the employee in the event that the employee owes money to the company.
But there is a third ‘permission’ – where a worker has given prior written consent. In this instance, a deduction will not be unlawful if, as the law details, the worker has previously signified in writing his agreement or consent to the making of the deduction. On this Andrew says: “The written consent must be given before the event giving rise to the deduction (this rules out getting the worker to sign it minutes before the deduction is made) and the written consent must make it clear that the deduction may be made from the worker's wages.”
From a legal standpoint, it is always advisable to obtain prior written consent from the employee in cases where, for example, the employer pays enhanced maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption pay but reserves the right to recover the enhanced payment if, for example, the employee does not return to work; loans the employee a sum of money (for example a season ticket loan); or pays an employee’s course fees or the cost of training but reserves the right to recover all or some of the cost if, for example, the employee does not complete or fails the course.
Going back to the case of the loan to the worker outlined in part one of this story (Aftermarket, March issue), the employer should have obtained prior written consent from the employee before loaning the money. It would then have been able to rely on this to deduct the loan from the employee’s wages.

In summary
So, to finish, except for deductions made under PAYE or under a court order, it is vital that you ensure that you have workers written consent to make a deduction from wages before attempting to do so. Similarly, ensure that there is an appropriate deduction from wages provision in your employees contracts. And where you make an enhanced payment, offer a loan or cover course fees, it is advisable, before making the payment, to require the employee to sign a form giving their written consent to the conditions of payment and the specific circumstances in which deductions can be made from sums due to the employee.
Planning ahead and ensuring all know where they stand will prevent much upset later on.

A tale of two garages

Aftermarket inadvertently mystery-shopped some garages recently, and the accidental exercise reinforced the importance of ongoing training and investment
Published:  25 April, 2019

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, it certainly was for a member of the Aftermarket team recently, who had a small automotive hiccup in the family.
You wouldn’t expect that the need for a fresh set of sparkplugs in a top-selling mass-market runaround could expose the existential crisis facing some garages who are facing extinction as their ability to service cars fades away, but that is what we found. Luckily for our colleague, and for the sector we also found a business who was the very opposite of that type, one that was totally on the ball. A lot can be learned from this second garage in terms of what to do. Even more can be learned from the first garage, in terms of how not to run your business.
The only upside was that that business had a local doppelganger who was paying heed to the kind of advice peddled here in Aftermarket every month. There is a happy ending, dear reader, but first you have to travel through the heart of darkness that can be found in a business where trundling along towards obsolescence is seen as sound business planning.

Safe mode
Let’s find out what happened to our colleague: “We have a couple of cars in our household,” she told us, “one is a BMW 3 Series, which I drive, and the other is a an up-until-now spritely 2014 – registered Vauxhall Corsa, which is one of the most popular cars in the UK, and has been in the top 10 highest sellers year-in-year out for decades.”
As an aside, according to the sales figures for 2018 as published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the Vauxhall Corsa was the third highest selling car of the year, with 52,915 sold during the year.  
Anyway, back to the story. After years of problem-free  motoring in the Corsa, a few weeks ago it switched into safe mode – with its service spanner light beaming orange on the dashboard. There were no warning signs prior to this.
“As soon as we realised we promptly took it  to a local independent garage.”
This is where things started to go sideways: “After a brief peek at the car, the technician announced they couldn’t access the information and that the vehicle can only be dealt with by a main dealer… which was easier said than done, as the car was only capable of travelling at  5mph and the nearest main dealer was more than six miles away.”
Now, as she was part of the Aftermarket team, she already knew there was something not quite right here: “When asked the reason why the garage couldn’t access the information, the technician claimed that the manufacturer was withholding access for certain faults, so no other independent would be able to rectify the problem with the vehicle.” The technician then sent our team member off to find the nearest Vauxhall dealer, a business that runs the Griffin franchise alongside a mainstream French brand, in the next town.
Now, we know that the Block Exemption Regulation is not a free invitation for everyone just to dig their hands into the big info bin at the vehicle manufacturers, that access might require payment, but withholding access from the independent sector? That would be newsworthy.
At this point, our staff member was more concerned about getting the car fixed than she was about the intricacies of European competition law. Like any motorist with a poorly car being overtaken by cyclists, she just wanted it fixed: “The thought of the long slow drive to the nearest dealership, who incidentally said they would not have availability to take the car until the following week, was beginning to cause much anxiety.”
Bad news all round at this point. Fortunately for our colleague, this is where the story takes a happier turn, with the entrance of the second independent garage: “Halfway on the arduous journey home we discovered another independent garage offering diagnostics on every vehicle marque. So on the off-chance this garage could help we dropped the Corsa there and they assured us they would do their best to help. An hour later we received a call from the garage to say that they have gained access to the vehicle and that it requires a new coil and set of spark plugs. Within a couple of hours the car was fixed and back to its spritely-self. Not only that, it is booked-up with this second independent garage for its MOT next month.”

As we said, we did not mean to perform a regional mystery shop on random garages across Kent, but here we are. Let’s ask our accidental shopper what she though about the businesses she visited: “The first garage should have updated its equipment, especially bearing in mind that a Corsa is one of the most common vehicles on UK roads, then perhaps they would have kept the business. They also lied to us about the reason they were not able to fix the vehicle.”
Long term, this was probably the most serious transgression made by the first garage during the whole experience: “By not being honest they lost the trust of the customer and looked as though they did not know what they were talking about. The first independent garage has now lost any future business from us, which includes family and friends too. All because they weren’t honest.”
Let’s look at the outcome for garage number two: “The second garage has proven itself to be knowledgeable and efficient and has gained not only the trust of the customer but also additional trade from the customer’s friends and family.”
As for the franchised dealer: “There’s nothing to say about them. They could not even fit us in, which again does not endear them to the customer when they are in great need of reassurance and support from a professional business.” Quite.
As our mystery shopper points out, this is a market where you can lose your customers very easily, but you can also win them pretty easily, as long as you have made the required investment in training, tooling and access to data: “The independent garage sector is a highly competitive market where customer trust is key, along with the right equipment and training.”

One last word from our colleague, who as a stalwart of the magazine is fiercely loyal to the sector: “I also want to point out that apart from having failed to have the ability to access a five year old mass market runaround, the first garage attempted to take business away from other independents as they tried to  send  the car straight to the main dealer. Whatever happened to solidarity in the world of independent garages?”
What indeed?

Let’s look at what we have learned from the misfortunes of our team member. The immediate takeaway here really is the need for honesty. If you don’t have the ability to work on a car for any reason, just tell advise the customer and direct them to someone who can help. You never know who you are talking to, and what they know, and this is a classic example of why honesty is always the best policy.
The deeper takeaway though is the need to invest and train, and to train and invest. In the February issue of Aftermarket, in Big Issue, we asked if our readers had paid attention to the sales figures in 2016, as this might give them a clue as to where they need to point their investment. The one thing we know for sure is that the first garage visited did not look at the top sellers for 2014, as if they had they might have realised that a Vauxhall Corsa from that year might come through the door sometime after 2017.
Even if you are not marque-sensitive, all vehicles are becoming more complex, and having the right tooling, and the ability to properly use it is absolutely essential. If you can’t interrogate the third most popular car in the country, and you have to send that car down the road, you are heading for the scrapheap, whether or not you were honest with the customer or not. We know it takes money to train and buy equipment, but there is so much support out there, it would be foolish not to reach out to get a grasp on tomorrow.
You don’t even have to look far to get support. You do not have to get up and walk to your computer, or even lift your hand to pick up your mobile phone. You just have to turn the page.
Every issue in Aftermarket, we have a whole section devoted to business. We have another section covering training courses, and another covering technical advice. In most of the features there will be advice on the kind of tooling required, and on the new tech heading your way. Also, as much as we hate to admit it, we are not the only place to access this information. Many sector suppliers offer training, and there are specialised training companies and courses. You can attend live training courses via the IMI, or the RMI via its Academies, or you can access training online.  We have even heard that there are other magazines covering the sector, although we think that may just be a rumour…
The point is, there has never been more information available, online and in print. As our regular business contributor Andy Savva, The Garage Inspector, is prone to say: “There has never been a better time to run an independent garage.” He provides business training, and as part of that training  he will advice businesses to invest in kit, and invest in people. He’s not the only one either. Leaf through and you will see a host of famous names who offer technical content in this magazine. In no particular order, except perhaps alphabetical, you have John Batten, Peter Coombes, Ian Gillgrass, Hannah Gordon and of course Frank Massey. All are either regular technical contributors, or have written for us in recent months. If you go back further there are even more names providing priceless technical content. That’s just Aftermarket. Many of our contributors run courses, and they are not too shy to talk about it, so read their articles and find out. Many of our advertisers also provide training, either at their own facilities or at various trade events like Automechanika Birmingham or Mechanex. We will tell you and point you in the right direction.
Despite this, despite the investment being made by thousands of garages that receive and read Aftermarket, there are still those who don’t keep up with the technological direction of travel, let investment slide, and decide against that extra round of training that will help them keep their competitive edge. If you are intending to shut down, we can understand it, but if not, if yours is a going concern where you are looking to operate through 2019 and beyond, then you need to keep up to date with technology, and make sure you are taking all the relevant training.

Summing up
We call this an accidental mystery shop, and in a way it was. We are sharing the experiences of our team in a friendly way to show what a customer might experience, to point you in the right direction. Don’t forget though, there are millions of potential customers out there, and for them it is not a theoretical exercise. They will make a judgement call on your business based on your performance. If you provide a poor service they will make their voice heard by disappearing from your forecourt, never to be heard from again. A garage that can deal with their customers competently and honestly will have them return again and again. You can count on it.

The art of self improvement

Published:  18 April, 2019

All roads lead east according to Andy, as he points towards some  strategies that will help you improve your business 

clear view of the aftermarket

Aftermarket speaks to Clearwater International about the trends affecting the aftermarket, as laid out in their recent report
Published:  15 April, 2019

While many garage businesses in the sector probably have a pretty firm idea of what trends and changes are affecting their businesses, it is always helpful to be able to look at the whole picture and see where you fit in. This means you can see where you are, and gives you an idea of what to expect going forward.
With this in mind, a recent report on the global automotive aftermarket from corporate finance house Clearwater International provides a useful view of the trends influencing the sector, taking in the local, regional and global landscape.  Overall, liberalisation of the market, changing technology and shifting consumer habits and expectations are identified as being the key drivers in the way the sector is moving.
On liberalisation, the changes have a range of aspects. On one hand there is increasing penetration by OEMs looking to claw back market share in terms of supplying parts to the traditional garage sector. At the same time, OEMs are obliged to provide information about the exact identification of replacement parts, albeit on their own terms. The report pointed to ‘European automotive aftermarket landscape,’ a report from BCG, which observed that independents have been effective in broadening their market share at the expense of the manufacturers and their networks.
OEMs are also looking to take back a piece of the market through the formation of aftersales networks. Another part of this trend has been the increasing ability consumers have had to use aftermarket providers to service and repair newer vehicles, as seen through the Block Exemption Regulation (BER).
Changing technology in terms of the emergence of electric vehicles and hybrid drivetrains is having an impact. Back in the workshop, key drivers going forward, according to the report, include digitally enabled services, telematics, e-commerce and 3D printing. Remanufacturing is also seen as having a strong place in the future, with OEMs investing in the segment.
The report found that the average age of cars in the EU is 11 years, an age that puts a major chunk of the transcontinental car parc firmly in independent garage territory, is certainly good news for garages.
The picture looks bright in fact. The report cites a finding from Frost & Sullivan’s ‘Global automotive aftermarket outlook 2018’ that showed global automotive aftermarket demand was set to rise by 4.4% in 2018, a view shared by many sector analysts according to Clearwater’s report. Another forecast that the report pointed towards, ‘The changing aftermarket game’ from McKinsey, predicted that the market will have a worldwide worth of €1,200bn by 2030. On that basis, underlying global growth on a year-by-year basis would be 3%.
Speaking to Aftermarket about the report, Tobias Schätzmüller, Partner and International Head of Automotive at Clearwater International said: “There are a lot of challenges out there for the aftermarket, as well as  opportunities. First of all, the liberalisation of the independent aftermarket. I think this gave it a boost. Also, technology-wise, there are new entrants. Some pose a threat but also offer many opportunities. Then, of course, there is the powertrain discussion, connected vehicle, and autonomous driving, which will all change the picture.”
One of the aspects the report covered was the ongoing trend of mergers and acquisitions taking place in the sector. The report cited the ongoing purchase activities of LKQ Corporation and Euro Car Parts as an example. It also pointed out the purchase of The Parts Alliance by Uni-Select two years ago, as well as the acquisition of Borg Automotive by Denmark’s Schouw.
Tobias thinks the smaller suppliers will continue to gravitate towards larger companies:  “We see from the M&A analysis that there are still a lot of small and medium-sized businesses around, in small units but with a relatively limited range of products. They are now trying to redefine themselves in terms of international reach, as well as in terms of covering additional markets, and product ranges. For some of them, they recognise it is not possible to gain scale on their own, so they are joining forces with others.”
Expansion is the keyword: “There have been a host of cross-border transactions. In the report we have published a list of many of the deals that have been completed in recent years. Every month there are new deals going through. We are advising players to grow and refine their strategies, and they are bringing access to new product categories. We also advise those players to invest in technology, into automatic warehousing etc. That is the challenge, but for some of the players it is an opportunity to develop greater professional capability, and grow through investment.”
Tobias then pointed out the key trends where businesses need to pay strongest attention: “On the environmental side, it is certainly the change in the drivetrain, with electric vehicles coming in. Nobody knows in the future when, or even if, this dramatic shift will happen but I think everyone still believes we are in a mixed period of combustion engines, hybrids, and electric vehicles. However, if you look 10 or 20 years into the future, the prevalence of electric vehicles will be much stronger. This will of course change the complexities of the engine, and the powertrain. This means less components and less moving parts which is a threat to the spare parts market, although the components in an electric vehicle might have a higher average value per unit. However, this would probably not compensate for the very complex engine that is now in use in combustion engines. There will be a reduction of complexity and, assuming that with the numbers driving there may be less accidents, which will also have an impact on the spare parts business.
“On the exterior side, there will be pressure from OEMs because they now see an opportunity. While increasing liberalisation has seen the independent aftermarket gaining market share, with all the e-solutions in the car, it is possible for an OEM to be the first to provide pre-emptive maintenance. If the car has to go to the garage, they are the first to know that and can make use of this information. They are all desperately looking for alternative profit streams beyond the process of selling hardware, i.e selling a car, which is also a driving factor.”
For the garage on the ground this may seem a long way off, but there is a way forward. “I think it is important to offer the whole spectrum of products, to be present everywhere and to reach a critical size so the parts can be sourced cheaply, and they have more marketing power. Additionally, they also need to increase their competencies, to be able to offer customers the wider range of products.”
On the potential impact of Brexit on the aftermarket, Tobias said it was too early to be drawn on likely outcomes: “Parts supply either comes from the OEMs or tier one suppliers, or it is sourced in Asia. I don't know, looking at the UK market, whether they would have problems sourcing parts from abroad. It depends on what the regulations will be, but Brexit will probably have an impact.”
On whether concern over Britain’s exit from the bloc is warranted, Tobias speculated: “I trust that they will find an economical and reasonable solution. Brexit concerns the UK most, but given the highly integrated automotive value chain, it will also affect the continent.”
Looking ahead, Tobias concluded: “There will be continued consolidation in the market. In the independent aftermarket there is a lot of activity, with many M&A transactions coming up. We are actively tracking this. Companies will seek to be more international, aiming to cover more markets, and will get a broader cross-section of products. On the technological side, advancements in connectivity will mean more preventive maintenance, and overall professionalism within the market will increase. Transparency will also continue to increase thanks to the impact of the online world, and that will have an impact on price.”

Where next for MOT testing?

Neil looks at the direction of travel on the future of the MOT, and where it might be taking us
Published:  10 April, 2019

The UK Ministry of Transport Roadworthiness test (MOT test to you and I) has been in place since 1960 and has withstood some serious challenges in recent years – both from changes in European legislation that wanted to only allow dedicated test centres that were not directly connected to the repair of a vehicle to conduct the roadworthiness testing, but also from within the UK to try and change the frequency of the existing 3-1-1 test frequency.
Thankfully, common sense triumphed in both cases and the UK MOT test soldiers serenely on.
The original MOT test was a basic mechanical test and although many other elements have been added over the years, today it still predominately remains focused on the mechanical condition of the vehicle, plus exhaust emissions. However, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin', as Bob Dylan sang four years after the original MOT test was introduced.
The future of the MOT test has drawn many diverging views and there are many who champion its continued format and frequency. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who see it as an unnecessary expense for the motorist, as well as being technically obsolete as automated systems and autonomous vehicles impose the mandatory testing  of their functionality. Effectively, in their view, the vehicle safety is self-tested every time it is driven. Somewhere in between are those who simply want to update the test to include an assessment of today’s electronic safety systems.
However, the ‘self-test’ approach is being discussed at the UNECE level in Geneva, both as part of the autonomous vehicle requirements, but separately as how ‘periodic technical inspection’ (PTI) should be conducted. These discussions are not restricted to what the UK does, or even Europe, but includes all those countries who have signed the 1958 UNECE agreement to adopt what is agreed – which includes the UK who signed on 16  March 1963. This all comes under the snappy title of ‘Agreement Concerning the Adoption of Uniform Conditions of Approval and Reciprocal Recognition of Approval for Motor Vehicle Equipment and Parts, done at Geneva on 20 March 1958.‘

There are now discussions to formalise the improvement needed to suit modern complex electronic systems and provide a solid health check for PTI. This may include how a system conducts functional plausibility, performance monitoring and self-healing abilities. This is a long way from today’s visual check of a vehicle! However, for the UK MOT there is also a timing issue to all of this. Although we know that automated systems are being introduced, there are many electronic systems which have been mandatorily fitted to vehicles for many years (e.g. ABS) and have yet to be included in the MOT test as an independent electronic check or functional test. This was the subject of a recent DVSA meeting which questioned what should be included in the future MOT test for systems that are already fitted to today’s vehicles, including how these electronically controlled systems should be tested, but also to consider the cost- benefit analysis to evaluate if there is a greater benefit than the costs involved to implement a specific test requirement. The simple proposal is to use a PTI scan tool connected via the OBD port and communicate with the vehicle and its safety related systems to detect if any faults have been detected. Is this going to provide a better test method and result than observing the malfunction indicator light (MIL) on the vehicle’s dashboard? The answer may be either a ‘yes’, but probably only if a deeper assessment of the system is made, bringing in the ‘cost-benefit’ question of the development of the PTI scan tool software, but also a ‘no’ if it can be shown that the vehicle is effective and accurate in identifying problems itself. However, this is also part of the problem. Where is the independence of the MOT if the vehicle manufacturers can create their own test methods? There is currently an ISO standard being developed that seeks to define what access to what data will be provided by the vehicle during a PTI test and from this, what test method will be possible. However, the data access is controlled through the use of a vehicle manufacturer’s electronic certificate and their intention is to provide the minimum data, probably related to the MIL activation, so this may restrict what test methods can be implemented unless legislation forces greater data access/functional control, which will also be subject to the cost/benefit analysis.

Another angle is the ability to use the vehicle’s telematics system to remotely communicate with the vehicle and monitor its status and safety related functionality whenever it is being driven. If a fault is detected, then the vehicle manufacturer is able to assess the seriousness of the fault (effectively ‘advisory’, ‘failure’ or ‘dangerous’) and propose to the vehicle owner that a repair is necessary and direct them accordingly to a workshop of their choice, where the relevant spare parts would also be provided by the vehicle manufacturer. Unfortunately, this may signal one of the real issues here – the vehicle manufacturer is not only able to decide if a fault occurs and know when this happens, but then is also able to propose where it is repaired using their OEM parts. This is not a good scenario for either independent vehicle testing or for the competitive choice of where any MOT failures are repaired.
So, although the communication to the vehicle might still be via the OBD connector, the testing of the electronic safety systems may still be controlled by the vehicle manufacturer and subsequently restrict what truly independent testing will still be possible. In the longer term, autonomous and connected vehicles will become much more capable of self-testing, but this still leaves how the choice of their repair being influenced by the vehicle manufacturer who becomes, judge, jury and executioner. If these vehicles are not tested in MOT centres, will the UK government return to enforcing vehicle safety via Traffic Police with the associated cost of police officers in patrol cars? I think not, so where will this leave independent roadworthiness testing and the test centres that conduct these tests?
This may well come down to how the use of vehicles changes and the subsequent ‘mobility’ models of who is responsible for the vehicle, but this will also need a change in the law concerning who is responsible for the roadworthiness of a vehicle when it is being driven on the road. As I said at the beginning,  ‘The Times They Are A-Changin'.


Perception is everything

With another set of school leavers soon to be heading into the world of work, is the automotive sector showing the world its best face?
Published:  08 April, 2019

School leavers are about to become ‘A Thing’ again. In May and June, GCSEs will be sat, and A Levels will be taking place too. There will also be the inevitable angst about how many are going to university, and how many are taking the vocational route.
The automotive sector should be a good place to head instead of academia. It’s technical, it’s getting more technical in fact, and there is definitely a future in it. So, why is there still a dearth of good technicians? The answer possibly goes back decades.
Back when the year 2019 was still seen as being far in the distant future, and we all (well, some of us) expected bio-engineered artificial human replicants to be doing all the heavy lifting by the time we arrived. There was also a push to put more and more young people down the academic career route. Why would anyone want one of those hands-on jobs when you could go off, get a degree, and end up in the big chair, calling the shots? Presumably the replicants would respond well to instruction from people with ‘a good education.’
Well, a few decades later, here we are. Millions of young people heeded the call and trooped into all the universities, which had multiplied as the polytechnics found themselves elevated to a higher status. Can you guess what happens when more and more people acquire what is seen as being the top level of education? Yes that’s right, inflation, and the devaluing of qualifications. With untold numbers of people flooding into the job market clasping a degree, and the memory of the mortar board and gown from graduation still fresh in their minds, those neophytes found that they were not welcomed with open arms. In fact, if everyone has a degree, the competitive advantage it was supposed to give you vanishes. There you are, slogging towards finding a way to be a useful member of society along with everyone else. Of course, prior to the introduction of university tuition fees, it was all part of the learning curve. Then it got expensive. Now it is very expensive, and many young people (and their parents) are going to be looking at the risk-versus-reward equation a lot more closely. Your erstwhile Aftermarket Editor can attest to the fact that it was somewhat deflating to finish a three year degree in 1999, the hardest thing he had done up to that point, only to find his actual course name-checked on an episode of TV’s The Simpsons as a gag. He was lucky though as he was among the last intake to have tuition paid for. Nowadays, you want to make sure your course of study is not a comedy punchline. If not, the cost is high.
If you are going to invest a large chunk of your life to become qualified in something, and you are going to do that thing for the rest of your life, and getting that qualification is going to cost you lots of money, you want to make sure that it is going to work for you.
According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the centralised body through which university applications are made, in 2018 there were 11,000 fewer university applications compared with 2017, an overall decline of 2%. While there were fewer 18-year olds in the population, the number of mature students applying was also down.  

Rising costs
Some observers have pointed at the rising cost of tuition fees and attendant long-term debt as the reason university applications have dropped, but perhaps there is more to it than that. Of course, the other assumption is that everyone wants to spend another three years, or perhaps more sitting in classrooms. Admittedly things are a bit more informal, but many people just want to get on with actually doing something.
John Kerr, Operations Director at training provider Develop Training Ltd (DTL) recently observed: “Instead of racking up student debt, apprentices earn while they learn, and apprenticeships provide other ways of learning for those who aren’t suited to academia. Apprenticeships can also generate social mobility, even beyond what might be expected from gaining a practical qualification and a well-paid job.”
This is a good point. Going out and getting a job gets you paid. Upping sticks for university and getting a degree means you have a useful qualification, in theory. Imagine if there was some sort of institution that combined these two things. Hang on…
Apprenticeships offer a real and practical way to work towards a career for young people, one that does not involve huge amounts of debt. It also makes you actually employable. If you put this on a side of a bus, you might even get people to vote for it. Maybe it would help if apprenticeships could be accessed in a similar way to the UCAS model, where one applies for a number of positions at the same time, but that is a topic for another article. After all, in a world of rising university costs, a non-academic route should be an enticing alternative. This is also good for businesses providing the apprenticeships, as they get to hone the raw material that is the young person into something that resembles a useful employee. Also, thanks to the Apprenticeship Levy, there is ample funding available What’s not to like?
Despite this the automotive aftermarket still faces a skills crisis. This is a serious, and large industry with lifelong learning opportunities. So why are there still not enough technicians?
Then we get to the issue of the pitch being made to potential candidates. It’s all about the presentation.
Has the automotive aftermarket presented itself well enough as a career option for young people in the past? Probably not. As an industry, it is somewhat diffuse, with thousands of individual outlets as opposed to large monolithic entities that parents can point at and say “This.”  The structure of the industry also went against it in funding terms, and between the collapse of traditional apprenticeships during the 1970s and moves to rebuild the route in the 1990s and later, getting an apprenticeship could be a dicey business, for employer and employee alike. Things are improving however. In the last few months, as covered in Aftermarket, the aforementioned Apprenticeship Levy has seen some reform that makes it more user-friendly.

Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) Chief Executive Steve Nash observed: “With a decline of 24% in the number of people starting in-work training, an extra £90 million of government funding has been issued to give businesses the flexibility to take full advantage of the benefits of employing apprentices. The motor industry already recruits 12,500 apprentices each year, and the sector isn’t showing any sign of slowing down. Developments in new technology have meant new opportunities and careers have become available for young people – businesses must adapt to futureproofing their workplace by investing in this.”
Of course, just having the facility to run apprenticeships is not enough. You need to attract young people towards the programme, and bring the parents along for the ride. They pay the bills after all. Careers advice is key in this area, so promoting the ongoing learning opportunities available will certainly help the situation.
“The IMI’s research found careers advice and guidance about vocational learning opportunities is needed more than ever,” said Steve. “Just 5% of those surveyed on behalf of the IMI were aware that you could earn money while you study – a sharp drop compared to 20% in 2014.
“There is also a huge gulf in parents’ perception of the career opportunities offered by the motor industry. Just over a quarter (27%) said they would be happy for their child to become a vehicle mechanic, compared to 59% of parents favouring a career in engineering. And 8% said they would be embarrassed to tell people that their child worked in the motor trade.
“Careers advice in schools is worryingly inconsistent and, in many cases, far from effective, yet that is only part of the challenge.  We mustn't underestimate the importance of ensuring parents are equipped to provide knowledgeable and accurate careers guidance to their children because they are still the greatest influencers on the choices their children make. The excellent opportunities offered by the automotive industry are still very largely misunderstood by anyone who doesn't have direct experience or personal contacts within the business.”

It’s not just about apprenticeships though. The long-term journey that a young person will be embarking on needs to be clear, and the opportunities for further self-improvement need to be apparent from the beginning. This is where continuing professional development (CPD) comes into play, and this needs to be promoted as well.
“The IMI is extremely proud to be the End-Point Assessment Organisation for the new Apprenticeship Standards that are being provided to the automotive sector,” commented Steve. “Working alongside manufacturers and employers across the industry, we have been able to create a suite of products that guarantee learners are being offered the very best training. Having a variety of new standards that range from customer service to technicians helps to make sure the sector’s training needs are met and businesses are fully prepared for when the old frameworks are discontinued in 2020.”
In the end, what we need to know is can the sector offer people the chance of a successful career in a way that they will respond to?
Steve thinks the industry is up to the challenge: “The government has made many changes to the apprenticeship system over the last few years, and as the professional body and an awarding organisation for the motor industry we want to ensure that the training for apprentices remains at a high quality. The IMI is continuing to support employers by offering advice and guidance to help them understand how best to use their Levy, whether that’s investing in new staff or upskilling their current workforce.”
If we are talking about skills shortages, Brexit may make the situation even better for those looking for new roles, and a bit more challenging for employers. If EU members of staff decide to head south to the continent – assuming Brexit goes ‘well,’ – the sector will face even sharper skills shortages. It would it need to up its game in retaining and  pursuing talent. Steve mused: “The skills gap in the motor retail sector is already critical. Young blood is, therefore, vital as the rapid development of new technology around electric, autonomous and connected vehicles changes the face of motoring, opening up a world of exciting new career opportunities.”
If the sector wants to attract the best, we need to show that it is a forward-looking industry that offers many potential avenues for ambitious young people. This is clearly the truth, but we need to make sure that message gets through to those who are supposed to be receiving it. That means working with sector bodies like the IMI and others. It also means working with schools and colleges to make sure that they understand what kind of industry it is. More than once in the past we have covered the issue of educational outlets having a view of the automotive sector that is not exactly favourable. We are not alone in this – many of the more practical industries are seen as a route for the less gifted. This is unfair on these industry, and on those who might gain most from them.
GCSEs finish in about three months, and A Levels just before that. Of course, there is not just this year’s crop to think about. There are thousands of potential top-tier techs coming through the system every year. Let’s get the message out there.

The importance of continued training

Andy looks at why ongoing training is so vital for professionals in the garage sector, as well as the businesses that employ them
Published:  26 March, 2019

By Andy Savva

part ONE: ‘You owe me!’

Adam Bernstein examines the pitfalls of making deductions from employee wages
Published:  20 March, 2019

As an employer, have you ever found yourself in a situation where you need to make a deduction from an employee’s wages? Are you confident that you know the legal rules in this area? Andrew Rayment, a Partner in the employment department of law firm Walker Morris, has seen this question arise many times with employers who have made the wrong decision.
He offers an example to illustrate the point. A worker has had to take three weeks off work because of a bad back. He is paid statutory sick pay but there is no company sick pay scheme to top this up. He has three young children to support and the employer knew he was going to struggle to make ends meet. The employer ‘topped him up’ to his full wages for the three weeks as a ‘loan’ to help him out. It was agreed, however, that the loan was to be repaid when the worker was in a better situation. The payment was through payroll so the money was received as ‘wages’.
 “The problem in this case was that everything was done on trust, so nothing was written down or confirmed in writing,” and as Andrew continued, “a year later the worker resigned after a disagreement. During the interregnum, the period between handing in his notice and his departure, he didn’t repay the money, so it was simply deducted from his final wages payment.” The agreement for the loan was verbal and there was nothing written into his employment contract for the employer to make deductions from his wages.
As if to inflame the situation, the worker subsequently filed a claim in the Employment Tribunal for unlawful deductions from wages and the employer was ordered to repay the sums deducted.
As Andrew says: “It seems unjust, but these were the actual facts of an Employment Tribunal case. But there is a further sting in the tail. Once an Employment Tribunal has ordered an employer to pay back an amount that has been deducted unlawfully the employer cannot attempt to recover that money later in another way, for example by bringing a civil action in the county court.” This rule, he adds, applies even though the sum may have been properly due from the employee to the employer. The fact that the employer has sought to recover it unlawfully effectively extinguishes the previous debt and the employer does not get a second bite at the cherry.

What does the law say?
Section 13 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 sets out the provisions that protect workers from unauthorised deductions (known as unlawful deductions) being made from their wages.
 “Quite simply,” says Andrew, “the law says it is unlawful for an employer to make a deduction from a worker's wages unless the deduction is required or authorised by statute or a provision in the worker's contract; or the worker has given their prior written consent to the deduction.”
Worse still for employers, he says that unlike breach of contract claims which can only be brought after the employment has ended, employees can bring unlawful deductions claims in the Employment Tribunal while their employment is ongoing.

Who is protected?
The law applies to all workers and includes not only an employee, but an individual who has entered into ‘any other contract... to do or perform personally any work or services’, unless the individual is carrying on a ‘profession or business undertaking’ and the other party to the contract is ‘a client or customer’ of that undertaking. In practice, anyone who is on the payroll regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, casual, direct agency hire or zero-hours will be protected.
Andrew cautions employers that following a raft of recent cases on worker status many self-employed contractors may be deemed in law to be workers regardless of the parties’ intentions or the contractual paperwork.
In essence, workers are protected from having deductions made from their wages except in certain specific circumstances. Says Andrew: “The law puts the onus firmly on employers to obtain authorisation from the worker to any deductions before they are made. The overriding aim is to protect staff from unscrupulous employers, but employers also need to protect themselves against falling victim to the strict legal rules.”

The importance of continued training

Andy looks at why ongoing training is so vital for professionals in the garage sector, as well as the businesses that employ them
Published:  26 February, 2019

By Andy Savva


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