Aftermarket magazine’s anniversary

Published:  14 September, 2017

It’s 25 years since Aftermarket was first published. Here we look back at the history of the magazine, and the sector

The automotive sector has changed a great deal since Aftermarket started in 1992. Most of the vehicles that would have been coming through the doors of the average garage 25 years ago are long gone, and some of the companies that made those cars have also gone too.

In 1992, the Rover Metro was still very much in production. Due to the legislative environment of the time, most of the Metros being seen in the aftermarket would have still been under the Austin marque. Rover finally went under in 2005, and the Metro has gone from being one of the most common cars on the road to being a rarer sight than a Morris Minor. Other cars and brands have come and gone during the period All these changes had an impact on the aftermarket as specialists in particular brands would need to re-focus their businesses to reflect the new reality.

Most of the other mainstream manufacturers of the time are still with us. Many of the vehicle names from brands like Nissan and VW still around too, like the Micra, Golf and Polo. The actual cars are quite different though.


Diesel decades
Over the years the magazine covered the changing face of the car parc, and the shift in the innards too. In 1992, diesel cars were still relatively unusual in the UK, but within a decade they had become as popular as petrol engine vehicles. Aftermarket tracked the rise of diesel, and helped readers get to grips with the technology. Many technical articles over the years were dedicated to explaining how to understand and fix problems in diesel engine vehicles. Over the last few years the magazine has been tracking its travails too following Dieselgate. Today we cover the ever-increasing complexity of diesel engine vehicles as much as we look at what might ultimately replace them.


Part of the process
Then there’s the advance of vehicle electronics. This was a growing area in the early 1990s, and it’s a growing area now. The progress from single ECUs on the more advanced vehicles to the situation today where even the most basic cars are fully equipped with a host of systems has been dizzying. The magazine has been on hand to provide advice and expert opinion from a range of sources.

The make up of parts has changed too, mostly for the better.  Until 1999, asbestos was commonly used as friction material in clutches, automatic transmission and brake linings, and gaskets. The use of asbestos in these parts was banned from 1999. There was an exception for pre-1973 vehicles, which allowed these vehicles to continue to be fitted with brake shoes containing asbestos right up until 2004.


BER
Of course, probably the biggest change came through the 2002 Block Exemption Regulation (BER) that allowed independents to work on new cars without invalidating the warranty. This came into force in October 2003. Aftermarket was fully behind the campaign to get this change made for the benefit of consumers and the industry alike. Once in law, the magazine continued to back efforts by the industry to make sure businesses and motorists were able to exercise their rights freely. The Right to Repair campaign and similar activities received strong support from the magazine through the 00s and beyond as a result.

These are just a few of the broad trends. Every year would have seen a thousand stories told about the sector. Aftermarket was the messenger bringing them to the readers.


The founder of the feast
Aftermarket was founded by Bob Sockl in 1992. Let’s examine how it all began...

Sometimes a decision can be made by someone else that affects you in an extraordinary way. Losing your job can be a springboard to do something wonderful with your life. Of course it doesn't feel like that at the time, but why let that get in the way of a good story? After all, Aftermarket magazine owes its existence to a redundancy. Bob had worked his way up the media ladder over the years. By the early 1990s  he was in a senior role at publishing company Morgan Grampian. As publishing director on a number of titles covering the automotive sector, he had what appeared to be a good seat at the metaphorical table. Big job, big company, and hopefully big money. Sounds great doesn't it? Sadly nothing lasts forever, and with the UK economy tanking as the 1990s began, no one was immune from the threat of redundancy.

Some readers may shudder when they remember the recession Britain experienced at the start of that decade. Many people found themselves suddenly out of work in what was a bleak and at times particularly nasty economic period. Sadly publishing directors were no exception: "I got made redundant from Morgan Grampian where I had been in charge of Transport Week and Auto Trade."


New title
Bob, not being the sort to take things lying down, dusted himself off and examined his options: "I looked at the situation, and knowing the people I knew from my time at Morgan Grampian I thought I could put together a team, and start a new title.

"We quickly put together an aftermarket-knowledgeable team, and we created a replacement for the old Auto Trade magazine, where I had been publishing director. We created the new magazine. When it was first launched in 1992, it was called Garage and Bodyshop Products (GBP). That name lasted about 18 months, and then we decided to change it to Aftermarket. While the name did shift, the concept was solid: "The magazine was very quickly established in the market with the highest audited circulation of all the sector publications, over 30,000 copies a month."


Great relationships
While a few things changed, many of the elements that made Aftermarket a success were there from the beginning: "We had a lot of support from top aftermarket suppliers, people like Luk/Schaeffler, people like Ferodo and Mintex on the braking side, We had a great relationship with NGK which still goes on between the company and the magazine.

The team behind the title was vital to the success of Aftermarket over the years: "We had a very good team that worked well together. We were respected for the knowledge we had of the market we were serving. Over the years, there was an average of 11 people on the title. On the editorial side there was generally four permanent staff, and some contributors as there are now.
Sales wise we had three people, then accounts and yours truly who stuck his nose into every division there was.

"We were able to act as a sounding board for what people wanted to do, as the market changed we changed with it. I think the strength of any publication is its knowledge of the industry it is serving. This can be used as a source of information for new companies coming in. They can look at what's available in the market already, they can listen to conversations and this enables them to come up with a strategy.

"Publishers are very often the holders of bulk information. You don't have to find a consultant – you can find someone who's been in the industry for some considerable time at a magazine and ask them. The publishing business is a broad spectrum information source, and you can get a lot of information from publications covering any sector.”


Strength
While the title adapted with the times, it did not fundamentally change according to Bob:"Part of the strength of the brand was it didn't change in any great way. It was designed to be the number one information source in the industry. That's what we set out to create and that's what it became. We knew what we were talking about.” While the Aftermarket ethos remained stable, publishing changed dramatically as the 1990s became the 2000s and the internet rose to prominence:

"I think the one thing that is worth commenting on is the general change in business-to-business publishing, because we were very much a magazine with a website. Meanwhile, people were beginning to spend more and more of their marketing budget online which meant that the magazines in the marketplace weren't picking up the revenues they had been, so they had a change of direction. That meant we were working online too, hence the launch of aftermarketnetwork.com, now aftermarketonline.net."

There was more to Aftermarket than just a magazine though: "We also had the great benefit of course of also having a wide knowledge of the exhibitions business.

We were working with the SMMT as sales and marketing consultant for the Automotive Trade Show. It was rather like Automechanika, although without the German spelling."

Ultimately, the time came in 2015 when Bob retired and the magazine was sold to DFA Media. Looking back on what he created and the many years overseeing his magazine, Bob observed: "We were around for a great number of years. It became an established title. We clearly had a pretty successful formula which was consistent and we were good at what we did. We achieved our ambition, which was to become the number one book in the marketplace."


Wisdom
Aftermarket is very proud to work with a number of expert contributors who have shared their wisdom with the readership over the years.

One such contributor is business guru Neil Pattemore: "25 years ago, I was running a European diagnostics business that was one of the advertisers who supported the first edition of Aftermarket, in what was then a bound product card format magazine”.

“Over the intervening years, the magazine has grown to be one of the most respected sector publications and more recently, as an aftermarket business expert with a deep involvement in aftermarket related legislation, I have become a regular contributor. My direct involvement was to help readers understand and address the changing aftermarket sector as vehicle technology became ever more complicated, allied to increasing demands that not only focused on repairing vehicles, but also in how to run their businesses in an increasingly competitive and legislatively influenced environment. This was further supported by the creation of 'Top Technician' that recognises the best technicians in the country. "In the next 25 years, these challenges are likely to become even more important and therefore Aftermarket remains an important source of news, product information and business support – so maybe nothing has changed!"


A new chapter
In 2015 Aftermarket was bought by business-to-business publishers DFA Media, and a new chapter in the history of the magazine was opened. Commenting on the decision to buy the title, publishing director Ian Atkinson said: “It was an opportunity too good to pass up on. We were aware of the reputation the magazine and the owners who launched Aftermarket had built up over the previous 25 years. “We relished the opportunity to take on this mantle and work in such an important and thriving sector of British industry.”
    

According to Ian, the company is very pleased to be able to include Aftermarket in its stable of publications: “As well as having areas of crossover with our other titles, for example compressed air within our magazine Hydraulics and Pneumatics,  it is also fantastic to branch out into new areas.”


Watch this space
On plans for the magazine going forward, Ian observed: “I’m tempted to say ‘watch this space!’  Firstly, it will to continue to be the leading source of information for the automotive aftermarket sector but also to develop new, faster and better ways of regularly communicating with our readers. Also, going forward we see Aftermarket as a vehicle to help garages with hands on practical help in a greater way through workshops for example. Some form of ‘live’ version of Aftermarket is an obvious goal
as well.”
 

Related Articles

  • When the stars align: Robertson Gemini 

    You know you are doing something right when you are doing something that is not the central part of your business, but you are doing it more successfully than those who have made it their main focus.
        
    This is the position that Castle Douglas-based independent garage Robertson Gemini Ltd finds itself in. The garage is a six-ramp repairer with a dedicated MOT bay. It offers all the usual services in terms of alignment, diagnostics and the rest. Meanwhile, it is also has a line in used cars, where it is doing very well.  
        
    Director David Butler explained: "We are trying to grow car sales. We have talked to some of the main dealers in Dumfries and they are having a hard time, being asked to do all their showrooms, but their sales are pretty static at the moment. Meanwhile, our model is actually working well for us. I am looking at a 65 plate Focus going out now, and a 67 plate Toyota. We have quite a few getting up to just one or two years old. That is where we are trying to be. That is the kind of image we are looking at."

    Focus
    While this will keep the business warm on cold nights, the main focus for the business remains servicing and repairs. Being in a largely rural area, the catchment area for customers is quite large: "Goodness me, they come from all over the place," exclaimed David. “They come from Castle Douglas itself, Dalbeattie, almost as far as Stranraer as well. It is quite a rural setting. We are a market town with quite a big hinterland. There is a lot of farming, forestry and that kind of thing. We even get people coming down from Edinburgh, people that are associated with the town here."
        
    The company provides a broad offering, but is looking to concentrate more tightly on the upper end of the market: "We are a  general garage, we take all makes of cars. Jaguar and Land Rover, which is the upper end of the market is where we are heading.  We have invested quite heavily in all the diagnostic equipment for Land Rovers and things like that, so we are getting more and more of that now, which is great. We are trying to move away from old bangers. We are not really interested in that end. We do a lot of Ford, it used to be a Ford service centre until quite recently, but ultimately we decided to sever that relationship."

    Evolution
    The business is now in its 97th year of operation:  "It opened in 1921," said David, "and has always been owned by the Robertson family." Any business that exists for almost a century will go through a great degree of change. For the business now called Robertson Gemini, this included being a franchised dealership for the Rover and MG brands, but it survived the collapse of Rover and went on to evolve into its current independent form.
        
    Names change over time too, with the branding of the business developing a cosmic angle thanks to a brainwave by Stewart Robertson, the late husband of owner Caroline Robertson: "The name Robertson Gemini came about for an interesting reason," revealed David. "Stewart, who unfortunately died in 2010, had another garage in Dalbeattie, so two garages. In addition, in the family, Caroline and Stewart had twins, with Gemini being their starsign. So that is where the Gemini came in; twin garages, twin children, starsign. That is how Robertson Gemini came to be named. That was Stewart's little lightbulb moment."
        
    David came into the business following Stewart's passing: "Caroline lost Stewart and I lost my wife, we both lived in Kippford and we are now business partners. We are both directors in the business. I was not in the automotive sector before. In addition, Caroline was married to Stewart but had very little to do with the business. The garage was thrust upon us – just circumstances. So
    we have had to pick it up and drive it forward."

    Excellence
    From 2015, Caroline and David took on the day-to-day management, and the business has not looked back: "We've had to do a lot of learning, but we are rather fortunate in that we have some excellent staff here, who have guided us. They have been fantastic.   

    "We have got five full time mechanics. We have just taken on an apprentice as well, who is excellent, and we have also taken on an autistic lad called Thomas as our valeter. That was something that Caroline and I wanted to do. We took a gamble but it has been very positive for us. We are quite pleased about that. It came through a programme run by Dumfries and Galloway council called Total Access Point. It is about employability for all. We went to an open day to find out about it and we  thought 'we want to have a go at this.' We are absolutely delighted with what we have achieved, and what Thomas is achieving. That has been a good venture for us."

    Toolbox Sessions
    According to David, the key is enabling the staff to pass their knowledge on: "We have two guys who are experts on Land Rovers. The rest are all very good mechanics too. We have started doing what we call Toolbox Sessions in the workshop. Each of the mechanics is running a topic. We have done one on all the MOT new legislation very recently. Yesterday we had one on electrics.
        
    "What we are trying to do is spread the skills across the workforce, so it is not just one individual that keeps getting the same old jobs all the time. We have got someone lined up for the next one, which will be on vehicle health checks. That's going well and we are all enjoying that. Each mechanic is being left to do their own little session. That is stretching them a little bit, which is good."

    Top Technician
    When you are spreading knowledge around a business, it helps to have staff members who know their stuff. Luckily for Robertson Gemini, one of their team is a regular Top Technician finalist, namely Neil Currie, who was in the final five in 2017 and 2018.
        
    "It was Neil who did the Toolbox Session on electrics," explained David. "That was the first of his sessions. It was good. He enjoyed it as well. He will be doing one on diagnostics before long."
        
    David said he was pleased to have a Top Technician regular on staff: "It is great for us as we can promote it for a start, and it really gives the other boys something to aspire to as well. Neil is good at spreading his knowledge about. From our point of view that's great. If he is on Top Technician, we like to think that the company is benefitting as a whole. This is why we are doing these toolbox sessions. I think we are quite progressive on that side of things and it has certainly motivated the workshop team. I sat in on a couple of sessions and I have been very impressed with what they have done.  I'm delighted with it."
        
    At this point, Neil himself popped his head round the door: "I have been here three years," he explained. "I regularly get training, and they helped me with the cost of going down for Top Technician, paying for the hotel, so they have been very supportive that way. David has looked to us to help him with equipment, and he has certainly invested in what we have asked him to, dealer-level equipment and oscilloscopes, all the kit we need so we can keep up to date with the technology. We specialise in Land Rover, so he bought the equipment for that as well. It allows us to do more things."
        
    Commenting on the Toolbox Sessions, Neil observed: "We started that recently – it saves money on training courses and time, in terms of  having people out of the door. We just put some time in the diary and shut the workshop door. The guys will come in and one of us will talk about a subject, just trying to pass on some knowledge. Instead of going away on a two day training course it is all kept in house."
        
    Taking part in Top Technician was inspirational for Neil: "It has inspired me to try and push the industry higher. You meet guys with the same aims and goals as you and you want to aim for the best. It is about bringing the trade up and trying to improve everyone's skills. I'm all for it. There is definitely a need for more talent, especially up here in Scotland. I just want  to help people and keep it going."

    The future
    Looking forward, David commented on plans for the future at the business: "We have put in so many new procedures – a new management system, which is absolutely brilliant in terms of giving me an on the pulse feeling of what the company is doing on a daily basis. It starts from the customer coming in, all  the details, job cards and invoicing. It is all interlinked, so it is tremendous. We are getting to grips with all of that. We are just about to take on a new fleet of brand new Peugeot 2008s courtesy cars, they are coming next week."
        
    David added: "We are running at 110mph at the moment!" Long may it continue.

  • Unfinished monkey business 

    It’s been a while since I’ve trawled the online job pages,  but the other day I was sent a link to a job that had been advertised. A local main dealer who shall remain unnamed was in need of a NVQ Level 3 Technician, nothing too strange about that, but as I read on the salary surprised me. The role was being offered was just £16,000-£18,000 per annum. Underneath this advertised job was a vacancy for a Warehouse Operative with a starting salary of £18,500 and no experience needed.  
        
    This is a huge problem with the automotive industry and its inability to keep skilled and experienced mechanics especially in main dealers. The Level 3 qualification requires a significant amount of work and exams that can take years to achieve, knowledge needed to work on modern cars is becoming vast and learning is continuous to stay up to date with technology.

    Shortage
    Every year I hear the problem about a shortage of mechanics. Every year the industry struggles to fill gaps in its workforce due to the lack of skilled techs. And yet, as I constructed a Twitter post about the job I had seen I found how many disgruntled ex-technicians actually exist. The tweet proved to be a sore point with certain people who explained that they left main dealers to go to independents due to better pay, some even moved completely away from the automotive sector to again be paid more and be treated better.
        
    As an industry we need to retain staff and pay them according to the skills and knowledge required to work on ever more complicated vehicles. A common problem I found was the time restrictions within which techs are expected to complete repairs. From every mechanic I have met they strive to fix issues, they want to solve customers problems and provide a roadworthy vehicle in return.
        
    Primarily I entered the car repair trade because I am addicted to fixing problems and providing a great service to consumers, hourly rates are soaring and I feel customers simply aren’t getting value for money at some establishments.

    Imperative
    As a business owner it’s imperative that the mechanics are all highly skilled and customer friendly, the garage business is all about reputation and that starts with the quality of work. There are no time restrictions, for me the most important factor is returning a vehicle that is fully fixed and safe. I believe that providing a wage that reflects the mechanics skills and the continuous on the job learning they have to complete is vital, as well as this providing them with the tools required for the job.

    I find the salary of £16,000 an insult, to pay that kind of money for a skilled individual is terrible. I hope mechanics in the area know their worth and won’t apply for it, but I also hope that soon the automotive industry can start attracting and retaining more individuals. I will leave you with the saying ‘if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.’  



  • When the levy breaks 

    As the song goes, “When the levy breaks, I’ll have no place to stand.” Well, it doesn’t go exactly like that if you are a spelling pedant, but has the Apprenticeship Levy worked for you? Has it helped your business find suitable young people during its existence. Equally, when it was announced that it was going to be reformed, did you feel the floodwaters rising?
        
    Maybe the government did feel their feet getting wet recently. At the Conservative Party conference at the end of September, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced a number of measures to reform the Apprenticeship Levy, and a review into the scheme, which was launched in April 2017. This followed criticism from business regarding the difficulty of dealing with the system and falling numbers of young people seeking the career option.

    Strategy
    The Apprenticeship Levy was launched with great fanfare as part of the government’s industrial strategy, but it has been slogging through the mire since then. According to the Daily Telegraph, in the first three months after the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, there was a 60% drop in the number of people starting apprenticeships. This fall was subsequently partly made up, but the scheme has still not been providing the service  it was intended to give.
        
    The Open University published a report into the Levy in April 2018. It found that of the £1.39bn paid into the system by English businesses, only £108m has been taken. This would seem to suggest that businesses  have been having trouble working with  the system.
        
    On the other hand, the study also found that 84%of business leaders in England that were asked the Apprenticeship Levy in principle and, despite some negative preconceptions at the start, 54% felt more positive about the scheme in 2018 compared compared with 2017. That said, the study also found that 40% of business leaders still saw the Levy as little more than a tax, and 17% did not believe it would recoup its costs.
        
    Considering the reach of the Apprenticeship Levy, that could be a problem. It is paid to HM Revenue & Customs by all UK employers with an annual wage bill of over £3million via the PAYE process. This enables organisations in England to take funding from the National Apprenticeship Service to spend on apprenticeship training. According to the Open University, there are still a number of barriers to get over for the scheme, including managing apprenticeship programmes, associated costs and apprenticeship content.
        
    Not all businesses have to pay into the Levy, but according to the study, those that do have to pay in are more supportive of the scheme than those that do not. 92% of those in charge at businesses where they do pay in agree with the Levy in principle, but 43% of these want changes. Support for the scheme in businesses not covered is lower, with just  72% in favour, and 34% saying it would offer no benefits.
        
    While this is not exactly a hostile environment, it’s not entirely welcoming either. Did someone say ‘quagmire?’

    Flexibility
    It is in this context that Philip Hammond announced changes that will aim to open up access, and make the scheme work for businesses and employers. This would include more flexibility and expand apprenticeship courses in science and other STEM subjects. Specifically, the proposals would  allow large employers to transfer up to 25% of their Apprenticeship Levy funds to businesses in their supply chain from April 2019.
        
    In his speech at the conference, Philip Hammond said: “We have heard the concerns about how the Apprenticeship Levy is working, so today we’ve set out a series of measures to allow firms more flexibility in how the Levy is spent. But we know that we may need to do more to ensure that the levy supports the development of the skilled workforce our economy needs. So, in addition to these new flexibilities, we will engage with business on our plans for the long term operation of the Levy.”

    Widening
    It seems like a positive step. But what are the possible implications for the automotive sector?
        
    Responding to the speech, Steve Nash, Chief Executive at the IMI, said: "Philip Hammond has set out the Conservative party’s wish to be considered the ‘party for business’. And the widening of access to the Apprenticeship Levy, to those businesses in the corporate supply chain, is excellent news.  For some time, at the IMI, we have been hearing from businesses that they believed the scope of the Levy was too limited."
        
    “But we urge caution when it comes to reviewing the apprenticeship model in 2020, which was also proposed by Philip Hammond. Of course, it’s important to listen to business and address any barriers to apprenticeship take-up. But by 2020 the new reforms will be fully bedded in – wholesale change would therefore be a disaster. The last thing businesses need is to have to start all over again.
        
    “Already recruiting 12,500 apprentices each year, the motor industry is wholeheartedly committed to futureproofing apprenticeships and has already engaged as positively as it can with the reforms introduced last year. Indeed, we believe that the motor industry is one of the most engaged sectors when it comes to adopting and promoting the new apprenticeship model.
        
    “The IMI therefore urges government to stick with the new model already introduced and to focus its efforts on ensuring businesses fully understand how they can maximise the levy for the benefit of their organisation.” Steve added: “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.”

    Summing up
    Considering the sheer scale of the automotive aftermarket and the large number of smaller businesses within it, it’s fair to say for a great many of our readers, the Apprenticeship Levy is something that happens to someone else. Widening access to funding for apprenticeships though is vital, so the government has the right idea. It would be great if more garages were accessing the funding. Getting access to the right kind of young talent is a topic we often come back to. We look at it from the school leaver perspective, the employer perspective, the educational establishment perspective, and here we are looking at it from a legislative and political perspective.
        
    We end up coming back to the fact that there are just not enough people coming our way, so then we end up asking ourselves again, “are we paying enough? Do the teachers understand what we do?” There is the argument that apprenticeships have not been run right for decades, but of course on an individual basis there are thousands of garages out there providing a solid grounding in the sector for bright and eager young people. It’s a complex picture, but more support would definitely help.



  • Managing a winning team 

    Most businesses need staff to operate effectively and this means that those staff need to be managed. However, what does ‘managed’ really mean and how can the ‘business manager’ also be an effective manager of people?

    A good manager of staff should fully understand the roles and responsibilities of all of their team members, but ultimately, each of those team members should be better at doing their own jobs than the manager could. Secondly, the manager should be able to ‘get the best from the team they have and only change it when all other possibilities have failed’. In summary, the manager needs to know how to structure, manage and motivate his team to optimise their performance.

    Critical
    It is a well-known saying that people don’t quit their jobs, but they quit their bosses, but in reality this means that they left their job because it wasn’t enjoyable, or that their strengths weren’t being used or that they weren’t growing in their careers – and who is responsible for this – their manager.
        
    Recent research showed that 31% would swap their manager if they could and 22% felt that they could do a better job themselves if they were given the chance. Ineffective management not only impacts negatively on staff retention, quality of work and morale, but also on customer service and your company’s image. Not good for either your staff or your bottom line.
        
    The best managers know what they are doing, where their businesses are going and ensure that they have the right people in the critical roles to make it all happen. They then communicate and delegate effectively to their staff who have been trained, supported and motivated to fulfil their responsibilities. Businesses with well managed and competent employees are the best performers and frequently handle problems before they escalate to become real issues.

    Guiding principals
    So what are some of the key guiding principles for good people management?

    1. Build solid and respectful relationships
    Don’t aim to be liked, but aim to earn and keep the respect of your team
    Take time to talk to members of your staff. It will show that you are interested, but it will also be both motivational and allow you to better understand their position and any concerns that they may have. Be confident, strong and professional, whilst remaining transparent, approachable and encouraging.

    2. Strengthen your communication skills
    Your ability to listen and communicate is vital to your success as a manger of people. I don’t just mean your ability to listen and speak on a one-to-one basis, but also your ability to capture people’s minds in order to present your ideas, values and visions as well as your ability to listen and soak up the ideas, values and visions of others; that is true communication. Whether you are speaking with one person, or presenting to a whole audience of people, strong communicative skills are a must.

    3. Actively develop your team and be the team leader
    As you build and strengthen relationships throughout your team, you should begin to identify the individual talents, abilities and strengths of your employees. Knowing this detail will help you develop your team so that everyone is positioned within a role in which they can succeed and excel. Take time to communicate with each employee individually, as quite often employees will be forthcoming about what they see as their strengths and where they aim to be; they may also spark ideas to strengthen your team and its performance as a whole. Sometimes low morale and performance can be due to a lack of support and training. Ensure that your whole team are up to date with regular training appropriate to their role.
        
    To establish what your employees really appreciate and value, or to discover their training and support needs, use surveys, one-to-one appraisals or focus groups to talk through each key area to identify the good points, skills gaps or areas that should be improved. Quite simply, support your team.

    4. Be transparent
    Hiding things from your employees is a recipe for disaster. Remember that you have spent time building relationships with these people, relationships based on respect. As part of that mutual respect you also need to engender trust. By remaining transparent, honest and trustworthy with your employees you will further develop their respect and loyalty.

    5. Take responsibility
    This can often be tough, but is a sign of truly exceptional people management. As the manager, leader or head of your company, all responsibility should end with you. You are accountable for the performance of your employees. Remember failure is not a weakness; it’s an opportunity to learn, strengthen and improve. Take responsibility for your team and they will further respect you for it.
        
    All of these people management principles are important internal management skills, but these will also be seen externally by customers in a variety of both obvious, and not so obvious, ways.

    Perception
    When customers experience your business, whether by telephone, e-mail or physically visiting, their perception will be significantly more positive if they feel that they are being looked after by a well run, well managed business with highly motivated and professional staff. Often it is almost imperceptible how this can be picked up, but for sure, if your staff are not working within a well led and motivated environment, it will be reflected in their attitude to their work and frequently, to your customers in a negative way.
        
    The reality is good managers are not born, but learn the skills as part of learning how to understand people as individuals. Most of us work much better if we enjoy what we are doing. It has been said that the best qualification for running a business is not an MBA or a qualification in accountancy, but in psychology. Ultimately, good managers plan, monitor and review before delegating the work, but they can only do this effectively if their team is working well.
        
    As a small business, it may be a difficult to become recognised as one of the Sunday Times ‘Best companies to work for’, but the same good management practices will still apply.  Work hard with your staff and they will work hard for you.
    xenconsultancy.com

  • Head for the Brexit 

    We've been talking about Brexit for a while now. At least once in every issue there will be a story about the process of leaving the European Union, and the potential impact on the automotive sector.  
        
    While progress is hard to gauge, with every issue there is some new angle. It's difficult to keep up, so that handy phrase "as we went to press" gets used a lot. Using it yet again, as we went to press for the October issue, a deal with the EU seemed more likely. Reports were surfacing of Germany and the UK dropping certain demands that would enable an agreement. A positive development then.
        
    Have we been giving a balanced view through the process though, and are we asking the right people what they think? Maybe, and maybe not.

    Positive aspects
    David Dawson, co-owner at Preston's Car Doctor contacted Aftermarket to express frustration regarding the coverage of Brexit in the magazine. He had this to say:  
        
    "You’re becoming as biased as the BBC. this is Project Fear all over again. Try balancing your reporting with some positive aspects and opportunities that Brexit may provide us with. BAE Systems has won a £20bn contract to build frigates that will form the backbone of the Australian navy, beating off rival proposals from Italian and Spanish groups for the biggest naval defense deal of the past decade.
        
    "I know it’s not automotive news but there will be many opportunities like this for the automotive industry outside of the EU post Brexit. The Germans French and Italians will still want to sell cars to the UK. It just annoys me that the media constantly go on about how bad it will be when we leave the single market. There will be many opportunities and upsides out of the EU even on WTO tariffs."
        
    David added: "I read Aftermarket magazine, both online and the printed version and have done for many years. However in recent times many of your articles paint a dim picture for the industry outside the EU would be nice to read something positive for
    a change."
        
    Now, as a publication we stand by our reporting, and will cover positive and negative views on key issues as they arise. We do listen to our readers though, and David's argument did make us think. It also raised another issue – one of representation.
        
    Having heard from David in the north of England, we thought we might take views from other businesses around the UK, to see what they think the impact of Brexit will be on their business.

    Access
    Turning our attentions south, we asked Kevin Pearce from 2018 Top Garage winners Cedar Garage in Worthing his views on whether Brexit will have a positive or negative impact on the aftermarket. "I think it could go either way," mused Kevin. "I don't see any positives it can necessarily bring. On the negative side, I think we could struggle to get hold of technical data and manufacturer-specific information." According to Kevin, UK consumer buying choices have built up a car parc that could swing things 'our' way: "Considering the number of vehicles we actually import, especially the German stuff, we should actually be in a very strong position to dictate terms. If they want to continue to sell cars to us, whoever is negotiating for the UK should be able to dictate terms on that. Going forward, in terms of telematics we need to make sure the aftermarket stays on the right side of the manufacturers to make sure we continue to get access."
        
    Cedar Garage recently opened a German marques-only outlet, so we wondered if he thought Brexit might have a specific impact on the business's ongoing endeavours: "If it does, not for a long time," replied Kevin. "I think generally it will all come down to how well the negotiations go. We have good access to all the data we need for the German brands. So long as Brexit does not get in the way of that, I can't see how it could cause a problem.
        
    "Obviously a lot of the parts that we buy come from Europe. Hopefully the prices won't increase too much. At the end of the day, we import so much, that if these people then do not want to sell to us, they are surely going to be the ones that lose out."
        
    We went onto ask if Cedar Garage's customers had displayed any noticeable Brexit jitters: "So far it does not look like that at all. We have not seen anything like that. All of our customers are carrying on as normal. If any of them say, ‘I can't afford this or that’ I don't think it affects our trade that much. Maybe if it was car sales, but definitely not in terms of the repair market."
        
    While garages on the south coast might be closer to the continent than most of the other businesses in the market, it's not like Cedar Garage customers are likely to head over the channel to France for their car servicing is it? Shaking his head, Kevin replied: "Of course not." As far as Kevin was concerned, the market is changing and this should mean the supposed consumer confidence hit that might result from Brexit could be over-stated: "What we are finding is that people are looking more and more for a professional service, and are prepared to pay for that. People are becoming more conscious of what goes into a car and are prepared to pay. They would rather pay a professional to pay to repair their car, rather than someone they met down the pub who does it in the car park."

    Uncertainty
    How you feel about the relative opportunities and threats of Brexit can largely depend on where you are sitting. For businesses in Northern Ireland however, Brexit has its own special issues. Starting with the more general concerns,  Colm Higgins from CH Autoservices  in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland said: "I think the biggest issue for most garages, with the position we are in, particularly the go-ahead guys who are into diagnostics, is access to data. This is the issue we would want to address first and foremost. We rely on the access to manufacturer data that is assured through European regulations like Euro 5, so obviously we are concerned. With Brexit nobody really knows what is going to happen.
        
    "Some of the manufacturers, like Mercedes-Benz, had a very good scheme where you could lease a diagnostic tool, but they removed that recently, and I think it is tied to Brexit.
        
    "Obviously the price of parts and access to parts, is something to be concerned about as well. MOTs too, as well as emissions. Are we going to establish our own standards? Are we going to be governed by European rules? Or are they going to be similar to the European rules? Is it a chance for the UK to make its own emissions standards. If so will they be similar, or less?  
        
    Colm continued: "Also, what affect will it have on the car parc? What cars will we be working on? Are we going to see a change in consumer activity as well? What the good guys seem to do is look at what people are buying and how the market is going and see the trends. Obviously electric vehicles is something we have invested in here. Is that going to be impacted by that? Is it going to be more or less. It is important to get an idea of where things are going to go. The biggest problem is that nobody knows.
        
    "Almost everybody has a German or French car in the UK, or at least a European car. What is going to  happen? Are they going to be taxed more? In the second hand car market we are still seeing the effects of years of uncertainty over diesel."
        
    "The key thing for any business is to be ahead of the curve or at least be aware of where it is going before it gets there. For any business you would be absolutely crazy to  bury your head in the sand. It gives you a very good reason to read the latest industry news so you know what is going on."
        
    One problem that most businesses in the UK don't have to worry about is a land border with the EU. For businesses in Northern Ireland  that is a real concern. Will Northern Ireland motorists head for the Republic for servicing and repairs if prices rise as a result of Brexit?
        
    "There is already a lot of that happening in Northern Ireland" said Colm. "We are about an hour's drive from the border. Some of my customers in trade sales, they sell a lot of cars to the south because the Pound is weak. We can make the most of that depending on the situation, as we can buy stuff from down there and sell it up here, or vice versa. I am optimistic, and we can make the most of that kind of situation. Because we are so close to the border,
    we can be flexible. Northern Ireland is unique that way, and more flexible if we have to adapt. If Brexit becomes
    a complete nightmare there are options in terms of suppliers."
        
    Then there's the threat of a hard border: "That's a big issue," opined Colm, "and a complete minefield. We have enjoyed this border-free situation for a long time now, and no one wants to go back to having a hard border. The flexibility would be gone. No one wants to go back to the old days here."
        
    Despite these concerns, Colm remained confident: "Anyone who is in the higher end of this business is ready to adapt to change. In the next few years you won't see an engine or a piston as it is all going to electric motors. It is change or get out really. Brexit is another factor in the motor trade, albeit one that is going to affect your life in a big way."

    Double meaning
    Next, we looked to Scotland, where the issue of exiting a bloc has a double meaning. Pier Garage is based in Ardrishaig, Mid Argyll. Owner Kris Gordon's first concern, like his counterparts in other parts of the UK, is access to data: "My biggest concern is definitely access to information. You can't get all the information from all car manufacturers. Even with the situation we have at the moment, we still struggle. With someone like Ford, they make it quite difficult to get it, and they do charge you for everything, so whether it works worse or better is my
    main concern.
        
    "I voted to leave at the time, for other reasons. There was so much stuff being put out there that you didn't know who to believe. You just had to pick a side and go with it I think. Nobody knew what chaos would happen as a result of it all. I suppose if you had thought about it, it was obvious what was going to happen. Now we are in a situation where nothing has been answered. It is worrying, because it has been a hard enough few years since the banking crisis in 2008, and now it looks like it is all going to get worse. We will have to ride it out and see what happens."
        
    Kris believes Brexit could be leading Scotland into a period of greater uncertainty than the rest of the UK: "I think it will cause a lot of distraction rather than getting people focused on getting the economy in a better place. Political parties will be thinking 'do we have to have another independence referendum and then rejoin the EU?'  Again, I voted for an independent Scotland, but now it has been decided, everyone has made their choice and is getting on with it. Despite this, the SNP is still focused on a second referendum, rather than just accepting the result and getting on with things. If we have another referendum and it goes the other way, where will it end? It could go back and forth, and the same with Brexit, there is always going to be someone who is unhappy. I think they need to accept it and do the best they can."

    Your views
    We found a mixture of views from business owners on both sides of the argument. Do these views on Brexit chime with your own? Or do you have an opinion not expressed here? We would love to hear from you. Get in touch with us via alex@aftermarket.co.uk to tell us what you think.

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