Slighly rural, slightly northern ADG Autotech

Aftermarket drops in on Scunthorpe's ADG Autotech and its owner, 2015 Top Technician winner Andy Gravel

Published:  30 May, 2018

2015 was a big year for Andy Gravel. Winning Top Technician put him on the national stage, and also made him a local celebrity: "It had a very positive effect, " says Andy, "even to the extent of going into the local paper shop and the woman behind the counter saying 'I've just been reading about you.' She didn't know I was a mechanic - she didn't know anything about me, but she saw the picture and recognised me. It's free publicity. I wouldn't be the best at selling myself, but it made people aware without me having to jump up and down and shout about it."


This was good timing, as just six months before he was crowned 2015's Top Technician, Andy opened his garage, ADG Autotech. This was his first business as proprietor: "It was a massive learning curve in terms of running the business. It's not just about fixing cars anymore which is what you enjoy doing and how you ended up here in the first place.


"Now, things from a business point of view are going very well. I've never advertised, but through word of mouth and natural progression and doing the job right and aiming for that first time fix, I've got busier and busier to the point where the diary is full two weeks in advance.


"I have managed to stay on my own, but I was so busy in January that I said to myself if things stay where they were, I would look at taking someone on. But then I had some quiet weeks. I enjoy fixing the cars, and I enjoy being hands-on and doing it myself.”


Space is the place
ADG Autotech is based across two purpose-built modern units on an industrial estate outside Scunthorpe, and serves a customer base from the town and surrounding area:


"I've got three ramps at the minute with a view to putting in a fourth, so I've got room for staff," laughs Andy. "I've  got the 1,000 square foot unit that I started with. Later on I took the one next door which I've still got. I've put another lift in, and another one ready to go. This has given me flexibility. If  I have another job come in or I am waiting for parts, I'm not stuck with one lift that can't move.  A vehicle can be on the lift all week if need be."


Having eschewed advertising, Andy relies on peer-to-peer recommendation to grow the business, a strategy that seems to be working: "I like that as word of mouth means they will come if they trust you. I get a lot of jobs where people have been elsewhere and they are not convinced it's been done properly or even been done at all. When you get somebody that comes and trusts you. then you get their wife and then their son and then his girlfriend, and then her grandmother comes. If someone trusts you then you get the rest of the family follow. I know people are coming to find me.


While Andy won Top Technician because of his diagnostic prowess, it's not what he does all day: "The focus has changed. I get a lot of service and repair work, which I am quite happy to do. When I was employed I loved it when engine management lights and ABS warning lights came on. Now the tables have turned and it's quite nice to just stick those discs and pads on. You know when you start it how long it is going to take, it's going to go right, you're going to get paid and you don't have to think about it."


General vs. special
ADG Autotech provides a general service, in the best sense, but in the long term Andy sees specialisation as a necessity: "I think it will be necessary to specialise in a brand, because of the tooling you will need you can't cover all the vehicles. I have managed with the tooling I've got. I invested where I needed to and bought in services that I need that I can't do on the odd job. You only want some things once in a blue moon. If you haven't got it you can get it."


Even then, geography will have an impact: "Just because of the location you are limited to your market, and to how much you can charge as well. Living where we are, slightly rural, slightly northern, the labour rates aren't massive, which is all relative to the area you're in. To start specialising in one brand, you're going to have to charge a little bit more, and you are isolating yourself slightly as well. It can be a difficult one."


Top Technician
Making the right choice is always easier if you have confidence: "Confidence in repairing vehicles and talking to customers was already there and is still there.”


As we said earlier, Andy won Top Technician 2015 just after opening ADG Autotech. He'd been gradually moving closer to the top spot over the years, which must have helped in the confidence stakes: "I was in the finals the year before, and knowing you are chipping away at it and are at that level, you are consistently passing the test, getting into the final, you are talking to like minded people, knowing you are moving in those circles does give you confidence, absolutely. You feel you are doing the right things, and things are going in the right direction."


It helped Andy realise his potential: "Working when I was employed, with the lads you can't always gauge your skill level so you don't really know where you are or what you are.


"I guess that's why you keep pushing as well as you don't realise what you know then all of a sudden you start coming to the semi finals and finals, and then you win. Talking to people you realise you are doing the right things and you must be learning. It's a nice recognition of the level you are working at.


"It's nice to win, but without winning, the people you meet, and the things you learn, it's all valuable. Even the questions you get wrong are an opportunity to learn. I've learned so much through doing it. In fact once you win, you miss not being involved in the testing."


Andy has come a long way over the last few years. In the end, it all comes down to him knowing what kind of garage business he would like to see, and having the confidence to create it: "I didn't have a massive desire to be self employed or run a business. I was in my previous job for seven years, and I enjoyed it but was ready to move on to the next stage."
Andy concludes: "If you want to do things the way you think they should be done and at the level you'd like to do it, I found there was no option other than to invest in yourself, and do what you felt needed to do be done."


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