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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    Endurance testing
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  • Get to the essentials 

    Marketing can be hard to grasp, even for the most experienced business operator. This made it an ideal topic for Andy Savva to cover as part of his 2019 training course schedule. Andy's one-day Marketing Essentials course provides an overview of what marketing actually is, looks at key approaches and how to apply them to a garage business.
        
    Aftermarket sat in on a sold-out session held in Crawley in February. In front of a packed room, filled with garages owners and staff, Andy dispelled some myths and misconceptions surrounding the discipline: "Marketing is one of the most misunderstood functions found in 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. Marketing cannot be ignored and needs to be a part of the culture of any successful organisation.
        
    "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."
        
    Despite running great businesses, Andy has found that garage owners often struggle when it comes to marketing: "Understanding customers and anticipating their requirements is a core theme of effective marketing, yet this is somewhat difficult for garages to fully get to grips with. So too is understanding general market trends and developments that may affect both customers views and the activities of businesses in the aftermarket repair sector. You must also be aware that a business does not have the marketplace to itself. There are always direct competitors, new entrants and indirect challengers.”
        
    Andy added: "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."

    Interaction
    As Andy got into the meat of the marketing matter, he led the delegates through what marketing is, and how they need to approach it and enact effective marketing within their businesses. Even the most experienced business owners and managers can get a little confused when asked to distinguish between marketing, advertising and sales. After asking attendees to pick where they would plant the marketing flag, with a few near misses along the way, Andy went through the specifics:
        
    "Marketing is a systematic approach aimed at bringing buyers and sellers together for the benefit of both. Many people confuse selling and advertising with marketing but they are not the same. Marketing is about promoting goods and services that both satisfy customers and also bring profits to the business.
         
    "Selling is the interaction that takes place on a personal level with potential customers. Marketing on the other hand is aimed at generating those potential customers in the first place. Many people confuse selling and advertising with marketing but they are not the same. Advertising is part of the marketing function, but never the other way around."
        
    For marketing to succeed, there needs to  be a goal and a way of achieving it, which Andy went on to cover: "Any marketing campaign needs to have a clear focus and this is why it is so important to make the right choices. Will the business compete across the entire market, or only certain parts? It is also a good idea to ensure all employees know the strategies being adopted, so that everyone works together to achieve the same goals." Andy then asked a question of the group: "Do you know what your garage business is trying to achieve and how it is trying to achieve it? In most cases the answer is no."
        
    The goal influences the method, and vice versa. From this point, Andy covered the classic four Ps of marketing – product, price, place and promotion – and went from there to the more recent extended marketing mix, incorporating people, process and physical evidence. Beyond this he laid out transactional marketing, which is sales-focused, and relationship marketing, which takes a much broader view including customer service, and quality presentation and results.
        
    Next he took on the thorny issue of branding as part of the marketing strategy, and why a strong brand is so important for recognition, financial value, motivation and loyalty. All of that was just the pre-lunch session. After lunch, Andy went into even greater detail on areas such as the marketing triangle, SMART objectives and SWOT analysis. It's heady stuff, but Andy made it approachable and applicable to the sector.

    Inspirational
    Those in attendance found a lot to take away from the day. Dani Comber from Thrussington Garage in East Goscote, near Leicester said: "I find Andy really inspirational. I think he's brilliant. He can come and work at our garage." Commenting on what she was learning about marketing from the day, Dani said it showed the gap between what they were doing at present, and what they should be doing: "I find it demotivating and motivating at the same time. You want to do everything, you've got the intention to do it, but you've not done it. On the other hand you are motivated because you see what you can do."
        
    Elisa Bramall from Scantec Automotive from Hailsham, East Sussex said: "I have attended several training courses with Andy. I only have good things to say about him of course. His passion being the main thing, and that he says it how it is. No beating around the bush. A lot of his values we stand by as well, i.e use of OE parts, tools and genuine equipment. When you attend his training courses, it aligns with what we want to achieve. With all of his experience, if you think you know it all you certainly don't."
        
    Tina Drayson, Operations Manager at CCM Garage, based in West Sussex and Surrey said: "I have done Andy's financial course before. It is phenomenal. I have learned so much from it. It has certainly changed the way we are doing our business. I am hoping that today with the marketing essentials will give us even more direction going forward."
        
    Terry Roberts, owner at  Witham Motor Company in Witham, Essex said: "I have just become a RAC approved garage in the last few weeks, so I am looking at changing my brand. I am really enjoying it. I am learning a lot and have picked up a lot of things."
        
    Commenting on what he was getting from the course, Billy from  Beacon Hill Garage in Hindhead, Surrey said: "It just hammers home that if your standards slip, and your marketing as well, and you take your eye off the ball, things will go wrong. I will be going back to give a few people a kick up the backside to bring standards back up. "
        
    Brothers Mahesh Vekaria and Pravin Patel own a garage each in Harrow. Mahesh, owner of Cardoc said: "What have I learned from Andy today so far? It has refocused and re-energised my enthusiasm for marketing. We do a fair bit of marketing, but coming today, you see a different angle to it."
        
    Pravin, proprietor at Harrow Service Centre, observed: "Today has been interesting. I have learned a lot. In a sense we already do a bit of marketing, but to understand what it really does mean and the ways we are doing it – is it right or wrong? – is really useful. It is something to implement when we go back to work."
        
    In that the pair are brothers and are based just half a mile apart, Aftermarket was curious as to who would get back and implement new marketing initiatives first. "I would say that I would," said Mahesh. Pravin agreed: "Yes  he would, definitely, having said that, he looks after my marketing for my garage as well. So he has double the work really."

    Information
    Edward Cockhill of Uckfield Motor Services in Uckfield East Sussex observed: "It is quite an eye-opener. I saw marketing as just advertising, whereas it is really the whole perception of my company. There is a lot of cogs that are going to be turning when I get home. "
        
    Peter Bedford of GT One Ltd in Chertsey, Surrey said: "We are an independent Porsche specialist. Our business is in need of a bit of a review in its marketing ideas, and we are looking to freshen it up. I have come along to see another angle of it. Some things I think I know and we have applied. Some I know and we have not applied, so you need a kick up the backside. Some things are brand new. On the whole it is brilliant."
        
    Cieran Larkin from Larkin Automotive in Dublin commented: "It is good to get marketing training from a professional who has been in the garage business as opposed to someone who is dealing with generic marketing. Andy's experience is brilliant in that way."
        
    Nick Robinson from Marchwoods in Folkestone had been to Andy's courses previously and was back for more: "I came to Andy's events last year for garage financial understanding and customer excellence. They were real eye-openers so I have come back for another one. I was badgering him earlier to see what is coming up next. I will be at that one as well!"
        
    Meanwhile, for Edward from Swanley Garage in Swanley, it was his first time: "This is the first one I have been to. It is really good. It is about getting all the information and having the guts to go out and do it. We are all guilty of not doing marketing properly, it is about taking that jump to rebrand yourself or say right we are not doing that any more, or we are not doing cut price work, or we are not going to let the customers bargain with us any more, and seeing where it takes you."

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