She’s the boss

Hannah Gordon tells us what is has been like becoming the boss in 2018 as she starts her own garage business

Published:  05 July, 2018

After learning the ropes and being on the tools for 14 years I decided 2018 was the year to bite the bullet and go it alone with starting a new workshop business.

For years I have been working for two or three different garages, enjoying a huge amount of variety and picking and choosing what days I work where. I have been extremely lucky with the people I have met along this incredible journey. Also, working for some real characters of the trade certainly doesn’t lead to a boring work life.

I have always worked for independent garages, the interaction you get with customers and the personal experience you are able to offer is for me what car repairs is all about. I love hearing how much people value their car, not financially but in a kind of ‘member of the family’ way and it fills me with a great sense of achievement when I can get their car back on the road in good working order.

Bright idea
It is not the obvious choice for a ‘young lady’ and I use that term in the lightest possible sense as I can hardly call myself a lady when things go wrong and the air turns blue, but that is another story for another issue. It isn’t a normal career choice but fixing cars is all I have ever enjoyed doing, it is the only thing I haven’t lost interest in and it is the only trade I ever want to be a part of.

So January 2018 came and I had the bright idea of starting up my own business in the village I grew up in. It has been nearly six months now and progress has been slow, trying to keep costs down I am distributing leaflets myself and offering incentives such as 10% off.

Best asset
A workshop business’s best asset is its reputation, and that takes time to build up. I am also finding out that being self-employed requires a million more hours than just turning up to a garage and working.
    
It is not that I am naive it’s just I am rubbish at paperwork, invoicing and doing all the other grown up things that a business needs. To say it is a massive learning curve is an understatement. Before January I didn’t have to bother with business plans and meetings with a bank manager, I didn’t have to spend hours at a computer trying to write down why I am worth investing in and what my plans for taking over the car repair world were.

Passionate
The car repair industry is something I feel hugely passionate about and I firmly believe that when starting a business you make sure it is an area you are knowledgeable in otherwise you will never strive to make it work. At the moment I feel slightly overwhelmed by paperwork and getting on the tools is always first priority but I am hugely excited about the future and what Spanner Tech Services has in the pipeline.

Related Articles

  • BER: What next 

    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.

    xenconsultancy.com

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

    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.

    Differentiation
    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?

    Customers
    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  

    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
    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? 

    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.

    Strategies
    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.  

    xenconsultancy.com

  • Niche work if you can get it 

    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."

    Workshop
    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.”

    Specialist
    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."

    Predictions
    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."

Most read content


Search

Sign Up

For the latest news and updates from Aftermarket Magazine.


Poll

Where should the next Automechanika show be held?



Facebook


©DFA Media 1999-2019