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

  • To train or not to train? 

    By Andy Savva

  • part two: Putting a contract out on your staff  

    Good contracts go to the heart of good business, and employment contracts are part of the story. In the last issue we noted the importance of having a written contract, how they are constructed and varied. But what other practical considerations should employers take notice of?
        
    The first is, according to Philip Richardson, a partner and head of employment at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, to understand what a breach of contract is. “This,” he says, “is where either party breaks an express or implied term of a contract. Examples of an employee’s breach include violence, theft, fraud and gross negligence. If the employer finds this has happened they may be entitled to dismiss the individual immediately.” However, he adds that it is important that the employer has genuine grounds for taking such action otherwise it could face a legal claim from the departing employee for unfair dismissal and breach of contract. He offers examples of an employer’s breach that include demoting an employee or failing to pay them without good reason – “if this happens then it may give the employee the entitlement to bring a claim against the employer in the Employment Tribunal.”
        
    At the outset of the employment relationship, disputes aren’t usually envisaged. However, Philip says “a shrewd employer will often put mechanisms in place in the employment contract to protect its position should a dispute arise.” Common clauses that can offer assistance to the employer include the following:

    Garden leave
    If the employer gives an employee notice of dismissal it may decide to place them on garden leave. Philip says the benefit here is that during this period, the employee is usually prohibited from attending work for the duration of their notice period and prevented from contacting other employees or key clients of the business during the interregnum. “This,” he says, “gives the employer the opportunity to deal with employees whose contract has been terminated in acrimonious circumstances and also allows them to protect confidential information and prevent the employee from using it against the company in the future.”
        
    He warns that if an employer wants to utilise this then it is important to include a clause to this effect in the contract of employment otherwise the employer may have difficulty in exercising it. It is also important to note that employees maintain all their contractual and statutory rights and benefits until the end of the garden leave period.

    Restrictive covenants
    This can be a particularly useful clause to include in the employment contract as it sets down the obligations on the employee after his contract is terminated. Philip says the most common types of restrictive covenant prevents the employee for working for a competitor, usually within six months to one year of leaving the business and “can prove extremely useful to protect confidential information and trade secrets.”
        
    Another common form of a restrictive covenant is a non-poaching clause. This prevents the former employee from enticing the employer’s staff away from the business to join him/her in working for a new employer.
        
    However, Philip says that it can be difficult to enforce a restrictive covenant against a former employee, “especially if the clause is unreasonable and does not protect a legitimate business interest as the court may declare the clause void.” He explains that this is because the courts are reluctant to place too great of a restriction on employees after termination. But in practice Richardson thinks that the mere existence of the clause may make the employee think twice before acting in breach, meaning “that a restrictive covenant can be a valuable contractual clause for an employer despite the concerns about its enforceability.”

    Deductions from salary
    A last, but useful, clause for the employer to include, at least from Philip’s perspective, is one that entitles it to make deductions from the employee’s salary in certain circumstances. He says that the most common types of deduction usually contained in the contract of employment include where the employee has caused financial loss to the employer because of their negligence or misconduct, or where the employee leaves shortly after having incurred substantial training costs. However, he cautions employers to “exercise caution in drafting and exercising this clause as any deduction that is not permitted by the clause could be considered unlawful.”



  • Out of sight, but out of mind? 

    Some people listen but they don’t hear, others are disbelievers, while others consider that if it worked yesterday it will still work tomorrow. Many of us don’t like change, but I am sorry to inform you, but change is a’ coming!
        
    I was recently discussing with a workshop owner about the legislation that helped his business, but when I mentioned ‘the third mobility package’ his eyes glazed over like I was Kaa the snake from Disney’s Jungle Book and I was trying to hypnotise him!
        
    However, this is not a work of fiction, but the serious issue of how you need legislation to support your business. Currently, there is a lot of discussion during the remaining tenure of this Commission in preparation for the next European Commission in September 2019, concerning how a whole variety of ‘mobility services’ around vehicles will be provided and what legislation will be needed, which will impact the future of the European aftermarket, but also the UK after Brexit.
        
    Sorry to be the messenger of doom and gloom, but the automotive industry is changing and with it, the aftermarket. It may not be too long before you become aware of just ‘how good you have had it’ and to use another colloquialism, ‘you will miss it when it’s gone’. So, what’s going on in Brussels?
        
    Vehicle technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate, but most critically this includes the connected car, where a vehicle and its data can be accessed remotely. This is great news for the development of new services, new diagnostic and repair methods, the vehicle has become part of the internet of things that enables traffic flow management, the implementation of intelligent transport systems to reduce accidents and ultimately, autonomous vehicles. In legislative terms this creates a whole new raft of challenges – but most critically, how to handle the safe and secure communication with the vehicle.
        
    The third mobility package seeks to address some of these aspects, one of which is fundamental – who controls access to the vehicle and subsequently data. In simple terms, simply plugging in to a vehicle to conduct diagnostics or repair and maintenance will be controlled by the vehicle manufacturer unless the legislator does something. To most of the UK aftermarket, this is an ‘out of sight and out of mind’ scenario. However, we are at a crossroads and the only way forward is legislative action.
        
    So, what else are the jolly Eurocrats in Brussels working on that may impact the aftermarket?    
        
    Although this may be an excellent example of how slowly the wheels of legislation can turn, one of the most important ‘left overs’ from the Euro 5 legislation that came into force in 2007, is the inclusion of a reference to ISO 18541, which standardises the access to repair and maintenance information via vehicle manufacturers’
    websites. Additionally, and linked to the ISO 18541 implementation, will be the inclusion of the SERMI scheme – the Secure Repair and Maintenance Information which will provide accredited access to vehicle anti-theft information, data and parts for independent workshops. Both of these should significantly help in avoiding having to refer your customer’s vehicle back to a main dealer to finalise a repair job.
        
    In another recognition of increasing vehicle technology, there will be the finalisation of the access and data requirements to test electronically controlled safety systems via the OBD port in Roadworthiness Testing – the MOT test to you and I. However, there is much discussion, both in Brussels and in the ISO standardisation, about exactly what the test methods will be and what data the vehicle will provide. There is some risk of the vehicle just testing itself without the ability to have independent functional testing. Oh what fun we can look forward to with older vehicles when inventive ways are found to avoid that pesky little MIL light coming on!

    Multi-faceted
    This also leads into another discussion around how access to the vehicle will be possible. The beloved OBD connector and the corresponding data for diagnostics, repair and maintenance is now referenced in the revision of the Euro 5 legislation (EU 2018/858), but it is by no means clear exactly what this means in technical terms, or indeed how the access may be controlled by using electronic certificates. No firm proposals are yet on the table and the corresponding menu of whether it will be a feast or just some crumbs will be a major subject of discussion. This is yet another example of how connecting to an object that is part of the internet of things is a multi-faceted topic that will impact the aftermarket. This moves into another sphere with the inclusion into legislation of remote diagnostic support (RDS) – originally from heavy duty vehicle legislation implemented in 2009 (!), but under the new EU 2018/858 it will also apply to passenger vehicles as well. This is intended to allow the remote diagnostics of a vehicle, but it is certainly not clear how this may be achieved independently of the vehicle manufacturer, as they would then know you and your customer, as well as charging you for this RDS service.
        
    To better understand the vehicle manufacturers’ extended vehicle model that would be used to provide this RDS service, the Commission are currently monitoring a proof of concept that seeks to assess what is possible. From the outcome of this proof of concept, the current Commission are likely to make recommendations for the incoming Commission for future legislation. However, a recent study conducted by the aftermarket associations in Brussels showed that this extended vehicle model provided very limited data, with further costs and contractual restrictions, making it unusable for truly competitive services. The battle lines have been drawn.
     
    Implementation
    On a more tangible note, there is a request for a better implementation of the Machinery Directive. ‘Yeah’ I hear you say, but a recent study showed that out of 47 lifts inspected throughout Europe, 11 (23%) were found non-compliant with a total number of 24 non-conformities. The European Garage Equipment Association (EGEA) has therefore called on the Commission to stop dangerous and non-compliant workshop equipment being sold in the EU by imposing stricter and more effective market surveillance and thus avoid further deaths and serious injuries, as well as ensuring fair competition in the marketplace.
        
    Although Brussels is ‘out of sight and out of mind’ to many UK workshops, there are many critically important discussions currently being held, leading to future European legislation that will be needed to ensure the continued ability to independently access, diagnose, repair, service and maintain objects that are part of the internet of things – which for the Aftermarket means vehicles. Much to think about and much to fight for!

    xenconsultancy.com

  • part one: Putting a contract out on your staff  

    There is a common belief amongst employers that if an employee does not have a written contact there is no contract in place, leaving the employee without any rights.
        
    However, from a legal perspective, Philip Richardson, a partner and head of employment at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, says: “a contract of employment will be in place at the point where the prospective employee accepts an unconditional offer of employment.”
        
    This means, quite simply, that a contract and the obligations under it are often in existence prior to the employee’s first day or signature on a written contract; employers should be mindful of how they conduct themselves from the moment the offer is made.
     
    Fundamental terms
    Philip says that while it’s true that there is no legal obligation for the employer to provide a written contract of employment, “the employer is under a duty to give employees a written statement of employment particulars. This sets out the fundamental terms of the employment contract such as the names of the employer and employee, brief job description and hours of work along with other key terms of the employment relationship.”
        
    It’s worth pointing out that an employee’s right to a written statement arises where the contract lasts for at least one month; the written statement must be given within two months of the start of employment. If the employer fails to provide the written statement within the stipulated period Philip says the employee may be able to obtain an award of up to four weeks for compensation from the Employment Tribunal.
        
    “In practice,” says Philip, “it’s beneficial for the employer to draft a full contract of employment as soon as possible so that it can clearly set down its expectations of how the relationship will progress.”

    Express and implied
    There are two types of contractual term – express and implied. Philip says that an express contractual term is one that is explicitly agreed upon by the parties and as such is binding on both – “the terms included in the written statements or terms referred to above would all be considered to be express terms of the contract.”
        
    An implied term is one that has not been expressly stated but is considered to be included in the employment contract. Philip explains that these are often clauses that are implied by law for example the employee’s right to the minimum wage. He says that other terms are implied where they are too obvious to mention, including the duty of care owed by the employer and employee, the duty of mutual trust and confidence, the duty to pay the employee and the employee’s duty to provide the work personally.
        
    This is where Philip sees problems for employers, as some believe that providing the term is not in writing, it isn’t relevant. “However, this isn’t the case and the employer ought to have regard to the terms mentioned.” He adds that implied terms are usually based on the perceived intention of the parties and notions of good practice and reasonable conduct.

    Variation
    Any variation of a contract must be agreed by both parties in order to be valid. However, as Philip notes, this does not mean that the employer’s hands are tied in varying the contract. “One way in which the employer may be permitted to make changes is if the contract includes a carefully drafted flexibility clause. Employment relationships often naturally develop and evolve over time and such a clause gives the employer capacity to make changes to the employment contract without the need to obtain the employee’s consent.” That said, he says a fundamental point to note with a flexibility clause is that there is an underlying duty for the clause to exercise reasonably: “If the clause is drafted too widely or the employer unreasonably exercises the right to vary the contract then the employee may argue this has broken the mutual trust and confidence in the relationship and could resign, taking legal action against the employer.”

    From a practical perspective if the employer is seeking to vary the contract of employment it is also important to discuss the changes with the employee first. Often employees will be in agreement with the changes if they fully understand the reasons behind them.



  • Will there be an aftermarket after Brexit? 

    At the time of writing, the Brexit talks have not reached any agreement, but even if an agreement has now been reached as you are reading this, from the position of the UK aftermarket there will still be a lot of unanswered questions relating to both existing and future European legislation and how the UK government may decide to handle the implementation of these regulatory requirements after Brexit. This will be of critical importance to the aftermarket.
        
    So, what does the government need to do to avoid a negative impact on the UK aftermarket?
        
    To understand the background, it is important to understand the ‘legislative landscape’. The automotive sector in Europe is heavily regulated by European legislation, especially concerning vehicle safety and emissions. However there are also other aspects of automotive regulation that are an integral part of European legislation – especially the UNECE Regulations, which are centered on Geneva and cover many aspects of the European vehicle type approval (the UK is a signatory to these UNECE activities). At first glance, this may not appear to be an issue for the aftermarket, but increasingly, UNECE Regulations are referenced in the European Vehicle Type Approval and have started to include direct requirements for the aftermarket. In summary, this has complicated the legislative landscape and the increasing impact that legislation has on the future of the aftermarket in Europe, including the UK.
        
    This legislation has different aspects in terms of its legal basis and has both an historic element as well as a future requirement which has yet to enter into force. Historically, the Block Exemption Regulation (BER) is based on competition law. This principally covered the agreements between the vehicle manufacturer and their authorized dealer network (originally allowing an ‘exemption’ from the monopolistic geographical trading area), but importantly for the aftermarket, included the rights for ‘independent operators’ to access all technical information, tools, spare parts, training etc. at the same level as the authorised repairer – the ‘non-discrimination’ principle.
        
    However, although BER was revised in 2010, in practical terms, it did not change the basic problem of the ability for a small business to take legal action against a vehicle manufacturer if they did not provide access to e.g. technical information, when requested – a real ‘David and Goliath’ challenge.
        
    To address this problem, the European Commission decided to put the ‘access to repair and maintenance information’ (RMI) into Vehicle Type Approval Regulations, where it addressed the issue by changing the legal basis – still fundamentally a competition issue that supports non-discrimination - but now based on the vehicle manufacturer having to prove that access to the RMI was possible before they can achieve whole Vehicle Type Approval. However, now there is a mechanism that allows the type approval authorities to challenge the vehicle manufacturer if a possible non-compliance problem is raised by an independent operator once the vehicle model is in the market. This is all part of the requirements of the Euro 5 emissions legislation, introduced in 2007.
        
    Most importantly, do not underestimate the importance of these two pieces of legislation. Without them, today’s aftermarket would not be anywhere near as capable to work on the increasingly complicated systems found in modern vehicles and subsequently be able to offer the driver the myriad of competing choices that are the basis of the very existence of the aftermarket.
        
    However, there are further challenges ahead. Today’s vehicles are not only more sophisticated, but they are connected to provide telematics (remote) based services and are increasingly equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). This leads to an increasing safety issue, where vehicle manufacturers want to protect their (claimed) liability requirements and consequently, a security issue of only the vehicle manufacturer controlling access to the vehicle and its data. Although I have covered the impact that this is likely to create in previous articles, but from the legislative perspective, this is yet to be addressed.
        
    Some better news is that a new Vehicle Type Approval legislation is coming into force for new vehicle models entering the market from 1 September 2020 and this will help, as it directly references both the OBD connector and its ability to support access to the in-vehicle data, as well as referencing the vehicle manufacturer as part of the principle of non-discrimination if they provide remote services. However, the technical detail of how the access to the vehicle will be provided and consequently who will have access to what data is far from clear and is the subject of much heated debate in Brussels. The business model of vehicle manufacturers is evolving into remote services that pre-empt what a vehicle needs (i.e. predictive or prognostic functions that allow the ‘repair process’ to be assessed remotely before a vehicle needs to come to a workshop) as well as providing ‘mobility’ services as vehicle ownership models evolve. The fundamental legislative issue is how to ensure safe and secure access to the vehicle and its data to ensure that competition remains possible.
        
    For the UK aftermarket after Brexit, the key issues will be how the government act on these important points and how these will be covered in UK legislation. Obviously, the UK is likely to follow European Vehicle Type Approval legislation to ensure that vehicles manufactured in the UK can be sold in Europe, but the key question is if the RMI requirements will also be referenced and if so, with what detailed requirements. Potentially, the UK could still copy/paste the European Regulations into UK law, or could implement a different approach for RMI, just for the UK, but this could be both complicated and counter-productive for both parts manufacturers and the aftermarket, as one of the future requirements may be the extension for the type approval of replacement parts, especially for ADAS and autonomous vehicles.
        
    The position of the UK Government today (ahead of Brexit) has been to support manufacturing as a longer term post-Brexit strategy, but as the UK aftermarket represents almost 70% of the post-production services market, this also needs to be an integral part of life after the EU. Clearly a lot of important political work will need to be done after Brexit, both in the UK and Geneva to ensure a continued healthy and vibrant UK aftermarket.

    xenconsultancy.com

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