Bigger is better – right?

There are many things to consider when expanding a business, Neil Pattemore investigates

By Neil Pattermore | Published:  03 September, 2018

I was asked whether expanding a garage business to become multi-site was practical or, indeed, even feasible, which got me thinking.
    
Fundamentally, a business exists to create wealth, both as cash and as an asset. This then benefits the owner(s) and employees, or any shareholders.
    
The basic principles of the business are to provide goods and services to meet the needs of their customers, who pay accordingly. The turnover/cash flow generated then pays for the costs of providing those goods and services (employees, suppliers etc), leaving any surplus as profit, on which tax may be due. Therefore, in a logical process, the greater the turnover and the lower the costs, the greater the profit – simple!
    
So, if a business is working well, surely if you just keep replicating what it does in other locations to other customers then you would just keep generating greater profits? Here comes the ‘but’. This concept applies but only in certain circumstances.

Personal touch
If we look at a successful independent garage, it is often the enthusiasm, commitment and business acumen of the owner which creates the success, frequently based on good customer service at a personal level. The ‘brand value’ of the business is quite literally in the hands of the owner. It is therefore challenging to successfully replicate this if another branch is opened as this ‘personal touch’ is then split between two locations. If three locations exist, this becomes even more thinly spread and increasingly reliant on the quality and commitment of other staff to deliver the original brand values.
    
Therefore, a self-imposed ‘glass ceiling’ is created. It is felt that the maximum number of locations that can be successfully emulated is three. However, if you do plan to expand, how do you know when this should happen and what are the key issues to consider to enable you to create successful clones of your business?
    
The most important point is to identify the key benefit of your business that has created the foundation of your success – your Unique Selling Point (USP). Once you have identified this, it is then imperative that you understand how this can be replicated. It will be important that you can ‘stand out from the crowd’ as any new site will have to establish itself quickly from a standing start. Remember that marketing is not about winning the war to be the best product or service but about winning the hearts and minds of your customers. Additionally, do not be too cautious about setting your prices higher as most customers do not buy on price and carefully selecting your target audience should support your pricing level. Aim to be the leader rather than just another player in the marketplace.
    
So having identified what your new location will emulate, the next critical step is to understand the automated and integrated systems that need to be in place to allow your businesses to be effectively monitored and managed. This becomes increasingly important as any new site is created as your management time will become increasingly shared. You will not be able to rely on manual systems and the various elements of data will need to become ever more integrated. For example, wages, invoicing, workshop revenue, parts purchases and so on, need to be coordinated, otherwise, quite literally, your numbers will not add up.         Any system that you do implement must also be scalable and have multi-user access, otherwise you will lose the support of your managers and staff at this critical time of an expanding business.
    
It will not be possible to retain your original ‘hands on’ management style and this will mean that you will lose visibility of the business as well as having to implement new legislative and policy requirements for new staff and premises.
  
From the purely financial perspective, new businesses rarely fail because of a lack of profitability but fail due to a lack of cash. Any new location will be a cash consumer until it becomes established, so this will require adequate funding and a clear visibility of cash flow from both your existing business as well as the new location as this starts to grow. The key financial elements should include:

•    Direct visibility of the daily results
•    Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and management information
•    Actual results versus budgets or forecasts
•    Profitability
•    Customer debts
•    Supplier payments (due dates and values)

The better you can demonstrate the financial visibility, control of the business and achievement of your business plan, the easier it will be, both for yourself and when working with your bank.

A strong team
This then leads onto perhaps the most difficult element of growing any business – good quality managers and staff. This creates two immediate problems – firstly, who to delegate your existing business to and secondly, who to appoint to run your new business. In both cases, not only must this individual, or individuals (it could be that you appoint a single deputy and share the tasks) be professionally competent but they must also share your company ethos to ensure that what made your company successful in the first place can continue to be delivered.
    
Finally, if what you have is truly transferrable then ask yourself if it could be franchised.
    
My personal opinion is that this is unlikely unless your USP is based on a specialist niche part of the market. If this is the case, although this may create an opportunity, by definition, niche market sectors offer limited potential. You will also have to ask yourself if a potential franchisee couldn’t just do this for themselves without (quite literally) buying in to your franchise offer?
    
So, if you are considering expansion into other sites, ensure you have the right systems in place, that your existing business USP can be successfully emulated, have competent managers who share you ethos and then it is just a case of finding the right location(s) – which is another different challenge altogether!

Aftermarket archive: March 2013 Aftermarket

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  • 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.  


  • 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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  • How’s the health of your business? 

    In my line of work I meet a lot of great garage owners. Dedicated men and women,  all committed to repairing their clients’ vehicles to a high standard. They’re intelligent, hard working and persistent people many of which have been in business a good few years.
        
    With all of this in their favour you would imagine that they would be spending their free time pondering the length of their next yacht, or whether they should winter in the Alps or Rockies? Unfortunately this is often not the case, and it’s not uncommon to be asked “How can I increase the financial success of my business?”
        
    We all know that an unfeasibly large income doesn’t buy you happiness, far from it. But I do know this. A healthy business is a profitable business, and a profitable business not only buys you less stress, it buys you choices and options on how you spend your days.  Would you like more options? If so read on.
        
    Back to that question. “How can my business be more financially successful?”
        
    ‘More’ is a dangerous word and it’s often not attained. A better question would be “What is the maximum revenue, profit and personal income that my business can generate in its current form?”
        
    It is something that a lot of business owners haven’t contemplated. But you really should. Only when you know this, can you decide if your current business is performing at it’s best, and is the vehicle to get you to where you need be financially.
        
    The good news is you don’t need to be an accountant to calculate your maximum net labour revenue. Just using the available hours to sell your labour rate and the number of technicians your employ will get you a long way in the right direction. Take an average hourly rate of £55. It could probably be higher but we’ll come to that in due course. This will yield a maximum net income of £422,000 a year from labour sales with four technicians. If your garage is reaching that level of income (£105,000 per tech) at that labour rate, then you should give yourself a rather large pat on the back. Nice one! Not reaching that? That’s incredibly common. In fact if your garage has a net labour revenue of around 54% of your maximum, then you’ll not be alone as that’s the average for a business when we start to work with them on our business development programme.
        
    Why so low? Why are business owners leaving £50,000 per technician on the table? There are a plethora of reasons but I find the most common answer is one of focus. They’re just focusing on the wrong things.
        
    It’s natural. In fact it’s perfectly understandable why a garage owner focuses on the technical aspect of their business. You know that if you don’t fix the cars in a timely manner to a high standard that your income will suffer and your customers won’t return. So of course you’re interested in technical tools and the latest workshop wizardry that’ll enable you to complete a job that you couldn’t without it, or the same job in less time. But let’s be honest (we’re friends after all) is this laser-like focus healthy? Are you too focused on the next tool, the next gadget, the next BIG THING to the cost of your business? All too often I find that a garage owner is and it’s costing you.

    If you’re not measuring it…
    All that is required is a change of focus. The success of your business is in the data, and if you would like to claw back that £50k per technician (or at least a large chunk of it) then learning how to measure the right data and use it to your advantage is essential. After all: If you’re not measuring it, you can’t improve it.
     
    So, you want to increase your income and profit, what should you be measuring? Here are a couple of metrics to get you started.

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    TV presenter and journalist Helen Fospero is to be the host at the Top Technician and Top Garage Awards Dinner 2019, being held on Saturday 22 June 2019.

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