Customer first: Monksbridge Garage

Aftermarket pokes its head into Monksbridge Garage to visit Top Technician 2019 semi finalist Craig Hewison

Published:  08 August, 2019

Like many garages based in small towns, Monksbridge Garage has been a local fixture for longer than the current owners have been in charge:  "It used to be a heavy goods garage back in the 1960s," explained Craig Hewison, Manager at the business, based in Dinnington, South Yorkshire.

Within one fixture is another, one that has found new life in a new era: "As a consequence of the garage's former life, we have got an enormous pit. This means we do a lot of motorhomes because no one else in the area can deal with them."

Alongside this ominous-sounding but actually-useful feature, the business operates two ramps and a MOT bay. The full complement is three full-time technicians, and two part-time that work opposite each other. "We stay busy, but we don't advertise - it is primarily long-time customers that have children who are also our customers, and they are the kids of the customers we used to have."

Efficient
The business has been with the family for 17 years, but their connection goes back further:"My dad, Peter, has always been in the motor trade and he used to be a customer here. He came in one day for an MOT, and Geoff, who was the owner at the time, said he was thinking about packing it in and selling up. My dad showed an interest, so he came to work with him for a few years, to get to know the business and also to get to know the customers, and to get his MOT testing license and what-not. My dad worked with Geoff for four years, and when Geoff retired, my dad took over from him.  As he finished on the Saturday I started on the Monday as an apprentice. It was just me and my dad. It has gone from that to where we are now.

"My dad is still here but he is only part time, just two days a week.” Craig laughed: “He does the MOTs, annoys everybody and goes home!"

The business had to move with the times: "When we started the garage was like the Black Hole of Calcutta. We had the whole place rewired and everything."

Craig moved with the times too: "Early on, whenever anything came in with a management light on, or emissions on MOT or anything, it had to go to another garage in the area- the one where the guy was known for doing that sort of stuff. Everything just got sent there. One day I said 'instead of sending it out all the time, what would it take for me to learn all this stuff? ' My dad said 'find yourself whatever you need to do' and he supported me through whatever courses I needed to go through.

"I'm not saying I did it in the most efficient manner, I probably did the wrong courses in the wrong order, I did what tickled my fancy as opposed to learning the basics first. However, he never once said you can't go on that one. Over the years, with experience, I have learned more and more.  We have invested in quite a few of the dealer tools. Word has gotten around and now we are the go-to-place for the complicated faults." How the wheel turns.

Different way
While he had his hand firmly on the technical side early on, it was only in the last few years that Craig found himself on the business side of the business, and he had to learn quickly: "Four years ago, my dad had a heart attack, and he had to have about three months off work, which dropped me in it. I had to suddenly learn how to run a business, and I wanted to run it a different way. My dad used Excel, whereas I brought in Sage. We have moved onto QuickBooks since then. We moved onto an electronic diary, because just working from a paper one you couldn't work out what you've got in for a day and what you haven't. Five lines could be a 20-minute job, and one line could be a full day's job. I basically started automating a lot of things. It has changed a lot as a result.

"I know the way round cars like the back of my hand, but I didn't know much about running a business. That is why I have started doing training on running a garage. I am on the business accelerator programme with John Batten for example."
Craig is continuing to use technology to help the business:  "We have just had Garage Hive installed this week. Give it a couple of weeks to get used to it and it should increase the efficiency within the garage which should then free up more appointments for customers. Obviously then we might have to look at advertising to fill those spaces, but at the moment we are at capacity."
For someone who said they didn't know how to run a business, he sounded like got on top of it pretty well: "It’s sink or swim isn’t it!" Typical Yorkshire understatement.

Wisdom
A little wisdom also goes a long way: "Garage Hive is new, but the ethos behind it has never changed. My dad was a good mentor. Our motto has always been 'customer first'. it is something my dad has just drilled into me since I first started.
"Without the customer you haven't got a business, have you? Everything we do is orientated to make the customer happy. My dad taught me that from starting out on my very first day. We have never used cheap parts - we use quality ones because we don't want to do a job twice. It is messing the customer about and they might not come back. We don't bodge anything. If something is not right we sort it. If we have not included it in the quote then we stand to it - the job has got to be done right.  You can't afford to upset customers, especially when you are a small business because word gets around too quickly. Kwit-Fit can probably afford to lose a couple of customers, whereas we can't.

"Just this month, we have taken a courtesy car on. This is because people ring up and ask for an appointment for Saturday, but we are fully booked, Saturdays are booked weeks in advance, so they go elsewhere. Now we have the courtesy car. We had a call this week; ‘Have you got a slot on Saturday?’ No. ‘Ok I will leave it’. Well can you bring it down mid-week and have our courtesy car. ‘Oh fantastic I will book it in’. It is just providing that extra service.

"We will soon be able to take online bookings for MOTs, and we now do automatic MOT and service reminders. We are having a new website built too."

Craig believes this is crucial: "I don't want to be like the other garages that don't have the knowledge and don't invest and are falling behind. I don't want that to happen to us. I don't want people coming in and we are not able to help them. I am trying to get it all working so it just flows.  It is better for technicians as it keeps them happy, it is better for the business as it keeps the money coming in and it is better for customers as we can provide them with a better service. My focus is to make sure that all three are right, that way the customer should have a great experience "

Top Technician
As well as within his own business, Craig is doing pretty well in Top Technician, year-by-year: "I have been a semi-finalist twice, and I have only entered it twice. The first one I entered out of curiosity and I ended up in the semis. I let the pressure get to me though. I don't count it as a big loss as I was a nervous wreck when I went into it. The second time I knew what to expect. I did not expect to go through to the finals because of the hybrid, so I came in a lot clearer minded and I was a lot happier with what I had done." Craig laughed again:  "I don't see it as two attempts, I see it as one and a half!

“I would definitely recommend Top Technician. You learn where your strengths and weaknesses are.”

The fundamentals
Looking forward to the future, Craig commented:  "At the moment I am trying to continue improving the efficiency. With my dad semi-retired, and all this new technology coming in, we need everyone at a high level. One of my lads is my right-hand man now. He is fantastic. He can run the workshop without me, so I am trying to get him technically where I am at, that way the business can continue to operate flawlessly when I’m not here."

Craig is also looking to upsize the workshop in the long-term: "I would like to have something double the size in the next few years. At the moment the main focus is getting everything running properly so we have a good brand out there and so that we are the go-to-garage in the area. The immediate future is trying to get the fundamentals right. It is the little details that make it look professional. They inspire confidence.  I need to get my foundations laid so I then have something stable to build on. If you have good foundations, you can build it as tall as you want."




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