United we stand

How can our divided industry be brought together?

Published:  22 September, 2014

By Neil Pattemore

Among these was the subject of 'who speaks for the independent workshop' or, in its wider context, the UK Aftermarket? It was agreed that there was no single 'go to' person or organisation that could speak on behalf of the aftermarket and this leaves us open to attack in the media and often being portrayed on television as being the unprofessional end of the industry with a dirty image in every sense of the word.

I strongly believe that this is increasingly, not the case, with many professional and successful independent workshops providing excellent levels of customer service with high levels of expertise at highly competitive hourly rates. So, why does no one shout about this to the media and the motoring public?

Should industry associations do this job? Do they have enough members to reflect the majority of the industry? If the answer is no, then why haven't you joined the existing industry associations like the IAAF or the RMIF to support their ability to represent the majority of the sector?

I don't believe the general public are clamouring for a representative industry association but I do feel that it is more about raising the awareness of the industry sector and over time creating an improved image of professionalism, attractive workplaces and career opportunities. This is a hi-tech industry which invests heavily in training and equipment to be able to service and maintain what is an increasingly complex product - providing an effective and viable alternative to the main dealers for motoring consumers.

For the future benefit of the sector, shouldn't we now be promoting to secondary schools that working on modern vehicles is a rewarding, hi-tech career choice and attracting better candidates to the industry sector? The industry should speak with a single voice to both existing and future consumers.

I believe that it is now the right time to consider garage licensing, even if there are a number of fundamental questions which need to be addressed before this could be achieved.

The background to many of the problems is a lack of confidence and trustworthiness in the mind of the motoring consumer, even though many independent garages participate in various sector schemes, such as technical accreditation, soft franchises or industry codes. However, although these have helped, they are generally poorly recognised or understood by the consumer and do not present a single, easily identifiable standard. Subsequently, interest from both the industry sector and the consumer is waning.

The Independent Garage Association (part of the RMIF) reported that they receive twenty thousand calls a year from their members for help to be a better business. They receive an additional eighteen thousand calls for technical support, so there is clearly a need to raise the standards of the industry but, if this is considered, it must be on the basis of a tangible benefit to both the aftermarket and the consumer.

Many independent workshops understandably focus on the technical aspect of repairing vehicles but in so doing perhaps neglect the business side of their activities. How much better would it be if a business was able to provide enhanced customer service, increased customer satisfaction and better returns on their investment? To enable a better image of the industry, the industry itself needs to raise its game and then promote it.

Of course, any garage licensing scheme would depend on what standards would be expected, how they would be implemented, how the scheme was policed and by whom and if it had real teeth. The last thing the industry needs is to license mediocrity. Any licensing scheme would need to be recognised by the government and would need to be funded by its participants to ensure widespread exposure and promotion to the motoring public. This is why only a single licensing scheme could work - it needs to be a volume based, (i.e. encompass the whole aftermarket including authorised repairers as well as independent workshops) and be simply understood.

In Aftermarket magazine's survey on this subject, 81% of respondents supported garage licensing and, although there will be many basic aspects that will need discussion and agreement, such as the benchmarks, the criteria that will provide the 'teeth' for those who transgress, how to maintain/improve standards and, importantly, who will be the 'face of the industry' in the eyes of the government, the media and (ultimately) the motoring public, would all need to be decided.

All of these issues can be overcome. The industry has an opportunity to stand together and to speak with one voice - the biggest concern is if nothing is done.

phil@aftermarket.co.uk

Find out how Neil's consultancy for garage owners can benefit you by visiting xenconsultancy.com.

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