12 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Moving on up

These days, you have to keep moving. When they won Top Garage 2022 in the 1-3 staff members group, A&J Fleetcare were based in the arches under Leeds Station in the centre of the city. However, this was just a short halt on their way from an earlier long-term base to their new home, on a small trading estate on the way into the centre.
The business is made up of Alan Landale (A.K.A ‘A’) on the tools in the workshop and his wife Jeanette (I.E ‘J’), handling the office and reception side upstairs.  
When we visited, it was only two weeks after they had moved in. In fact, some of the paint was still wet. Once we had unsticked ourselves from a wall, we asked Alan how it was going: “It’s absolutely brilliant. I wish we had stumbled across the place before. We had been signed up on it for a while, but I didn’t think it would come up. Then suddenly they rang and said it was ready. It’s all under one roof, with two bays and parking in a brilliant location just off the main road.”

As far as Alan was concerned, it was an improvement on what they had in the centre: “It was a nice set up but we were getting the noise pollution from the trains going over, which affected the customers as well as communication between the office and the workshop. Some customers were finding it awkward to get to as well.” They only stayed there for 16 months. For the first 19 years of its existence, the business was based a short drive away in the Harehills district of the city.
Many of their existing customers have travelled with them to their new site, as you would expect, but geography is not an issue for them. Alan explained: “We have been part of the DPF Doctor Network since 2020. We have built a reputation on this side, but with the diagnostic work and the electrical testing we do as well, we find customers are coming from a lot further afield. They have come from Manchester and even Newcastle.”
The business has been evolving over the years: “I always kept up with training, always tried to do better. I’ve moved away from mechanical. We still do it, we still look after genuine customers, doing MOTs, repairs and servicing, but that’s not the focus. We do a lot of trade work as well. We are problem solvers.”
There is a downside though: “You also get a lot of the jobs where they’ve been everywhere, tried everything, spent a fortune and then you are the last stop because they’re totally fed up. It’s good in a sense, but sometimes it makes it hard if there’s a lot of different things that have been messed about with. They’ve been to other garages and they had a lot of parts just chucked at the problem. End result; The customer has already paid out a fortune, so you need to be accurate with your diagnosis. I just want it right in the end, so I can hand it back and say ‘there you go, it’s fixed’.”

Top Garage
Beyond the technical accomplishments, A&J Fleetcare were recognised as an overall achiever as a business by being a winner in the smallest business class in Top Garage 2022. They entered first in the previous year, before going on to win. It was an experience, as Jeanette explained: “When Alan first entered us into Top Garage, it was quite daunting. I said ‘what have you done that for?’ We then made it to the semi-final, and so we entered for 2022. At the Awards Evening, when we won I told him ‘nothing will ever beat this’. We advertise that we won Top Garage 2022, and we told our regular customers and they are really proud of coming to us now, knowing that we know what we’re talking about and we’re winners and we’re up there with the training.”
With Top Garage, winners are those who are running their business the right way, in terms of internal processes and customer care. Despite already having their trophy, Alan and Jeanette continue to work on their business, via advice from business mentor, Aftermarket contributor and Kalimex retained marketeer Dee Blick. Jeanette observed: “Dee has brought us a good mindset on where we want to be, how we can do that, how we can achieve things and be even better than we are now. She has helped us in a huge way behind the scenes. You know you’re good at your job, but a lot of people never really sell themselves. She helps us do that.”

Next goal
Looking ahead, Alan and Jeanette are going to keep pushing to be the best. “Our next goal is to win In Top Garage 2023,” said Jeanette, “but no matter what happens, we’re still going to keep moving forward with Dee for the mentoring. We are also going to keep marketing ourselves; videos on Facebook, and now we’ve just joined TikTok. We also want to be more on board with customers, keeping them up to date with our progress within the business where we’re at Not just bring the car, fix it, we want to keep them informed of all the training, everything else like that. This is especially of regular customers, because they believe in us a lot. They keep saying, you’re doing so well, you do an amazing job, and that gives us an uplift.”
Alan observed: “We are thinking about doing a monthly news article to customers, just to keep them updated each month.”
One thing they are not going to do is let success run away with them, as Alan noted: “I’ve always been comfortable in two bays. I’ve got the ambition for us to be the best, but I don’t want to get too big too fast. We’ve always got a nice volume of work, so it’s a matter of balance. Garages can have more ramps and more staff, but being bigger does not always mean you get more profit. We’ve always had a family orientation, so it’s a case of coming out of our comfort zone to build, while also being happy with where we are at.”