Star of the hour – Robertson Gemini

Aftermarket makes a return visit to Robertson Gemini, following Neil Currie's victory in Top Technician 2019

Published:  30 September, 2019

What a difference a year makes. When Aftermarket visited Dumfries and Galloway-based independent garage Robertson Gemini in late 2018, we were doing so because its staff member Neil Currie had become a regular in Top Technician's semi finals and finals.  
We were keen to see from whence he sprang. 10 months later, and he's only gone and won it. With this in mind, we wanted to revisit to see how Neil has been shaped by his time at the business, and how he is helping to shape it in return.

To remind those readers who may have forgotten, Robertson Gemini is a family-owned independent based in the small town of Castle Douglas. Now in its 98th year of operation, owned and run by the Robertson family, the garage fields six ramps and a MOT bay. While it is equipped to cover most makes, the business is something of a Land Rover specialist, due to the rural surroundings.

Don't be fooled by the description though. There is also a thriving second-hand car sales strand to the business, and investment is ongoing as the business keeps up with technology, training and tooling, as Neil explained: "They are benefitting me by giving me the latest tools to use, so that is improving my skills, and they are sending me on training.  Working with those, and the level of car we are getting, such as some of the latest Land Rovers, is helping to keep my skills fresh and up to date with what is going on.
"It definitely makes a difference with Top Technician, as you are getting all these weird and wonderful faults. Either you have seen it in the workshop, or you have done it on a training course, or you have read about it in the literature. It definitely helps keep you at the sharp end.

"I've been here four years now. A couple of the guys have left, I am now the second longest serving. I think that it helps you if you are working somewhere where you are getting training, and you are working on the right kind of cars, and you are using the right equipment, that all helps as well. They are all pieces of the puzzle. You are more settled and you come in every day and you know your job and you don't have to think about anything. It just becomes the norm."

Neil's time with the company, and his experience has made him de facto head technician. He explained a typical day to us: "My day generally consists of most if not all of the diagnostic and electrical work. That said, I also do pretty much everything from a puncture to welding to the MOT. It depends how the day goes. If there is no diagnostics, I will do a timing belt or a clutch or something else. Then some days I will just be doing MOTs all day. We tend to anything and everything so it every day is varied, which keeps things interesting, and exciting. You are not constantly doing the same thing, getting bored. "

Neil said that this variety of work on a day-in-day-out basis is important for broadening his knowledge and keeping it fresh: "You could be getting an air conditioning fault, an alignment fault, diagnostics – it is not just purely diagnostic and electrical. Having that rounded environment helps, particularly with Top Technician. In the final this year there was only one, possibly two things that could be seen as diagnostic challenges. The rest were mechanical, measuring and alignment. My knowledge from that in the workshop environment, and exposure to all the work here definitely helped me to win it this year.  Without that I don't think I would have won it."

Toolbox Sessions
When we were last up at Robertson Gemini, we were told about their 'Toolbox Sessions'. Neil told us more about what he gets from this informal knowledge sharing: "We take some time out of the diary at the end of a certain day and then we will all gather round and we will talk about a certain subject. I just did a session on basic electrics, just going through what you would need to understand and what you would need to do. We also just did one on alignment. One of the lads went and did a wheel alignment course. He came back and went through what he had learned on the course."

This all helps with keeping yourself on track said Neil: "We all pick up niggly little bad habits along the way, so it is good to remind you how you are taught to do it on the training courses. It's not just for that though. If one person goes off on a course, then we have a gathering of everybody, and try to pass the knowledge on and a few tips and tricks. It helps to improve everybody's skillset. It also means it is not just one person doing everything.”

The discipline of taking training you have had and needing to present it to someone else also helped with Top Technician: "It always reaffirms it in your own head if you have got to show it to somebody else," observed Neil, “because you have got to tell them the correct thing and you are able to recall and are able to show them the practical things as well. It definitely helps. If anything, it plants the seed further in your brain so you know exactly what you are talking about.

"Mostly, that's what training courses are about. You learn bits and pieces over a few days, but then you have got to come home and put in some hard work to really nail it, so you can remember it so you don't have to refer to a book all the time. That is where that side of things helps."

On the success of their staff member in the competition, we asked David Butler, who is Director at Robertson Gemini, how proud and delighted they are that Neil has won and is the best in the UK?

 "All of that – all of that," replied David, with a smile. "He is a great asset to the company, he really is. One thing I would say about Neil – first he is a first-class worker, he just gets on, there is no messing around with Neil. He is very competent, and he has a brilliant approach to learning. He always wants to learn new stuff, not just here at the garage, but at home as well. He spends a lot of time researching and developing, which is fantastic. He is certainly a great asset to us. What I particularly like is that he shares his knowledge with others and tries to bring them on. We have a young apprentice here at the moment, Neil spends time helping him along, which is tremendous. It's all good."

The company is certainly not passing up on a brilliant marketing opportunity either: "He is all over our Facebook as the winner of Top Technician. We are very proud of what we have got here. We have helped Neil along ourselves. Over the last few years we have put him onto various courses and things and is always eager to learn and progress which is very important. We have supported him in that. We do that with all the staff here as well. We have that philosophy; 'let's be the best there is' and we are all striving to achieve that. Not just in the workshop – generally. We are going great guns here at the moment, and Neil's achievement is fantastic."
As we said, investment is planned and ongoing: "Among our recent investments in the workshop. is the latest Ford interface, which allows us to deal with all the latest cars. The old computers did not read the brand new cars, so we have now got that. On Friday both Neil and Jamie are going for their Class 5 MOT. We are licensed for 4,5 and 7 anyway, but on Friday those two are getting their certificates. Our fleet of Peugeot 2008 courtesy cars is one of the most fantastic investments we ever made. That has been a huge success for us. We are delighted we did that. On the sales side, we are getting up to 20 cars on the forecourt which is a lot for a small garage like us. The quality is also improving as well. "

David added: "We are really pleased with where we are at the moment. It is great stuff. "

Moving forward
In that he is the star of the hour and the reason we came back to Robertson Gemini twice in a year, we thought we would give Neil the last word. We asked him what he will be doing in the weeks and months ahead at Robertson Gemini. Neil replied: "I will continue to improve to become the best  mechanic I can be. Overall just want to keep moving forward. The motor trade is evolving at a rapid pace, so there should be plenty to keep me busy and to try and keep up with."

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