18 May 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

No slouch in Slough

With access from front and rear to their garage on an industrial estate on the edge of Slough, local VAG specialists VRT are making the most of the space available, in every possible way. The family-run business operates out of two units, fielding three lifts. “As we expanded, our neighbour moved out, so we were able to take on another unit,” said owner John Grogan. Supported by his wife Christina on reception, the garage has six staff in total, plus two dogs.
    
The business was founded in 2011, and has been on its current site since 2013. Since the beginning, VRT has been entirely focused as a VAG specialist. “We mainly see Volkswagen and Audi” said John. “We also cover SEAT and Skoda, but we tend not to see so many of them.” Do they get potential customers with non-VAG cars coming in? “We do,” replied John, “but we know some other good garages in the town and we will send them there.”
    
Along with their focus on VAG vehicles comes a commitment to OE parts. Luckily for them, the local TPS depot is just a few minutes away: “We stock nearly every service part we need. So, the night before, I preload the job sheets, do a pre-picks sheet and I’ve got everything I need. They also  know they’ve guaranteed the sale because I’ve got stuff ready to go. It adds value and also provides a level of security for the customer. When they know a good quality part, they trust that brand and item. We buy everything from them. I don’t think people realise sometimes how much you can get from them. Our seat covers, our floormats, steering wheel wraps, even bin bags and toilet roll; We buy everything from TPS.”
    
Even the TP from TPS; Now that’s what we call commitment to OE. Seriously though, this goes as far as key tags, which are brand-matched to the car in question: “Yes, I am really that sad” laughed John, but apparently it works: “It makes it easier to find them, as you know straight away if you are looking for VW, if the tag has the VW badge on it.” John even thinks using the official screenwash makes a difference: “I think it does matter. If you try and save a few pence or a few pounds and buy something else, it just starts to chip away at what you’re trying to offer. What we’re trying to offer is that genuine part. We fit a genuine part every time. We also get tools through TPS. I don’t know if people realise how easy it actually is to order a genuine tool. You can look at aftermarket suppliers. You might have to wait two or three days. If you know a tool number, you can have it next morning and it works perfectly.”
    
On if he believes being a brand specialist is going to become more common for garages, John said: “I think garages are going to struggle if they don’t specialise. I know a few garages do already struggle and we do work for them. Even down to coding items, a lot of stuff has to come from Volkswagen special control units. There’s nowhere else to get them from. When you get it here, you need to code it. Without that ability, they’re really going to struggle. It’s getting harder.”

Ongoing process
John has been working on VW all his career, and locally this has meant he has good contacts on the parts front: “I’ve known our main point of contact at TPS since I was 17, and I am 39 now so that is quite a long time. He knows the products fantastically well, and that’s important. Even though we are on a small site with three ramps,  we are one of Slough TPS’s biggest customers.” Within the team at VRT, and even his marriage to Christina, VW is a constant element: “Me and Christina met when I was 19 and we both worked at Windrush VW, where she did the same job she does here.”
    
As well as a commitment to OE, VRT are a business looking to improve how they do things. As part of this ongoing process, the business entered Aftermarket’s very own Top Garage competition in 2021, ending up as one of the finalists in their class. The business also undertook courses from The Garage Inspector Andy Savva: “About three years ago, we were in a position where we were treading water. Andy gave us some great insight and some ideas. We went through his business course and this gave us the tools to progress the business. We wanted to be offering a good enough service so that people would step away from the main dealer. “
    
On how this affected the physical fabric of the garage, John said: “We looked at the site as a customer would. As a result, the reception was completely pulled down and rebuilt.” The course also led to changes in the way the space within the garage is used. Despite being quite small, the ceilings are actually relatively high, and John has capitalised on this, A car being worked on had its bumper off when we were visiting, and said part was hanging over the doorway that leads into the back workshops, like a decorative sword: “We use ladder hooks” explained John, “putting things higher up works well. Parts lift on and off and they are out of the way. We try to not have too much on the floor.”

The reorganisation has also led to John having a desk in the workshop: “Space-wise, we looked at making reception bigger, but this way Christina and I are not on top of each other and it’s nice to be in the workshop. I started VRT and ended up running a business, which wasn’t what I foresaw. I thought I was going to be fixing cars. I haven’t touched a car now for about maybe two years. I’m sitting down, typing away and printing job sheets and doing quotes. TPS’ support has also been part of us building up what we have after Andy’s course. We came back and sat down with them and they asked ‘what can we do to help? ‘And they really did help. It was brilliant.”
    
Asked if he enjoys this side of things, John observed: “If I can do something that makes us more efficient or pushes us or makes us better than our competition, that’s where my hook is now.” He concluded: “We’ve invested and trained to be the best we can be.”