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Interim profits cheer for Nationwide staff

Nationwide Accident Repairs Serv-ices is on the acquisition trail after a major financial turnaround. During the first six months of the year, the firm went from recording an £8.4m loss to making pre-tax profits of £1.3m, repairing more than 140,000 vehicles a year. It follows a tough period of reorganisation for the business, which has offloaded unprofitable sites in London, Bristol and Harrow over the past 12 months. Turnover was slightly down from £59m to £58.9m over the same period and the group has £8m in the bank to fund growth. Now it wants to invest in areas with low labour rates and a better a skill base, but it refuses to confirm where.

Michael Wilmshurst, chief executive, is the man behind the revival. He wants to acquire new sites but stresses they must fit well with the existing business.

“There is a large number of bodyshop businesses for sale, but previous experience means we have to be selective,” says Wilmshurst.

He adds that green field developments, such as Nationwide's hi-tech Ayr location, will also be considered.

This year, NARS will invest more than £2m in staff, training, equipment and premises in a bid to improve its capabilities and capacity. In 2004, a new management training scheme will get the go ahead. According to Wilmshurst, prospects for the accident repair industry are looking good.

“Relationships with a number of insurers has strengthened as they explore ways to work more closely with their approved networks. By using a single points of contact for multi-site approvals administrative costs have been reduced and the speed of communication has been increased,” he says. “Trading in July was in line with our expectations and the group is in front of both last year's performance and this year's conservative plan.”

Venture capitalist Guinness Peat Group bought the business,

previously part of Perrys, in May last year as part of a joint venture with JO Hambro.

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