Management and staff are separate – DWS encourages competition between the two operations – but economies of scale are achieved through shared IT systems and back office functions. The 92 employees are divided evenly between the two shops, each measuring 19,000sq-ft.
“The optimum size for a bodyshop is 18,000-20,000sq-ft – any larger and it becomes an unmanageable nightmare,” says DWS owner Dave Smithyes. “But there is a huge capacity issue in the south-east so we felt we needed to open a large facility. The only way to make it work was to split into two individual businesses.”
DWS, which has a second site at Chelmsford, has also set up a training school at Thurrock which contains booth/oven, mixing room, IT systems and drying equipment for spray painters. Rather than send trainee sprayers on paint company courses – “not the real world” – DWS technicians are responsible for training. Sprayers help out on real jobs as soon as they are ready. DWS takes on 10 apprentices each year.
There's a lot of industry gloom surrounding insurer demands and low charge-out rates, so is this a good time to expand? “A lot of people criticise the labour rate but it is market forces that determine rates. There is not enough unity in the industry to stand up and say I want rate 'y' not rate 'x',” says Smithyes. “We've been successful by working at the processes and getting the efficiencies in the shop.”
He is about to refurbish the Chelmsford bodyshop and doesn't rule out further expansion. “We are still looking for sites throughout the Greater London area,” he adds.