While Vauxhall Master Fit, Citroen Express Service and Renault Minute have made commendable strides over the past year Rapid Fit remains totally focused and continues to set the sector's benchmarks. Annual turnover stands at £89m from a customer base of more than 850,000, 15% of them non-Ford drivers.
Consistently, Rapid Fit has demonstrated its ability to satisfy a demanding market through a process of continuous improvement and maintained high quality. The chain was established with the aim of offering a one-stop-shop at the dealer workshop for all aspects of vehicle service and maintenance, and since its launch in 1993 Rapid Fit has developed a stream of initiatives and USPs to retain and attract customers, among them:
From the dealer's perspective, Rapid Fit focuses on the bigger picture of sales and performance and on the detail needed to achieve both with consistency and quality across the network. “This is a constant process,” says Rapid Fit manager Rob Hutchinson, “and the business is also evolving with new initiatives and programmes delivered to dealers on a regular basis.”
Dealers work to audited standards and are assisted from the outset with business plans and day-to-day management. They also benefit from central programmes for tyre purchases, workwear and consumables and from national marketing campaigns. As part of its brand management and consistency approach Ford pays for Yellow Pages ads, provides advert templates and runs an Institute of the Motor Industry accredited centre manager training programme. Planning and strategy are centred around the key objectives of growing the network, growing customer traffic and network sales, and maintaining high customer handling standards. These form the basis of the annual Rapid Fit business plan which feeds regional, zone and individual dealer business plans.
Staff are expected to be 'fast-fit' through and through. “Our central marketing team and field team are all recruited from a fast-fit and autocentre management background using a specialist agency,” says Hutchinson.
“This ensures they have the core skills required to manage a multi-centre fast-fit business and are able to deliver hands-on consultation to dealers.”
Rapid Fit centre staff, although employed by the dealers, are controlled by the field team. It provides recruitment support, assists in locating suitable candidates, and plays an active part in the staff induction process. The field team also reviews the performance of centre staff with senior dealer management during sales performance reviews.
All centre staff are required to complete communication and selling skills training and technical staff undergo a formal skills assessment. Dependant on the outcome, a suite of 10 technical and sales courses are offered, linked to NVQ qualifications.
Naturally, Ford monitors the network's performance very closely: sales to the end of 2003 were up 12% on 2002 at £89m, customer volume up 6% at 880,000 and average invoice value was £100, a rise of 7% compared with 2002. Each dealer feeds monthly sales data into Spars – Rapid Fit's performance database – which in turn provides key performance indicators of sales versus objective, customers-in and average invoice value and enables the data to be drilled down by product or dealer to support analysis of poor performing areas. Ford itself maintains that Rapid Fit has been proven to be the most successful way of retaining service and repair business as vehicles get older. It also has a good track record in winning back lost business from independent repairers and fast-fit networks. Critically, it has also delivered significant incremental and profitability for participating dealers.
“The key driver is customer satisfaction, and to achieve this Rapid Fit must continue to offer competitive prices, trust, convenience and a professional, courteous service experience,” says Hutchinson.
Ford's Rapid Fit business was a revelation when it was launched in 1992 and it remains the dominant manufacturer fast-fit scheme today. Rapid Fit is a creditable brand in its own right. Dealers support it because they make money from it.