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Repairer of the year

##repairer--right## Imagine having a customer satisfaction rate of 97% where just one customer in every 1,000 complains. Most would agree this is attainable for a small, one-site operation with a low-volume throughput. Nationwide Autocentres, the UK's largest independent garage network, has managed to achieve this with 190 centres.

One customer is contacted every day from every centre to establish that the highest standard of service is maintained. And by creating tight management controls, the company has reduced over-manning and introduced best practice and purchasing policies, resulting in a highly profitable business.

It is this kind of thinking that turned a network of loss-making fast-fit outlets into a profit making business at the hands of managing director Tom Dunn and his management team. Formed in January 2001 by the management buy-in team, Nationwide Autocentres has turned around under-performing Lex Autocentre outlets spread across the UK from Glasgow to the Isle of Wight. Together with industry expert Gwyn Jones, now a co-director, Dunn and the team raised the necessary funds from venture capital specialist NGBI and the Bank of Scotland.

But Dunn had one major advantage. He is a former Lex operations director who helped found the original business but left when he felt it was going in the wrong direction.

Dunn believes in the concept of focusing on servicing, MoT and technical repairers rather than fast-fit work. Now Nationwide is the largest independent garage network with 190 sites, a £55m turnover and annual profits of more than £2m.

But the success of any business is down to its people and to make sure it has a wealth of talent to meet its growth targets, Nationwide has set up the largest apprenticeship scheme run by any independent garage in the UK. With more than 180 students working under a scheme delivered by Bristol College, Nationwide has set up four technical colleges in Preston, Luton, Stratford and Bristol with a flagship learning academy in Olton, Solihull, which boasts classroom and workshop training facilities.

Learning never stops though, a fact of which Nationwide is only too aware. A continued performance development programme is being rolled out for the group's 1,100 employees to keep staff ahead of the game on technological advances. The company has employed its own full-time technical training specialist to establish and develop this course and is also working with a range of external training suppliers to create other programmes.

Last year's winner makes it two years in a row. Nationwide Autocentres really does have the Midas touch, turning loss making outlets into profit earning ones in record time. The company is now closing in on 200 outlets, and bases its successful strategy on giving customers the service and level of attention they need to secure their loyalty.

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