“We’re stable now and heading in the right direction but it is going to be a five-year haul to make a full recovery,” he says.
Nevertheless, business volumes have increased by 24% on last year, much of which has been due to Deejay’s fourth centre, in Finchley, North London, which opened in May 2003. Shepherd suggests that site has the advantage of being in an area populated by customers with more disposable income.
“It has opened us up to the retail market, with passing trade,” he says, “and we’ve been able to sell more repairs and paintwork services above the work provided by insurance companies.” The other sites, in Wood Green, Tottenham and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, have enjoyed less success, he says.
Leading insurance partners have been supportive by increasing Deejay’s market area, and Shepherd believes the company has business from others’ lack of fortune, in that some work providers have approached Deejay to take work left by failed bodyshops nearby.
The company is also hoping for important new contracts with additional work providers in the near future, following a sales and marketing push led by new director David Cresswell. Shepherd says investment in training is also producing results.
Last October, Deejay made 24 staff redundant, many of whom were at management level, in a bid to reduce its cost base. Shepherd says the decision was “painful, but it allowed the business to survive”.
Industry consultant Robert Hadfield of AutoBody Projects says Deejay’s revival serves as a role model for similar businesses.
“The past 12 to 18 months have brought some tough decisions for Deejay’s management, but the fact the business is now in the position to rebuild is testimony to the standing that Shepherd has in this market,” says Hadfield.
He argues that until insurance companies acknowledge the additional costs involved in operating in London and pay accordingly, bodyshops will continue to face a struggle for survival.