“We are aiming to get back the relationship between supplier and factor, and put solidity into what we are doing,” Dickinson says.
The former FSG buying group manager can draw on 20 years aftermarket experience, and has had a cash injection from former Bendix and Vegem staffer Chris Barry and Total Parts Distributor boss Mike Smith to get UAN up and running.
“Chris thought the market could sustain a fourth buying group and I saw this as the opportunity to work for myself. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t take this opportunity,” Dickinson says. And he has close links with his two backers: he worked with Barry at Bendix, and his father worked for Smith.
Dickinson has already laid down plans to give suppliers and factors the stability he believes is required. “We have given all our suppliers three-year rolling contracts: suppliers love what we are doing and they want to work with independent factors,” he says.
Future plans include more diagnostics training, as Dickinson feels independent garages are not taking advantage of the opportunities being offered to them.
Drawing inspiration from the FSG’s policies, UAN will offer factors a choice of suppliers in each product field. “Already we have 32 suppliers and there will be no solus deals. We want to offer a minimum of two choices to our members, and that puts the supplier in a better position.” Suppliers will pay 2% of their invoice value to UAN.
So far 30 factors, spread across the UK, have joined the group. Dickinson says feedback has been “positive” from members.
“The proprietor of one company that recently joined said, when I approached him, that he was fiercely independent. I told him he had just the type of business we are interested in,” says Dickinson.
UAN became a member of the Automotive Distribution Federation in August as “we need to be seen to be part of a trade association”, and future plans include making it a limited company. Two non-executive directors, from the suppliers’ and members’ sides, will initially be appointed, with others to follow.
Dickinson also plans to introduce a corporate brochure, a dedicated website and a bring in a garage training scheme. “Workshops recognise they need to smarten up – they already have a loyal customer base but they need to keep up with the latest technology,” he says.
UAN’s first group meeting is to be held on September 23. “We’re definitely here to stay. UAN has already gone further in the short time since it was launched than we had originally forecast,” Dickinson says.