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Parts and distribution: A local service for national buyers

A love of cars and motor racing saw Howard Warren and Charles Colton join forces to launch parts supplier CES (UK) Ltd in 1984. Their ethos was to offer the service level of a national company to the local garages in and around Chester at a time when the idea of a customer focused distributor was rare.

“We run the business as though it were a service business, but this was quite a unique concept in the aftermarket when we started 20 years ago,” says joint managing director Warren. “Back then it was men in brown coats behind counters and no-one was actually delivering a service to customers. It’s not rocket science, we buy it, stock it and sell it, but we sell it in a professional way.”

At the same time, the explosion in exhaust part numbers meant that the stock holding requirement for any garage became overwhelming. In response, CES quickly expanded and when some of its customers moved out of the area into Scotland, the distributor decided it was feasible to deliver to them overnight.

This called for a high level of customer service and an increase in the level of technical expertise in the business, in order to source the vast stock of exhausts and catalysts, while minimising any returns nationwide.

Never say no

“Our philosophy is to never say no. Whatever kind of exhaust or catalyst a customer asks us for we will either supply it, find it or manufacture it, whether it is OE, classic, historical or racing – and on a nationwide basis,” says Warren.

“What makes us stand out from our competitors is our ability to change to suit the market and our customers. We listen to what they say and adapt accordingly.”

As the company’s reputation grew, so did local demand for an increase in its product line. For the past 12 years, CES has provided local garages with a wide range of component parts and garage equipment. It also stocks diagnostic and IT equipment.

On a nationwide basis, however, the company has stuck to the solus distribution of its well known exhaust and catalyst range, as it believes component parts should be readily available from any local motor factor.

“Controlled monitoring of our performance means we are always looking to stay ahead in our service to the customer. They are our number one asset and we need to look after them,” says Warren.

Invest in technology

At the forefront of this drive to continually improve customer service is IT and technology. With more than 65,000 stock lines and rising, efficiency and accuracy are crucial, and that comes from having the systems to cope with an ever increasing number and range of parts.

“We need to have the right systems and procedures in place and IT is a vital element of that. It is also one that businesses will become increasingly dependent on each year,” says Warren.

“Those companies that do not invest in technology will find it increasingly difficult to compete.” As technology increases in the aftermarket and diagnostic equipment becomes more important, so does the need for training, not merely on diagnostics, but on more sophisticated vehicles and parts.

CES recently launched two new divisions – technical sales and customer training, both of which have involved large investments.

“It is interesting to see where garages’ technical interest lies. A lot of it is diesel and diagnostics, but there is still an interest in the fundamentals of braking,” says Warrren. “The main problem is working to sell the concept of training and encouraging garages to take time out of their business to train their staff. Many of them are still unsure of where to get their training from.”

But training is not just confined to garages and workshops. In-house staff training is equally as important. There are more than 350 staff employed across CES’s 12 sites and the work philosophy of the company is very much team based.

Working together

“We need all of our teams to work together to deliver a consistently high standard of service to our customers,” says Warren. “Whether we are opening a new site or building a new department, we rely on our core team members to create the right message and the right standards, and rub off some of our company culture on any new employees.”

CES recently spent three days asking all the key members of its workforce how they thought the business could be improved. After listening to these ideas Warren then aimed to empower staff by giving individuals responsibility for different projects.

“We encourage people to explore their own potential. We train our staff so that they have the knowledge to understand customer requirements and can provide the best product advice,” he says.

Looking to the future, CES believes that its staff are the key to continued success. And while it exploits a nationwide service on exhausts and catalysts, the local business will always be at its heart.

“We will be establishing ourselves more firmly in our local areas over the coming years and we will be working hard on new dimensions of the business. We still have big opportunities in our core product ranges,” says Warren.

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