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Bodyshop: East Bilney Coachworks

Company: East Bilney Coachworks
Turnover: £2.5m
Productives: 26 including trainees
Non-productives: 20
Insurance: approvals RBS, RSA, Esure, Norwich Union, Zurich, AXA, Swiftcover, CIS, Provident.
Manufacturer approvals Bentley, Lotus, Volkswagen, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Audi, Skoda, Seat.
Estimating systems: AudaWorkstation, Glassmatix
Paint systems: Glasurit, DuPont, Sikkens

Building strong relationships with customers will benefit any business in the automotive industry, as demonstrated by East Bilney Coachworks in Norfolk.

The award-winning bodyshop is an accident repair partner for nine major motor insurers and seven vehicle manufacturers. It is also the contracted paintshop for the £140,000 Mosler MT900 niche supercar, which is assembled by hand a few miles away.

All these contracts keep the business buzzing. It is currently achieving an average of 75 repairs per week.

Just over half of its work comes from three main suppliers, RBS, RSA and Esure, and its Volkswagen Group approvals account for another 14%. Understandably, managing director Mark Baldwin is not overly concerned about attracting retail repair work. It accounts for 10% of the business, generated largely by word of mouth recommendations.

East Bilney Coachworks was the first independent bodyshop to gain the PAS125 BSI/Thatcham Kitemark accreditation in all three disciplines: cosmetic, structural-steel and structural-aluminium and composite. It backed moves to develop the national standard from day one, and was one of 15 involved in the standard’s pilot last winter before PAS125 was officially launched in February.

Baldwin sees the publicly-recognised Kitemark as a stamp of quality to show his existing customers.

“The industry needs a benchmark that is universally mandated, and if it is a standard that the consumer recognises too, what can be better? We will market the Kitemark more in the future. I believe the strength of the Kitemark means it could generate a lot of extra business. We did it to show our customers and insurers that we’re already doing it right.

“As we extend with the onset of PAS125 and our manufacturer approvals we’re going to be even busier than we are now, but we want to monitor our position to make sure we deliver as promised. Last week 75 cars went out of here without any re-work. Our come-back ratio is under 2%. From many insurers we’ve not had a complaint in over a year.”

Baldwin says achieving the Kitemark has been a minimal cost exercise for East Bilney Coachworks, thanks to its historic willingness to invest in equipment, training and processes.

Previously it operated the MVRA QA standard, and is certified to ISO9001:2000 quality standard. “We’ve been very prudent over the years. The money we’ve made has gone back into the business. We own the business and the six-acre site, and there is no debt.”

The company is investing about £200,000 into expanding the business this year. An extension is due to be finished within weeks. It will include extra offices, a room for visiting auditors, extra reception and customer waiting area, and an extra 10 bays on the workshop. The company is hoping to be approved as an aluminium repair specialist by Audi this year. It already has equipment, welding kit and trained productives, and is set to add a dedicated two-car aluminium repair booth.

“With that, we can build our reputation as a one-stop shop for repairs.”

Once the business is running at full speed the family-run company may look at adding another location, either as a start-up or an acquisition. Baldwin’s brother David and sister Joanne also work in the business, and could eventually each manage a separate bodyshop.

East Bilney Coachworks’ priority is to keep its customers satisfied and maintain the reputation it has built.

All customers are asked to complete a satisfaction survey, which is returned directly to Baldwin. He communicates any issues to his staff and identifies any individual training needs. Feedback, from both customers and staff, is used to drive improvements. Baldwin relates a story of an elderly customer who asked to be walked out to his freshly repaired car and given a walk-round. Now the company offers this as standard.

Recovery truck drivers are uniformed, and when a car is collected the customer is given a welcome pack explaining the business. A Concorde bodyshop management system keeps all customer-facing staff aware which point any vehicle’s repair is at, to keep the customers informed. Estimators also call the owner after estimating, to go through the work required and identify any existing damage which could be a retail up-sell opportunity.

Business began in garden shed

East Bilney Coachworks has come a long way since its foundation in 1975 by Mark’s father, Colin.

In its early years it repaired vehicles from a shed in Colin’s father’s garden, before moving to a secondhand Arcon building in the back yard of a Renault dealer in East Bilney. As more and more work came in the business grew to occupy four Arcon buildings, before moving to its current six-acre location.

Once the latest extension is completed the bodyshop will occupy around 25,000sq ft, including three paint mixing rooms, four spray booths, and a two car aluminum repair booth.

Its annual turnover is £2.5m, which Baldwin aims to grow to £3m in 2008 with utilisation of the bodyshop’s extra capacity which will allow 100 jobs per week.

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