Scale and efficiency are crucial when your eight sites are in and around the high cost M25. While insurers pay an additional 15% on labour for the premium location, there is little room for mistakes, according to DWS group managing director Stephen Field.
“I’m running a very tight operation here. In this business, you need to be quite aggressive in the way you do things. If we bring in 20 cars a day, we put 20 cars out. It’s a very hands-on approach,” he says.
The company was formed in 1983 by David Smithyes in Thurrock and this year expects to turn over £28 million. It operates the highest- turnover single site in the industry with the 44,000 sq ft centre in Thurrock, which turns over £6.4 million.
Its biggest clients include Royal Sun Alliance (RSA), Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Equity, Hastings and Zurich. It holds three Tier A sites for RBS, putting out 350 vehicles a week for the insurer, while it deals with 40% of RSA’s volume in the M25, a figure DWS hopes to increase.
The company is still owned by Smithyes, but is headed up by Field, who joined in early 2007. He previously worked for Audatex as head of business development. Before that he was Nationwide’s southern regional manager.
“Dave had to decide whether to keep the business as it was, or let it go in the direction it was heading – expansion. He brought me in, and so far, we are flying,” says Field.
Group throughput stands at 800 cars per week, which is full capacity. Several sites run a night shift and Field is keen to find some acquisition targets. He is looking for any business capable of repairing at least 80 cars a week.
“It is a fairly protracted business looking at other firms. We have gaps in south-east, west and north-west London. It’s important to consider arterial links, as opposed to obvious locations.”
In February, DWS will open an operation in central London where customers can drop off their car which will then be taken to the relevant centre.
Field is also considering different types of body repair business to cope with the cost pressures in the south-east. “We can have smaller cosmetic centres in London, and other work can go to our other sites,” he says. “Fifty five per cent of repairs are of a cosmetic nature so it makes perfect sense to work this way.”
Field is happy with DWS’s relationships with the insurance companies. “We have taken away an adverse relationship with insurance companies and, instead, we sit around a table and discuss any problems.
“By being efficient with insurers, I can reduce the cycle time between labour and parts and paying for them, which cuts my costs.”
DWS employs 300 staff. Incentive plans are based on hours worked. Staff are rewarded for working efficiently, but they are also rebuked if there is a quality issue, and will be expected to put the hours in to rectify the problem.
One or two apprentices are recruited each year to each site and they are becoming easier to find. “It is becoming easier to recruit – I think people are starting to think about more practical jobs again. We have a good network and are well established in the area now,” Field says.
He projects turnover of £40 million in five years. “We want relationships with the top four or five insurers. DWS will be the London solution for all major insurers to facilitate motor vehicle crash repairs,” he says.
“DWS has been guilty of doing its job well, but quietly. Not any more. We are spreading the message.”
#AM_ART_SPLIT# Comitted to Kitemark
DWS is on its way to achieving PAS 125 at all its eight sites by the end of the year. Field admits it’s a slow progress, with costs of around £25,000.
But as a member of the steering group for the Kitemark, he fully supports it. "It’s good to have something that is accepted across the whole of the industry and by the public. It is about repair integrity through and through."
However, Field is sceptical of the many consultants claiming to help businesses achieve the Kitemark. He is also concerned that there are not enough resources to get everyone through by year-end.
"At the moment there’s a long way to go. But insurers support it, which is good, and when in place, it will provide a standard which is much needed."