A new independent garage co-operative network has been launched promising "a unique approach to vehicle maintenance for fleet and retail customers".
The national network, called the Independent Garage Cooperative (IGC), unites more than 120 independent garages - there are expected to be up to 200 by summer 2015 - with the promise of exceptional value and service levels delivered direct to customers.
The co-ownership approach, which has been endorsed by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), is being led by a management team that has almost 100 years of working in or with the independent garage sector.
The three are IGC chief executive Steve Wadlow, who for more than 30 years has owned independent garage AME Ltd in Shenstone, Staffordshire; operations director Dave Poole, who for more than two decades has run independent garage Autolube Ltd in Letchworth; and IGC national network manager Phil Todd, who has more than 30 years experience of managing and working with the independent sector.
They are supported by an 11-strong team of business development partners all of whom are successful garage owners in their own right.
IGC has divided the UK into 11 regions with each area represented by one of the business development partners operating as the “eyes and ears of the network” in their territory.
The management team and business development partners are supported by IGC honorary president Geoffrey Bray, who founded Fleet Support Group (FSG) in 1987 and oversaw its expansion as it became the UK’s largest privately owned fleet management company with 55,000 vehicles on its books.
FSG was acquired by United States headquartered ARI in December 2011, renamed ARI Fleet UK in 2012 and Bray retired in 2013.
Wadlow said: "The launch of IGC comes more than a decade after the 2003 introduction of European Commission Block Exemption regulations that heralded a new dawn for independent garages in their battle for business with franchised dealers.
"While the development was widely welcomed, it triggered the launch of a number of independent networks by ‘middlemen organisations’ who identified an opportunity to capitalise on the benefits presented by change, including lower cost maintenance on fleet vehicles.
“On the surface it was a positive move for independent garages, but in reality many are being exploited. The offer to garages of high volume fleet business is always accompanied by the demand for very low labour rates and major discounts on parts, in addition garages are expected, in some instances, to provide extended credit. Invariably the winner is the ‘middleman’, not customers or independent garages.
“IGC’s launch changes that with the creation of a co-ownership company in which each individual garage is a shareholder. With common aims and objectives relating to standards and service levels and, above all, an absolute desire and commitment to deliver direct to the end-user a genuinely high value for money vehicle maintenance service it means fleet customers always deal directly with the garage owners who deliver the service.”
“IGC brings together the skills, talent, expertise and capabilities that represent a national garage partnership, delivering a personal, exclusive experience that demonstrates exceptional value and service to customers.
“To compete for business in the retail and medium-to-large fleet market, strength and scale can be the deciding factor. IGC is a national brand that promotes high quality leading-edge service.”
Trasie Moors, of Taunton-based K&R Auto Services, who is one of the 11 business development partners, said: “We are a group of like-minded individuals working together to promote our reputations and push the industry forward. I am extremely excited and enthusiastic at what this opportunity brings.”
IGC members must comply with a strict vetting procedure, a quality standard focused on ethics and competence and a code of conduct.
The network has been backed by the IMI.
It said: “The IGC standard incorporates current competence to ensure its partners employ individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills to maintain and repair vehicles to the required standard. The IMI endorses professionalism of individuals working competently and ethically in the retail motor industry, and therefore supports the IGC standard.”
At the core of the co-ownership company is the launch of ServiceLink, IGC’s own maintenance programme that includes:
• Nationally set rates for labour parts and oil
• Free vehicle collection and delivery
• Free vehicle wash and vacuum
• Free top-ups between services as well as free tyre and vehicle winter and safety checks
• A national guarantee
In the future IGC anticipates launching other initiatives under the ‘Link’ brand such as TyreLink. It also plans to establish a network of independent garages capable of providing service, maintenance and repair to truck fleets and a network of 'associate partner garages' that will service corporate and private customers located in more remote areas of the UK.
IGC launches with customers having the choice of how they manage their accounts and arrange vehicle bookings:
• The core service sees customers accessing the IGC website - www.igcltd.co.uk - to find their nearest network garage and then arrange their own booking
• IGC+, which is specifically targeted at fleets, provides access to IGC’s Wiltshire headquarters’ call centre which will handle vehicle bookings and manage centralised invoicing.
Furthermore, April will see the launch of an enhanced IT platform with an in-built authorisation process and specific rules engine.
Todd, who managed the independent garage network at FSG and more recently ARI Fleet UK, said: “Through IGC well-managed independent garages can continue to deliver a local service, but also gain access to national fleets.
“Garages work directly with customers to deliver a fully transparent deal that offers genuine value for money.
“The co-ownership structure enables every IGC partner to learn from one another, exchanging ideas, sharing best practice, buying better, overcoming technical challenges and together they will be recognised as an industry-leading service organisation.”