The British Armed Forces relies on its vehicles to transport supplies and personnel, sometimes in hostile locations. Crumbling desert roadways or even pounding miles of motorway take their tolls on vehicles but it’s vitally important to literally ‘keep the show on the road’.
You might well have been involved with vehicle maintenance during your Service career and have an idea that these are the skills that you’ll use once you’ve resettled, to earn a living. Whilst it’s unlikely that you’ll see the extreme conditions back home that you witnessed on active Service, come winter, when the pot holes become that bit deeper they’ll be plenty of miffed drivers up and down Blighty with tracking and wheel balancing issues looking for help in getting their cars fully roadworthy again.
According to aftermarketonline.net a news website for automotive technicians, the amount of independent garages and workshops has decreased over recent years and the trend looks set to continue. This drop may be down to several things but is probably mostly due to customers using brand accredited garages or those attached to the dealerships (to keep their car’s service history looking svelte). As well as that, cars continue to be more reliable year-on-year and it’s likely that an annual service is all that a motor of a certain age will require.
Keeping up appearances
Even though we are keeping our cars longer instead of replacing them, due to the uncertain economic climate, the things that we perceive as important are changing. We still have resale values on our minds though and we seem to be becoming increasingly obsessed with the cosmetic state of our cars.
The other trend that is perhaps taking its toll is the way that we select the people to work on our vehicles. Mechanics have always, along with most other trades people, had a reputation of stacking the bill and shifting the job out of the door as fast as possible. In other words, the perception of value for money amongst mechanics is difficult to build and this has a detrimental effect on business appeal. People are looking for peer reviewed success stories or word of mouth reputation and whilst you might have an excellent attitude to your work, those first few months of business could be very precarious until your name is established as a quality supplier of service – and that’s the toughest part of setting up in business.
This doesn’t mean that your experiences in turning semi-wrecks back out to dutiful service have been wasted but it might mean that you rethink what your idea of the term ‘car maintenance’ means. Instead of being up to your elbows in grease, you’re now more likely to be in cleaner overalls and pursuing cosmetic perfection rather than working on gearboxes or radiators.
Cars still tend to be amongst peoples’ most highly valued possessions and there does seem to be a real trend in keeping them not just roadworthy but looking their best as well. You might call it vanity but others will call it a business opportunity too god to miss. Nobody is really going to be seriously inconvenienced by a paintwork chip, small dent on the wing or scratch on the alloys but it does seem that the amount of businesses based on these small cosmetic concerns is rising.
There may yet be another way then to get your motor maintenance ambitions off the ground, although it might not be exactly as you’d originally imagined. Any business owner will tell you that the most difficult thing to do is get up to speed in the initial weeks. A lack of profile and reputation means that people aren’t familiar with the business and in the case of motor maintenance in particular, this isn’t much good. Remember that in order to do your job, the client is literally handing over the keys to their pride and joy – this takes an element of trust.
The solution is one that gives you not only instant recognition but also puts your clients’ minds at rest. Franchising provides a well known brand as well as a template of service so that the client feels comfortable and has a realistic set of expectations that the franchisor will train you to deliver.
People will still expect everything that they would of an independent and perhaps again, it’s the franchises or ‘chains’ that are driving them out of business since the customer knows exactly what they’re paying for (and feels that they have a more confident path to recourse if they don’t get it). Of course expectations include efficiency and a professional job from start to finish and more and more will expect you to be convenient and mobile. Gone are the days when the customer dropped their car of for cosmetic work like scratch removals or even, for that matter, slightly more serious stuff like repairing a windscreen. Basically if the operation does not require a pit or lift you could be expected to do it anywhere from the customer’s drive to the car park at their office or whilst they’re working out in the gym.
This mobile approach actually has several benefits. The fact is you’ll probably work from a van anyway so going to different places within what is likely to be an exclusive territory, won’t be a problem. It means that all of your kit is together and to hand during any job but it also means lower overheads than running a premises.
Secondly, whilst you’re doing the job, you’ll be effectively advertising your business. Your van is likely to carry a huge livery logo on it with a handy telephone or website neatly painted underneath. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, this is a chance for you to drum up custom; not through handing out leaflets on the spot but by doing what you do best: getting the job done. Get your head down, do a neat job and 30 minutes later you’ll have driven off. Of course, during those 30 precious minutes of ‘air time’ you might well have reminded several other people working in the office overlooking the car park that actually, their cars could do with a buff and so on. If you get the right job in the right car park, you might be sitting on a rich vein of business over the next few weeks. So do the business, but look the business too.
Depending on the brand you choose to franchise with, the package might include an exclusive (new) territory, van (including tools), uniform, marketing support as well as training and advice referring to the actual job and to running the business. Service-leavers are traditionally well regarded by franchisors not just because they can use their lump sum to cover start-up fees but also because they’re excellent at following the franchise formula. The last thing that a franchise needs is of course, for their brand name to be soiled by a poor franchisee.
It’s well worth doing your homework on any business you are considering investing in. Organisations such as the British Franchise Association can help you find reputable and established investment opportunities whilst there are advisory organisations all over the UK that can advise you should you still wish to start your own business up independently.
(England) National Enterprise Network
(Scotland) Business Gateway
(Northern Ireland) NI Business Info
(Wales) Business Wales
British Franchise Association