Tag Archives: garages

A motor industry makeover resolution

It’s New Years Day and a time when our thoughts are supposed to turn to resolutions for the year ahead.

And mine has landed on the ‘imperfect but with many good bits’ motor industry that I believe can be helped towards a brighter future with a thorough makeover… for those that deserve to succeed that is.

For example, let’s say a management consultant is called in to review a struggling business’s performance and recommends that the culture of that organisation needs to be changed. You’d start at the top wouldn’t you? You’d decide where you want to be, look at the way forward, some heads would roll and chances are the consultant would be employed to facilitate the journey. Sounds familiar anyone?

Now let’s see how a struggling industry like the UK motor industry would attempt to do this.  Needless to say I am not being paid to do that consultancy job and it wouldn’t be a quick job if I was, but I am happy to start off the ‘Where We Are At’ bit at least and would welcome contributions from those better qualified in the industry…

1    In 2010 the industry is in the doldrums with some notable pockets of exceptions, such as car parts for DIYers…

2    Fewer new cars are being sold; private motorists make do and even the rich realise that it isn’t good for their image to be seen driving flashy cars when others are really struggling.

3    Manufacturers have to plan ahead so they can’t be as flexible as they’d like – their stocks and lines for 2011 were decided ages ago. So they compete for perceived unique selling points or price advantage – some bravely attempting to repositioning their brands up or down market. The electric bandwagon rolls forward quietly 😉 with the all-knowing Chinese on the brink of entering the volume market but for a few known quality issues to resolve…

4    Fleets are now contracting cars for 4 years not 3 wanting low running costs throughout.

5    Those that want a nearly new car are finding them few and far between as a consequence of recent new car supplies.

6    Because they don’t have to, cash strapped motorists are postponing garage servicing so their cars aren’t as safe as they should be and garages without a location or brand advantage are struggling to be seen as good or different.

7    Even worse, cars aren’t being maintained well, especially the new ones otherwise why would so many fail their first MOT?

8    Just as worrying, motorists who don’t know any better choose

  • the cheapest used car not realising the salesman knows why it’s cheap
  • DIY repairs to save money but might not buy the best parts
  • garages that follow a basic motor industry code and/or are good garage scheme members not realising that neither scheme requires them to employ qualified/trained or accredited mechanics
  • MOT and car servicing deals from businesses they don’t know, running the gauntlet of rip off dealers, shoddy workmanship and unscrupulous dealers.

9    Complaints are seen as the norm and caveat emptor still applies in many areas. In 2010 a Which? undercover mystery garage shopping reports that nearly 90% of sampled garages (including dealerships) missed or ignored at least one potentially dangerous fault on the cars that had been doctored in advance. Much the same as in 2007’s survey by the way. And the relentless pace of used cars and garage complaints keeps the Office of Fair Trade’s (OFT) Consumer Direct staff employed having seemingly backed away from the recent Super Complaint opportunity that might have led to regulation and quality control.

10   Shoppers are using the internet to save time and money but also to avoid stressful garage and dealership visits – including many women who account for some 50% of customers and seem to be the least happy with the male dominated  ‘too blokey’ culture that doesn’t seem to understand their different shopping needs and demands…

Got the picture?   So where does the motor industry want to be in future – from 2011 onwards?

Here’s my contribution but as I am not being paid for this ;-), I’ll be brief.

The UK motor industry needs a better image, more ambitious quality standards, a more ethical regard for the safety of motorists and more female recruits because women matter and need a voice.

This all demonstrates the need for joined up motor industry thinking in all these areas with higher level, better, specialist and totally independent public communications for all motorists. This needs to include unbiased, whole picture and down to earth information and advice about cars, garage services, insurance and finance products so better shopping choices can be made.

A good example of unhelpful in-fighting in the industry is the looming ‘Trust My Garage’ launch in 2011.  Looking at this from the motorists perspective (which a trade body is not best placed to do), like it or not, we already have the still fairly new Motor Industry Service and Repair Code and the imaginatively titled Good Garage Scheme so what good will a third one be, run by another trade body and reserved for their members, when none of the three equate to or promote qualified or accredited staff.

Which is what FOXY Choice does, by the way, and why an independent organisation like FOXY will always be a more trustworthy arbiter than one funded by interested parties.

What the UK motor industry needs to do instead is

  • explain this and a lot more to the motorist who deserves this knowledge
  • identify the genuinely better than the rest schemes and
  • empower her/him to make the right buying decisions based on quality, value for money and informed feedback. Yes feedback is important in many instances but when I am told a garage is friendly based on their sunny receptionist, how do I know that their mechanic isn’t selling me new tyres/brakes/engine flush washes I don’t need for pecuniary advantage? Or not even doing the job I’ve paid for?

Happy New Year to all the good businesses we work with and may 2011 be the year for positive thinking and debate; so you get your just rewards without being confused with second-rate others.


How to attract the right female talent

The motor industry needs more of the right females at the top of the UK motor industry but how do we get them there?

I spoke about ‘marketing used cars to women’ at the AM conference’s Used Car Market trade conference in September and was interviewed about this subject afterwards hence the FOXY clip on YouTube.

My presentation was to franchise dealerships and car dealers about women being the elephant in the room. Despite the immense value of their purse when it comes to shopping for themselves and influencing others, many still fall prey to Swiss Toni and Arthur Daley-like tactics and are encouraged to feel even more ill at ease by the portrayal of unscrupulous garage mechanics in Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale TV soaps.

Bearing in mind that women talk 😉 and many claim to trust other women more than men in this industry it is surprising that so many (> 80%) of the industry workforce are still men.

Wake up guys – this is a big business opportunity…

But how to recruit more of the right women into the motor industry and make garage services and new car shopping more female friendly?

The problem is that it’s all too easy for dominant men to recruit in their own likeness without a second thought and by doing so deprive the right women from being able to compete…

For example, a recent advert for a car sales person (in a prestige franchise dealership) is fairly typical I imagine. In our local paper it asked for car sales experience thus instantly eliminating most of the females who might have been looking for a sales job. They are highly unlikely to be among the <20% of females who have worked in the industry before. Even though a female might be a terrific sales person in another industry…

But the dealership won’t have thought that she could bring new business to them because this is the way they do business ie it’s traditional to recruit men. And of course, if the business is actively looking to attract a man they are going about this in the right way because talented women will pass over their ad and it’s unlikely that anyone would imagine or suggest that their ad discriminates against females;  just females without the required experience ;-).

So unless some positive discrimination and female Board selection is engineered in some way, starting with more female NEDs at the top of AM100 dealership groups perhaps, I doubt anything much will change to improve service levels (for men and women) by attracting the best candidates, which need to include more women!

Most importantly in my opinion, the females need to come from other industries because the successful ones that have made it to the top in the motor industry are accustomed to the male culture, accept it as it is and can’t see why other women might not have the same tenacity to take on men and win. And new recruits starting at the bottom of the ladder can’t influence the culture…

So why would ambitious females choose an industry where they sense (our intuitive skills will be right here) that they will be made to feel the odd one out… This is a tough one to answer and I am struggling a bit here because after 20 years in the evenly gender-balanced travel, tourism and leisure industries I was amazed to sense the cultural difference in this industry. Don’t get me wrong, I have met many fantastic advocates of what FOXY is doing but at least as many men who think there is no need for us, female friendly garage standards or trained and accredited mechanics for that matter. Their attitude is that what they are doing is good enough… but it isn’t, as the likes of the Which? garage survey must continue to remind us. But that’s a different issue.

Interestingly one way to check which businesses are female friendly employers is served by a FOXY Choice subscription. Yes our marketing services identify female friendly businesses for customers, first and foremost, but the existence of a Female Business Ambassador is surely a good sign of a female friendly employer.

Let’s face it, most women are more natural candidates for front of customer facing roles including car sales, reception and all aspects of administration. Particularly Service Advisers who liaise between the customer (male and female) and the workshop guys I’d have thought. There’s no secret here – it’s simply to do with our interest in people rather than cars and our natural communication skills.

I think it’s fairly obvious what skills and talents the right females can bring to the party providing they are employed for their skills, personality and experience. But if women are employed for their looks, and we all know this happens, then the industry will never make it better for their customers.


For female friendly motoring services have a look at the FOXY Lady Drivers Club website.

Empty female friendly promises

FOXY listed female friendly business
A FOXY listed female friendly business

It’s all too easy to write ‘we are a female friendly garage’ at a website yet not have an inkling what this entails.  Very often businesses think equality means treating men and women the same and perhaps some garages think the FOXY initiative is a feminist thing; but just in case it might bring them new business, they say they are female friendly without giving this any thought.

Whereas the truth is that being female friendly is a BIG BUSINESS ISSUE because women are the gender spenders when it comes to buying cars and garage services like MOTs, car servicing and repairs. And because UK garages aren’t regulated and few mechanics are accredited so complaint levels are too high and service levels are too low…

Which is why we find that genuinely female friendly businesses are usually the best ones out there.

Most women think that the male dominated motor industry is in need of a female friendly makeover – making it a better place for women drivers AND men too. The business case is simple; those that get it right for fussy foxy females will reap considerable commercial gain over complacent other garages who think that their motor industry standards are good enough.

Sadly few businesses that say they are female friendly but haven’t joined FOXY’s network yet show measurable signs of workmanship quality, superior customer services or investment in facilities and amenities to make garage services shopping a more enjoyable experience for women in future. Which is what FOXY is all about, of course.

Just for the record, what FOXY does is different as follows…
1    Garage subscribers sign the FOXY Promise to ‘never overcharge, patronise or sell women services they don’t need or want.’
2    We actively help women to understand their choices with an independent and unbiased FOXY Good Garage Guide.
3    We create a female friendly website page to supplement and complement and existing website entries; this is ideal to measure responses to marketing campaigns for example.
4    We cater more for females by identifying and focusing on quality standards, caring customer services and superior facilities that we know women want. We also reveal which garages and dealerships are near shops, have clean washrooms, employ women and welcome children.
5    We actively promote these businesses to women; online and via the Club.
6    FOXY Lady Drivers Club keeps in touch with members via email AND encourage feedback. We also invite this via the FOXY Choice website.
7    Finally, if a member has a serious problem at a garage, car dealer or main franchised dealership we’ll help her sort it out through our informal mediation. We haven’t needed to get the knuckledusters out in some 2 years so our approach does work and we reserve the ultimate weapon ‘we’ll tell local ladies within the Club’ or ‘we’ll remove you from the FOXY Choice register.’

But we can’t do any of this if you are dealing with a garage that says it’s female friendly but hasn’t signed the FOXY Promise. There is no alternative…


PS: In case I am being unfair about a genuinely female friendly garage that doesn’t know about FOXY Choice yet, please tell them and hopefully they’ll add their support to ours. We are all about focusing on industry quality for the good of ALL motorists by adopting independent foxy benchmark standards as in female, fussy and feisty. And because too few garages are good enough as recent Which? and BBC Watchdog consumer exercises confirm.

Is your garage good enough?

Car safety is a topic I feel passionately about and few motorists understand that their garage choice could well be a matter of life and death. Choose a bad garage by accident and you could be compromising your family safety.

Last week a mystery shopping exercise (involving 62 cars with pre-existing faults) carried out by consumer watchdog Which? found ‘shocking levels of incompetence’ and ‘inexcusable dishonesty’ in UK garages where only 8 garages did the job properly and 90% missed at least one potentially dangerous fault.

Shocking yes but no surprises for those of us who know that UK garages aren’t licensed, mechanics don’t have to be qualified, many garages aren’t up to the job and are overcharging us by baffling us into forking out.

If you’d like to know what your best garages are by all means read the Good Garage Guide at FOXY Choice’s website. Where in doubt (and it’s a minefield I’m afraid), pick an ATA qualified mechanic over another whether in an independent, fast fit or main dealership garage. He or she has to stay up to date with the latest best practice, is tested every five years and has signed an ethical Code of Practice.

And don’t trust well-intentioned recommendations from friends; they’re usually based on the friendly welcome there – what you need is evidence of measurable quality of workmanship first of all, such as a professionally qualified mechanic.

You should also remember the following findings from the Which? exercise, that…

Even the best performing garage group (Bosch Car Service) failed to find 36% of faults

Garages from the Good Garage Scheme (don’t be deceived by the name – this is a B2B scheme to sell Forte engine flushing oils to garages, not to identify the best garages by any measurable indicators) performed worst of all, finding just 39% of simple pre-existing faults.

Yes, it’s a lottery out there with your life and purse at risk.

Be aware too that if you opt for a much publicised Motor Codes subscriber, odds are you’ll be directed into a dealership* (the code sponsor here is the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders representing manufacturers and their dealers) where you’ll pay more than you would to a measurably good independent garage. Motor Codes subscribers found 60% of the faults in the Which? Shopping exercise by the way.
*as at 30 August 2010 and using a 5 mile radius; in Glasgow 2 of the 58 subscribers are independent garages, the rest are dealerships; in Manchester 7 are independents out of 47; in Birmingham 5 are independents out of 45; in London 10 are independents out of 43; in Bristol 13 are independents out of 43; in Southampton 5 are independents out of 38; in Exeter 4 are independents out of 30.

Having studied garage safety standards all ways up I can’t see any other solution, after 60+ years of the industry failing to put its own house in order, than full blown Government regulation. We deserve qualified garage mechanics and retail garages (including fast fits and dealerships) that are regularly inspected.

The argument is that regulation will be expensive and the motorist will pay in the end but what price our lives in dangerous cars? And let’s see the cost facts within the context of motorists getting ripped off as the Which? exercise confirms is happening today.

I imagine someone knows how many of the massive number of annual garage complaints are to do with overcharging practices.

If you take anything away from reading this blog I hope it will be to do your homework seriously before choosing a local garage in future. And check out the local one you use, just because it’s convenient.


Find out about UK garages that have signed the female friendly FOXY Promise to ‘never overcharge, patronise or sell women services they don’t need.’

Everyone can be a business expert

Apparently if I work harder I could become a business expert in my subject. Which could be ‘garages’ or ‘female friendly businesses’ as things stand I suppose. Or both of course.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his Outliers book that is.

According to his 10,000 hour rule (there are more reasons for success of course) a computer legend called Bill Joy (who I hadn’t heard of before), Bill Gates, and the Beatles are among those who put in 10,000 hours into their subjects and were therefore able to beat the rest of the pack in getting expert status ahead of others.

The Beatles did it by going to Hamburg in the 60s and being expected to perform live for 8 hours a day when they only expected to play for 2 hours at a time. They had to learn new songs fast; as they did this they got better and better.

Both Bill Joy and Bill Gates were in the right place at the right time in the 60s when mainframe computers allowed timesharing, a revolution apparently whereby more than one person could work on them at a time and get instant feedback/response as we know today. They both happened to have access to them whereas most of their peers didn’t. They ‘played’ by writing code overnight (often without parents or Universities knowing); by rewriting permissions to give them longer than they’d paid for and so on.

Today children happily invest their 10,000 hours in games on computers – to bring game programmers business success but the opportunity cost is theirs as they while away their brainpower…

On the other hand, many Nobel prize winners came via ‘ordinary’ Universities who spotted and cultivated talents other than just the best academic results so there’s hope for everyone to find their slot in life and be challenged in later years, if they want that.

That’s reassuring…

This book is a great read and it explains that success is not a random act. I hadn’t thought about it beforehand but it’s all to do with being in the right place at the right time whilst having the drive and the determination to succeed.

The message I am taking from this is that you should always use your time wisely in life and business. From my point of view, when business is tough I plan to feed my brain, knowing that I will be in a stronger position come the upturn.

And perhaps, one day, I might be seen as an expert in my field. Quite a few more hours to put in yet of course!