In 1982, Dawn Mullins and her husband Bob, who was a skilled panel beater, set up Aylesbury Panelcraft, an independent accident repair centre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. In 2012 the company, which is part of the Ageas Solution Centre Network, signed the FOXY Approved Promise, becoming a fully-fledged FOXY approved female friendly repairer.
We caught up with Dawn, who describes herself as “an administrator born and bred”, to find out what her customers want – and why she brought the company into the FOXY approved repairer network.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It’s the challenge, and the people in the industry. Bob and I go to a lot of conferences and out and about and there are a lot of really good people in our industry. And it’s our staff as well. We just had our 31st anniversary of opening our doors, and we had a little competition and I totted up that we’ve got 403 years of service amongst our staff. We’ve had staff with us for 25 or 30 years. That continuity is really one of our strengths, because we’re not likely to see a customer regularly, it could be a year or two years between visits. But when they come back, they remember the staff as they are still there.
So how embedded are you in the community in Aylesbury?
People know of us. But because our customers have accidents, say, once every five years it’s difficult for us to have a regular relationship with our clients. We have a very close relationship with Ageas, but if a client moves to a different insurance company we might not see them again. But when they need us and if they want to use us, we’re here and we’re a bit like a TV soap – miss us for six months and not a lot changes! So there is continuity for a client who wants to use us, whether it is next week or next year.
How does the cosmetic repair service you offer work?
We have cosmetic repair-qualified staff which gives us an extra capability, because they’re multi-skilled. In our industry you tend to get the separate skills of mechanic fitters, panel beaters and painters – whereas on the cosmetic level the skill set in each of those isn’t so high because you’re doing a very basic repair. Our technicians are able to develop skills in all three disciplines. What that does is allows us to direct workflow more efficiently, rather than having it in one department, then a wait until the next department’s ready, then wait until the next department’s ready, we’re able to have some work that we’re able to put through more quickly because we have multi-skilled technicians.
Why are you part of the Ageas network?
We have worked for Ageas for many years, even before they created today’s network called Solution Centres. It’s quality and service that Ageas looks for, as well as innovation and customer care which is precisely what we’re all about. Ageas prefers individual repairers rather than big companies. We’re a family run business and the way I see it, if you’re a family-run business you are likely to take a lot more care, you’ve invested in the company and therefore customer satisfaction is going to be a greater priority.
Why should motorists look for a BSI Kitemark when finding a repair shop?
The Kitemark is a highly regarded and universal recognised standard of repair quality. We have two audits a year from BSI for our Kitemark. The audits are totally unannounced, you don’t even have five days’ notice, the auditor just turns up in the morning and they spend the whole day with you, and they probably spend 75% of that day in and around the workshops. They check that we’re using the proper repair methods and we have to re-qualify our technicians every three years, so they’re always up to date with the most current work methods and changes in vehicle technology. BSI also checks that our equipment is properly serviced, and if we’ve got equipment which needs to be calibrated, like wheel alignment, that it has been regularly calibrated by an external checker. BSI goes through all the different aspects of the repair service which added together create a quality repair, and you know that that repairer has been independently certified to do a good repair for you.
You’ve signed the FOXY Approved Promise, allowing you to be part of the FOXY Lady Approved repairer network – what prompted you to do this?
As a woman in the industry I know that it is quite a male-geared industry, and with women being 50% of the market, at Panelcraft we’ve always been aware that although the women’s needs might be slightly different they’re just as worthy as the other 50% of the population. The way this business is run, the FOXY Promise just fitted straight in to our philosophy.
It helped us to focus on the points that really are female friendly. We’ve got a good percentage of female staff who are customer-facing, and we’ve got easy parking, there’s plenty of room outside our reception so you don’t have to parallel park on a busy road. We also supply courtesy cars with five doors not three doors, because it is important for women to have those doors to access the back seats. Our reception area is always clean and tidy, and we have decent toilet facilities. And every customer is treated the same. Really women just want to be treated as a normal customer and respected in the way that anybody else would be and that is really our philosophy.
We also noticed that you offer a lift to Tesco over the road, which is great – does that go down well with your female clients?
Yes it does! There’s a nice cafeteria there and you could easily lose an hour wandering around the superstore, which is just the sort of time the customer might need to wait for a small repair to be sorted out.
Rob Smale [of Ageas] says he doesn’t like a vanilla offering so whilst it’s nice to be consistent in terms of quality it’s also important to be flexible and give that little extra customer service that she’s likely to remember and appreciate. That’s the sort of thing that helps us stand out in a crowd…
What can the motoring industry do to attract more female repair shop technicians?
It’s not just the industry, it’s the education system as well. You really need to start trainees at 16 and while the repair industry needs to be seen as exciting, many schools have stopped the metalwork departments because of Health and Safety concerns or because many teenagers would prefer to work on computers now. In the education system as it is, I’m not sure how schools or colleges could find new ways to encourage more young women to choose that skill at the age of 14 or 16 unless they see older female role models doing well in that profession. The same goes for the young lads too. It is not either sex are being streamed, there is just not the subject offering in mainstream education any more. The average age of our industry is 40-45 years old now, and it’s getting older – the youngsters in general are not being put to the trades.
What can we expect from Panelcraft in 2014?
Earlier this year we took on a Business Development Manager to develop stronger relationships with our female customers. We have a professional mailing list now, and we’ll be targeting offers that we think our female customers can benefit from. We’re also emailing newsletters with competitions – all intended to create an Aylesbury Panelcraft community in due course. Our recent competition, to win £31 of Marks and Spencer vouchers,marked our 31st anniversary and was won by a lady in Aylesbury. So watch this space!
We will Dawn, and we applaud Aylesbury Panelcraft’s efforts to make the repair-shop experience a better one for women. With FOXY Lady Drivers Club promoting female friendly repairers and Aylesbury Panelcraft leading the way in terms of customer relationships, we are confident that more women drivers in Aylesbury will soon start to recognise the difference when they choose a genuinely female friendly car repairer in future!