PMF takes a trip to Glasgow to talk to veteran factor business owner, Fred Dunlop, about the years he’s spent in the industry and how he has had to adapt his approach to a changing market.
Q. Thank you for getting in touch with PMF. It’s not all that common to hear about what goes on over the border, so perhaps you could start by telling us a little bit about the history of your business.
Fred Dunlop (FD): “The business today, Dunlop’s Auto Shop Ltd, I formed as a limited company 36 years ago, but I have been in the industry much longer than that. When I left school at 15, I went to work for my father, Robert Dunlop, who was the director at Macintosh & Dick Ltd, one of the bigger motor factors around in the 50s and 60s.
“After getting to know the market and learning all that I could from my father, I opened my first auto shop, selling accessories and tuning parts for Minis in the late 60s. It was only after learning from these previous businesses that I opened Dunlop’s Auto Shop in Shettleston, Glasgow.
“Like my father, I wanted to keep the shop in the family, so 12 years ago I took on my son Stewart as a partner and we are both directors of the company to this day, with my daughter Karen running the office. From its humble beginnings, the business has grown and now has 16 members of staff, nine vans and a second branch.”
Q. How has the business coped with outside competition?
FD: “Stewart and Karen both agree that 2016 and the beginning of 2017, have been very good for the company, with sales in
the factoring side booming. Competition has never really bothered us. We have always run the business the way we want, keeping up with the way the market moves and relying on our carefully built and longstanding reputation. We have been in Glasgow for so long that any new, local competition finds it hard to gain a foothold.
“Some time ago, Halfords opened up a branch across from our main shop in Shettleston, but this closed down after roughly 15 years, whilst Dunlop’s has prospered. It just goes to show that around here familiarity is a real winner.”
Q. What is it that makes Dunlop’s Auto Shop different?
FD: “Aside from the main factoring business, we also have an accessory shop, alloy wheel centre and Raleigh cycle centre, which are all doing well.
“We took the decision to start up this side to the business after extending the Shettleston branch twice and buying the premises next door. With the added space, we opened the Raleigh cycle centre and alloy wheel centre, to give the shop more of a retail offering and keep revenue ticking over nicely. So far this has worked out well!
“Mind you, our main source of revenue is still the factor side of things. Our stock covers a wide variety of parts and equipment, from lubricants and tools to brake pads and engine valves, but if we run out, there is an FPS branch close by that can deliver quickly.”
Q. After such a long time, how have you managed to keep the business up-to-date?
FD: “Offering a professional service is very important. Both branches are very well laid out and modern, and most of all spotless. Stewart noticed that, over the years, many of the old shops and factors have not gone with the times, and are still stuck in days of dusty countertops and disorganised stock. These days you need a nice clean unit that is well-organised, so that it’s nice for the staff to work in and customers to visit.
“We are pleased to have very good staff, with a strong knowledge of the component side of the business, as well as separate, equally competent, staff running the retail side. It is through the staff that a business’ reputation grows, since they are the ones dealing with customers, day-in- day out, so it is important that they fit the job.
“Joining Groupauto was without a doubt the best thing we ever did. In my opinion it gives us access to all the top component companies makes it so much easier to run a successful factor and build a good reputation. On top of this, any time we have dealt with the group, they have always been very helpful and friendly.”
Q. You mentioned earlier that Dunlop’s has recently opened a new branch, could you tell us a little more about this new venture?
FD: “Yes, we recently opened this new branch in Rutherglen, on the south side of Glasgow.
“When running a factor, you have to be on top of your game with service, as there are so many factors in Glasgow all vying for business. The reason for opening a new branch is that it opens up a completely new area for us, never having covered this side of Glasgow and Lanarkshire before. It means we can spread our delivery over a wider area, ensuring that our customers can get their parts when they need them. Since its opening a few months ago, the branch has taken off really well, and it is reassuring to know that there is scope for business in this area.”
Q. How do you think the business is going to change in the years to come?
FD: “Brexit has made a difference. I’ve noticed that the prices since the vote have gone up and, as a result, so have our prices, as well as garage prices. It is the man on the street that must be feeling the pinch, rather than the factors. It certainly has not affected our sales.
“I often find myself talking to friends in the business about the future of the factor trade and every time I argue for a far more optimistic future than my counterparts.
“At Dunlop’s we think the future is very bright. As already discussed, the problem with many auto shops is that they have not gone with the times. The days of blowing the dust off the product before presenting to the customer are finished. A clean, well laid out shop that the customer can browse in, with products that extend beyond the factor trade, is the way forward. I feel like Dunlop’s is proof of that.”