Having a retail arm is becoming increasingly common amongst factor businesses. Discount Car Spares (DCS) in Leatherhead, Surrey, has been capitalising on this trend for a number of years now, so PMF sat down with Gary Syrett, Director, to ask how the business has managed to split its time between retail and the trade.
Q. Could you provide a little background to Discount Car Spares? How did it come into being?
Gary Syrett (GS): DCS began in 1988 with Jon Syrett (my dad) and Bob Herman starting it in Ashtead, which today is still in our hands as our retail shop, Go Auto. I came into the business in 2002, which was originally for six weeks as a summer job. 16 years later, and I am still here!We moved to our current Leatherhead premises in 2011, as we simply outgrew the old site and have a purpose built warehouse now predominantly servicing the trade side of the business.
Q. How has the start of 2018 gone for you?
GS: It has been a manic start to the year, constantly busy. Cold weather has obviously helped the cause, but we also like to think it has something to do with the hard hours we put in!We are now taking over 450 calls a day in our phone room.
Q. Why the venture into retail?
GS: Since the beginning, we have always had a retail side. Recently, we have seen an upturn in business and an increase in footfall through both sites. When it comes to the retail aspect, it helps having little
competition in the area. Only Halfords offers something similar.
Q. What are the challenges of managing more than one branch?
GS: The two premises are carefully managed and are still closely linked, with the Ashtead site relying on the Leatherhead stock. Saying that, when we moved in 2011 we were keen to differentiate the trade and retail side of things, hence Ashtead being called Go Auto.
Q. How do you manage to find a balance between the trade business and the retail business? Does it not make it more difficult for the logistics operation?
GS: We have invested over the years in technology to propel us forward and keep up with the changing market. A claim that makes me particularly proud is being the first factor in the area to have tracking in our vans. This has been invaluable, as it allows us to pin point when a driver will be back for their next run.
We have always prided ourselves on the service we offer and the knowledge within the business that enables us to offer the customer the best possible service. Our phone room, for example, has over 100
years’ experience cumulatively, with many of the sales guys having been managers at other factors or dealerships.
Q. Can you tell us a little about MAM software’s Driversboard, and how it fits into the factor’s day-to-day running?
GS: Driversboard has been a revelation for us. We were initially sceptical about going over to it, as it was a complete change to how we used to manage sending our vans on runs. It’s basically an electronic version of a whiteboard and enables the co-ordinator to send information out at the press of a button, so that drivers have a manifest on every run for proof of delivery. Something we never did in the past.
Q. In the last couple of years, what do you think has been a defining feature of DCS’s success?
GS: I am a firm believer that ‘people buy from people’ and it’s a belief that we pride ourselves on here at DCS. If a customer has a problem, we deal with it there and then to avoid any ill feeling. We have also introduced bike delivery riders to the fleet to complement our vans, which has been fantastic for us. Traffic can be problematic in some delivery areas and these new riders have enabled us to offer the service our customers demand. Technical evenings, put on by our key suppliers, have also been a successful part of the business as they are often well attended by the trade. I find this particularly encouraging as it shows the trade wants to learn with us.
Q. Do you have any big plans coming up in the year ahead?
GS: We are taking the plunge and going over to Autopart online (the cloud) with MAM, which is a step towards offering our customers a DCS branded trade portal. A development that we are very excited about. This will enable garage customers to log in and look up parts themselves, as well as being able to view all their accounts with us. It will really put us ahead of the game with our smaller local competitors.