PMF sat down with Motor Parts Direct’s Managing Director Darren Wykes and its Marketing Director Kevin Blazey to get up to speed with the company’s latest expansion.
Q. How has business been?
Darren Wykes (DW): We’ve had a phenomenal year. We’ve managed to spin COVID-19 into a positive for us, and this has largely been a result of maintaining our availability. With both Brexit and coronavirus to worry about, we sought to boost our stock, investing in £16 million worth of parts. Because of this, we saw new customers getting in touch throughout the initial crisis, looking for parts and COVID-related accessories, and this has led to a steady rise in business. With a lot of our branches, we’re the only factors in the area, and off the back of this, we get a lot of walk-in business because there aren’t any accessory shops.
Kevin Blazey (KB): We were able to make sure that there was no drop in stock throughout lockdown, and we remained open, servicing our customers with a skeleton staff at the beginning and then maintaining new customers as things began to open up. It has to be said, we’ve come on leaps and bounds. Our determination to maintain availability meant that we were there when nobody else was. Most of our customers have been really busy as well, which can only be a good thing; if they’re busy, we’re busy.
Q. And how has the company been progressing?
DW: Very well! Since September of last year, we’ve opened 29 new branches, and we have 10 more in the pipeline, too. Right now, we have 162 branches, and our target is to reach 200 by 2022.
The business as a whole has been doing very well. We have some star performers in terms of our branches, such as Corby, Grimsby, Doncaster and Petersfield, some of which are relatively new. We’ve only got a handful of branches where we would say there are issues with sales performance, which is encouraging. Our model for the business is the same in every branch that we open up.
KB: Fakenham is a good example. It’s a tiny little branch in Norfolk, and if you looked where Fakenham is on the map you’d question why a branch has been put there, but they’re doing phenomenally well. Even though they’re only covering a very small area, I think they’re just getting more out of the customers.
DW: As well as opening up new branches, we’re re-doing our website and we’re creating regular e-shots to send out to our marketing database, and this is starting to generate new business for us. The next step for us is to build up a retail database.
Q. Have you found that MPD has had to operate differently than ‘usual’ in the current landscape?
KB: Not really. We’ve got such a good customer base, and the majority of our business is trade – we’ve never tried to go out and capture the retail market. We’ve built good relationships with our customers, and we like dealing with people.
Q. Have you changed any of your brands of late?
DW: We’ve been offered a lot of cheaper brands, but we’ve stayed with the predominant brands that we and our customers know. The car parc itself has become far more modern over the last three or four years; at the moment, there aren’t many cars that are over seven or eight years old. With these more complex vehicles, you need to be fitting good, trustworthy products.
Q. With electrification, for example, taking hold, do you see more of an importance in growing the provision of training within the aftermarket?
DW: We definitely see a need to push training onto our customers, and we’ve been selling a variety of training courses that are provided by some of our key suppliers. This includes EV training, too. For our own staff, we provide a lot of online training courses. A key influence for us in starting this up was when we spoke with one of our oil suppliers. There’s a great deal of misunderstanding in the industry when it comes to oil, so we arranged some training sessions with our staff so that they could understand how to sell oil properly. It was an education process, but it’s been a success; our staff know how to sell the right products at the right price.
KB: We found that a lot of our suppliers didn’t initially provide a lot of online training at first, so we asked them to do so, and then during lockdown, we saw an even greater opportunity for our staff to undertake the training.
Q. Do you have a strategy in place to recruit new, younger members of staff?
DW: Over the last few years, we’ve made the most of apprenticeships and been able to bring in new blood. I’d say that out of every four apprentices, at least one is very good and can progress through the ranks. We’ve also noticed a rise in the amount of female staff that we have on the team, including around 20 female branch managers. At the moment, 50% of our external sales team are women.
At the moment, there are greater opportunities in the motor trade because of other industries, such as retail, suffering over the last year or so, and this has had an impact on our recruitment potential.
For us, we aim to set our branches up to be really friendly environments; we actively encourage our staff to enjoy their time at work. Even though we’ve got to the size we have, we still want to keep our original principle of not making anyone feel like just a number. Anyone in the business can talk to me, Kevin, or Mukesh at any time.
KB: We’re always happy to take on new staff. A lot of people want to join MPD because of our ethos – we’re a friendly company.