PMF last visited Autosupplies, Chesterfield, in 2015 as the company celebrated its 25th anniversary. Award-winning Managing Director, David Clarke, lives and breathes the business. We caught up with him as he puts the finishing touches to a recent expansion and to discover his plans for the future.
From the moment you meet David, you can’t help but be drawn in by his infectious enthusiasm for business and his persistent desire to ‘be the best’. David will readily admit that he lives and breathes Autosupplies, and doesn’t see it as a job. He has no preconceived ideas about his status either, ‘all I am is a shopkeeper’ he declares.
David’s interest is purely in business; his passion is work and running a business rather than anything specifically to do with cars or automotive parts. His one and only experience of a track day ended early when he left, preferring to be at his desk rather than ‘wasting time driving round a track’. He now hands some of these ‘perks’ of the job to his management staff.
David comes from a working class family background. His father had two allotments but was unable to sell the produce, so seven-year-old David would go round all the local corner shops selling his dad’s fruit and veg and the profits were equally split.
With his first job out of school being a paint mixer, Autosupplies naturally started as a supplier to the refinishing and paintwork industry in 1990. However, David’s enterprising spirit meant the company didn’t stay still for long. He saw that many of his customers didn’t just want refinishing products – they wanted general parts as well, and were forced to go to other sources for them. So, in 1999, he bought an acre of land on the edge of Bolsover in the belief that ‘we either had to move up or move out.’
He says: “I’d always enjoyed selling and really wanted to run my own business. I’d always had that entrepreneurial streak running through me, and wanted to progress and achieve more. It was a big gamble for me, but I really wanted to do it.”
The progression of the business is largely down to David’s competitive streak and his ‘determination to succeed’ which, on the few occasions when he is away from the business, also extends to his keen interest in competition fishing.
Nowadays, the company employs nearly 100 staff, remaining a very family-orientated business where David’s three sons and his daughter work, has 50 vans and sells over 10,000 parts a day.
Autosupplies covers a wide area, including the likes of Chesterfield, Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley, Nottingham and the Peak District, all from the one branch. ‘We go where our customers want us to go, so our large area coverage is down to customer demand’. Most of the van areas covered have an hourly delivery service.
Because there is such high demand from his customers, David is constantly expanding his areas, addressing issues and often splitting his delivery areas up to ensure the company can cope with the demand.
David says his main focus is looking after his customers. He is aware how important it is for customers to get the parts when they need them. Being able to satisfy that increasing demand is one of the main reasons for the recent warehouse expansion.
Autosupplies makes between three and four thousand deliveries a day. Acknowledging that ‘attention to detail is key’, David has four vans that remain on standby at the warehouse to cater for breakdown of other vehicles, or staff illness. Similarly, David recognises that the needs of his customers are not purely mechanical parts, he also retains his specialism in refinishing products as well as selling a whole host of other daily garage essentials, such as workwear, toilet roll, bleach and disinfectant, tea, coffee and sugar. All of which can be delivered on the back of the van with the parts, saving the garage time and effort and bringing in added revenue for the factor.
David says he is constantly thinking outside the box to improve the business and satisfy his customers. Remaining very hands-on, he spends Mondays on the road with his seven sales reps visiting customers for feedback and industry chat. He also recognises his own strengths and the areas in which he needs some outside expertise, so employs a PR company, a Health & Safety/Quality Consultant and an Employment Consultant, who are all on hand when required.
Autosupplies regularly works with suppliers to put on training evenings and offers MOT refreshing training to customers on site. A recent Gates training evening attracted 55 customers, which helps to increase the knowledge-base of the clientele.
David commented: ‘Better trained customers lead to an increase in sales and a reduction in parts returned. We want to help garages grow their business as that, in turn, helps to grow our business.’ David also pushes his suppliers to send his staff on training courses whenever possible.
When asked about expansion in 2015, David replied: “I feel there is more to achieve from one site. Once I have reached my goal then who knows”. Two years on, Autosupplies had run out of warehouse space, which was starting to affect the efficiency of the business and with sales up double digits this year, it needed to expand in order to increase its stock holding. The business is now in the final stages of adding a 7,600sq ft extension to the current site.
David spent a year applying for planning permission and is now putting the finishing touches to his electrics and racking.
In the last two years, the warehouse has expanded by 10,000sq ft, a second floor has been added, staff levels have more than doubled and Autosupplies’ van fleet has increased by 23 vehicles. David jokes that his warehouse ‘pickers’ already walk around 20 miles a day, collecting and packing customer orders, and this will only increase after the expansion is complete. The increase in stock holding means that Autosupplies will be able to operate at an impressive pick rate of 9.5 out of 10.
Q. What have been the biggest changes in your 28 years at the helm?
DC: “Customer expectations have increased massively, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Everything is 100mph, no one is prepared to wait, and things have become a lot more price driven since the recession. Another huge change, which is one of the main reasons for the expansion, is the amount of stock that we now need to carry due to an increasingly fragmented car parc.”
Q. How do you communicate with your customers?
DC: “We take over 2,000 calls a day and so are constantly in communication with our regular customers. Aside from that, we communicate offers and promotions through our salesmen on the road, our website, our Facebook page, on invoices and at supplier training evenings. We also have a series of sponsored wraps on several of our delivery vans, which help us to promote new ranges to customers. We have also implemented a very successful company newsletter which provides information on the motor trade and Autosupplies customers.
“Aside from that, we have a successful retail shop on site, with four dedicated staff, and see between 200 and 300 customers a day. We also have a PR company on board and see regular PR in both trade and local press as a way to boost our reputation within the industry.”
Q. What do you feel are the biggest threats to the business?
DC: “The biggest worry is technology; technology breaking down can kill a business. We rely so heavily on our phones and computer system that we have put in place a ‘crisis plan’ to deal with the unlikely situation of losing power or computer failure. We have also just invested in a state of the art call centre style phone system, but the old system remains as a back-up.”
Q. What does the future hold for Autosupplies?
DC: “We have recently acquired Butlers Automotive, a small distributor in Barnsley. Like Autosupplies, Butlers is a family-run business and so the ethos fits in very well for me. The Butlers name will remain and customers will be able to utilise our Bolsover warehouse to take advantage of a huge expansion in the range of profits it is able to offer.
“Every day is a battle to retain and grow and planning is key. There is little point in looking 10 or 20 years ahead. Instead, it’s much better to look at the next one or two years and address those issues first.”