In an effort to gain insight into the bodywork repair market, CVW visited C&C Vehicle Services at the accident repair specialist’s new Wolverhampton facilities. Managing Director Mark Newnes was happy to discuss the motivation behind this impressive expansion.
Commercial vehicle accident repair is an area that C&C Vehicle Services has specialised in since its opening in 1981. For many years, the company’s main base of operation had been in Oldham and it enjoyed a great deal of success there under family management. Then just over a year ago, the company underwent a management buyout and the decision was made to capitalise on an opportunity to expand into the Midlands. In January of this year, C&C announced the opening of its new Wolverhampton branch.
Managing Director Mark Newnes explained, “Many will agree that truly professional commercial vehicle body repair specialists are few and far between in the UK. There is a fair number knocking around for car repairs, but for truck fleets it can be difficult to find a business that they can rely on. So, collectively at C&C, we felt that there was opportunity here to expand and bring our expertise into areas that we hadn’t previously considered from our branch in Oldham.
“At C&C, we work on most commercial vehicles, from vans to HGVs. We have a number of contracts with accident management companies, and we can do pretty much anything directly with a customer; we can remove the cab, realign the chassis, and even carry out a full rebuild if needed. There’s really no limit. Between the two sites we cover everything.
“Our Commercial Director, Adam Nanyn, runs everything to do with the workshops. He has been with C&C for over 15 years, so he is the one with the technical experience. I, on the other hand, look after the management of the business. Our two differing skill sets mean that everything runs very smoothly, and alongside a fantastic workforce, has enabled us to grow into this new branch.”
Mark became Managing Director from February 2018 and had been at C&C for two years prior to that as Operations Director. In that time, the Oldham branch had grown significantly, from 35 to 55 employees. So, settling on Wolverhampton for the location, the company acquired a 32,000ft2 area that now holds separate buildings for paint and respray, tractor and trailer repairs, shot blasting, chassis realignment, and LCV body repair.
However, Mark tells us that there is more to come. He suggested that C&C would soon be opening a branch in Chesterfield, which would primarily focus on repairs to vans and other lighter goods vehicles, although it would be able to cater for HGVs as well. Once that is up and running, the company will set its sights on the south, where there are plans to open a branch in the Reading area later on this year, with further development in discussion for 2020.
With this fast-paced strategy, many would worry about whether there is enough work to make these branch openings a worthwhile investment. Mark explained, “We have not approached this in a random manner. Many of our customers are big accident management companies – we only work in a business-to-business capacity – which has allowed us to approach them and ask where they think is the best place toopen up a branch. In other words, we notify them that C&C is planning to expand and then we ask which location would serve them best. This ensures that when we open a new facility, the demand is already there; the customers have a requirement before we’ve even opened the doors!”
Recruiting the right people
Having the work is one thing, but having the staff to do the work is just as important. Like the mechanical repair and maintenance sector, finding skilled talent for the bodyshop market is challenging. Mark detailed how C&C plans to overcome the issue: “Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge we have with the expansion is finding the technicians to man the branches. One of the ways we have manoeuvred around this issue is by opening slightly smaller workshops. The Chesterfield facility is 6,000ft2, which is smaller than Oldham and Wolverhampton, but should mean recruitment won’t be a problem.
“Once the other branches have opened, I fully intend on implementing an apprenticeship scheme. However, my experience has taught me that for apprenticeships to work, you need to make sure you have the right mentors in place.
This takes a lot of management and focus, which I simply can’t afford at the moment whilst C&C is moving into new areas.
“Thankfully, most of the training we offer to our existing staff is arranged through our suppliers. Take our paint supplier, PPG Refinish, as an example. On more than one occasion, the company has hosted training events at its facilities for our technicians. Having this option available is a great help, especially when we need to focus on opening branches.”
It’s all interlinked
Beyond staffing, there is also the matter of coordinating incoming work. For a multi-branch organisation, there needs to be a system in place to communicate information between arms of the business, so that there are no bottlenecks, and potential income is never turned away. To C&C’s credit, the company already had a suitable management system in place.
“EMACS, our bodyshop management system, has allowed us to filter the work out to individual depots,” divulged Mark.
“Thanks to this system, all jobs come through the Oldham branch so that the customer has only a single point of contact, streamlining the process and keeping it neat. The staff at Oldham will then allocate the work to a relevant branch, which will be notified of the incoming vehicle, with the subsequent stages of repair being logged in the system. This means we are always able to provide clarity to customers on when they can expect their vehicle back.”
Mark commented, “Without a management system in place like EMACS, it would be considerably harder to open a new branch.”
What about mechanical maintenance?
Given the extra space afforded by the new workshop, perhaps C&C may have considered incorporating mechanical maintenance into the business model. Mark had mentioned this in passing, however, when asked about the idea, he seemed sceptical: “I think there is just too much of a gap between the two professions.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been tried before. C&C even attempted it many years ago, but it became very difficult to manage. We are happy to replace a part if it has become damaged in a collision, but servicing and mechanical maintenance we leave well alone.
“It is not our intention to become all things to all men. If we started carrying out mechanical jobs as well, we would likely lose sight of who we are, which I will not allow to happen. “We’re all about commercial vehicle accident repairs: that’s what we do and that’s what we’ve always done.”