Does collaborating with a global brand mean sacrificing your individuality? Not necessarily, discovers Rob Marshall, who investigates how Eden Tyres & Servicing has evolved a seemingly ideal working relationship with Castrol Service.
Like many independent enterprises, Eden Tyre Sales owes its inception to one man’s vision. Using his experience and expertise, gleaned primarily from working for a national tyre distributor chain, John Eden took the plunge in 1981 and went solo. While the founding workshop, based in Normanton, Derbyshire, focussed on mainly fast-fit service work, his experience of bulk-buying tyres resulted in him supplying other garages. This wholesale division boosted revenue in those intrepid years and remains a crucial arm of the business almost four decades later.
While John initially refused to employ his sons, until they had gained sufficient grounding elsewhere first, both Jim and Matt eventually joined the business but on strict conditions. While they started as technicians and delivery drivers, the next-generation Edens played a pivotal role in expanding the company. A second location opened in nearby Ripley during 1994 and, by the time Eden Senior retired in 2005, the business had grown to five branches. The brothers then took-over the business entirely to prepare it for more ambitious growth.
Since 2012, the business has opened approximately one new centre annually and, since Autotechnican visited the newest premises at Swadlincote Derbyshire during mid-February, a new workshop was announced as we went to press. Yet, expanding outside of Derbyshire and into the neighbouring counties of Warwickshire and Leicestershire meant that it has had to boost its profile in areas unfamiliar with ETS.
“One way in which we sought to achieve this is through involvement with another well-recognised, global brand”, explained the company’s Retail Director, Jim Nicholls, but this has its difficulties.
“A major issue is that such relationships tend to be less of a partnership, because of the pressure to comply with the larger company’s corporate policies. We felt that this was not right for our business model in the East Midlands, let alone our customers.”
THE PERFECT BALANCE: CASTROL SERVICE
As the number of ETS workshops increased, so too did the demand for lubricants. Benefitting from the company’s bulk-buying experience with tyres, Jim sought to do the same with lubricants. Yet, he insists that the exercise was not about slashing costs through economies-of-scale. The move would satisfy the desire to align ETS with another well-respected company that would not prejudice the family firm’s independence. While Jim admits that seeking a suitable partnership rather than a takeover was not an easy exercise, the eventual solution came on the back of lucky timing, as he recalled:
“When we were looking for a lubricant partnership around six years ago, the Race Group and Castrol were seeking to align themselves with high quality, independent workshops. We liked the prospects and signed a three year contract. The relationship has been so fruitful, especially as the number of ETS outlets has increased considerably, we have remained in the CASTROL Service network ever since.”
While Castrol is a renowned lubricants brand, the service network’s public profile is being raised independently. Jim revealed that this continued investment is a significant reason why quality independent workshops should consider joining the network. While there is no upfront financial charge, 95% of servicing work must use Castrol products supplied by The Race Group. While Jim stated that this might sound dictatorial, he clarified that the resultant two-way communication is where the partnership shines.
“Should Castrol be either unable to supply a specialist lubricant, or not deliver it on time, we have noticed that providing feedback about alternative products that we have used is not ignored and is acted upon.”
REACTING INDEPENDENTLY TO THE MODERN WORLD
With vehicle technology evolving at such a fast pace, ETS admits that an independent aftermarket repair business must be responsible to keep up-to date with technological developments that are relevant to its customer base. As it aligns the suspension of approximately 2,000 cars every month, the company is developing its ADAS capabilities. While virtually all customer cars to date are conventional petrol/ diesels models, ETS has up-skilled a dozen of its technical staff on high-voltage safety and fault finding and it plans to increase that number, dependent on volumes of hybrids and Electric Vehicles that enter its workshops in the future.
Yet, customer demands and expectations have increased, too. The online experience is increasingly relevant and Joanna Saxton, the company’s Marketing and Social Media Manager told AT:
“We have found that an increasing number of customers prefer to book their appointments through the Internet and present the receptionist with their mobile ‘phone screen that includes all of the details. Increasingly, this is the modern way and our online booking system is similar to those used by many other industries, such as the medical profession. We have found that all of our millennial customers book online and value the text message reminders that we send the day before. We also encourage feedback, especially on Trustpilot, but responding to criticism is even more important than bathing in the warm glow of positive reviews!”
While ETS continues to develop this area, Joanna insists on the importance of the company continuing to do things its own way:
“It is very easy to embrace the latest trends and technology and, maybe, choose the wrong medium. For example, we feel that creating videos of a customer’s car to show worn brake pads, for example, is not only more time consuming but also not as effective as a good quality picture. Even so, we must not forget the importance of face-to-face relationships. Recently, we have hosted a female-only basic car maintenance social event and we plan to extend this to local learner drivers.”
So, while moving with the times and evolving is essential for any business, not getting carried away, making the right decisions and working with others but retaining independence seems to be a winning formula for ETS, as it heads towards its fortieth year.