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Supporting Each Other

By autotech-nath on May 21, 2024

Karl Fisher reports that any business is only as good as the people behind it. Pictured left-to-right are David Taylor, Piotr Zyla, Beth Fisher-Dewhurst, Karl Fisher, Kane Hull and Kian Johnson.

Colleagues within a healthy workshop should support each other like a close family but this is not the only consideration, as Rob Marshall discovers.

Unlike many self-made garage owners, Karl Fisher did not aim to be a technician. While he hardly wanted to be a lumberjack either, he fixed his sights on a carpentry career. Life had other plans for his talents. Instead of making handmade furniture, he cut his teeth on crafting specialist propshafts. He was naturally gifted. His repute led him to accept offers to run aftermarket repair workshops for their owners, before entering the life of ‘self-unemployment’ as a mobile technician, working 60-hour weeks from a Morris Marina van. It did not take long before he was lured back into bricks-and-mortar employment but, this time, doing it his way. He soon established formal premises and moved from employee to employer. The result of thirty-three years hard graft is what you see now. Karl Fisher Autos of Cannock has become one of the most respected aftermarket workshops in Staffordshire.


Sitting down with Karl, to discuss the secret of his success, reveals that there is not one special formula that he can impart. Despite his early woodworking interest, Karl is clearly a ‘car guy’ – evidenced by his gleaming Porsche 993 C2S in the car park – but his approach is firmly down-to-earth. His respect for hard work is reflected not just in his career but he also expects his team to display the same dedication. This philosophy extends to his daughter, Beth, who is not just an invaluable organiser and communicator between the customer and technicians in the service reception but she also aids workshop throughput, by being a fully qualified and proficient MOT tester.

Karl views dedication not just in work hours clocked but also quality. While he has a hunger to tackle everything that comes through the workshop doors, he admits that his insistance of high standards has made some tasks unprofitable.

Karl (left) insists that hard work, dedication, high standards and pride in your work are key to earning customer loyalty. His daughter, Beth (right) joined the business in 2014, bolstering the firm’s IT, as well as balancing her time between workshop and reception duties.

Yet, he argues that this supposed financial cost is only a short-term penalty; reputation and long-term customer loyalty are the ultimate goals. To prove this long-term strategy works, Karl reports that the business has increased its hourly labour rate last year but not one customer left. Karl reasons that there are two explanations. Firstly, the business has established itself as offering value for money for a quality repair – thus dissuading the part-worn tyre seeking brigade, for whom price is the sole consideration. Secondly, many aftermarket garages in the local area have been unwilling to invest in the equipment needed to work on the latest models and most fast-fit centres are unprepared to dive deep into complex problem-solving. Therefore, the only alternative are main dealers, with their considerably higher hourly charges.

Support from quality partners that share the same high standards is also vital to Karl. He praises ACtronics, especially, for allowing his business to give options to customers and gives him peace of mind that his quality standards are not compromised.

Equipment support…

As the aftermarket has had to evolve quickly to cope with increased barriers to even basic work, such as resetting service schedule lights, Karl’s business has evolved from all-makes support to specialisation. For now, these comprise premium brands, especially those from the JLR stable. Last year, the business invested £16,000 in OEM licensing not just for JLR but also BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis. One reason for this is that some main dealers will not refund a faulty part, unless OEM tools have been used as part of the installation/coding procedure.

Yet, Karl relies still on the excellent aftermarket offerings. Currently, he uses a combination of Bosch and Topdon equipment, praising Bosch for its coverage of DPFs and Ford models especially.

Aftermarket support…

Karl concurs that parts availability has become a particular problem, especially among main dealers, and he singles out JLR as being particularly poor. While he adds that some parts can be cheaper from main dealer parts counters (such as coil springs), he praises the aftermarket for striving to keep quality products available and lead times down. Due mainly to their proximity and breadth of stock, many parts are supplied through GSF, or LKQ ECP, because they enable them to provide its customers with options. For instance, quality braking parts tend to be either Delphi, Bosch, or Brembo, which facilitate choice.

Karl singles out ACtronics for particular praise. Again, the remanufacturing specialist allows his business to provide customers with choices. Should a repair be required by the following day, this might be possible using virgin main dealer parts (presuming availability, of course) but at 2-4 times the cost. The alternative, an ACtronics remanufactured component. Karl reports that, because he has the backing of ACtronics’ extensive testing service, it allows him to be confident not only in the diagnostic process but also in the quality of any remanufactured part supplied by the company. The remanufacturing procedure is not that time-consuming either. For instance, Karl diagnosed a faulty Ford Fusion Durashift transmission actuator. It was sent to ACtronics, which confirmed the fault and found worn carbon brushes and a faulty PCB. The part was retested, remanufactured and returned within five days. Thanks to Karl’s desire not to refuse a task, he took on a Ducati motorcycle with an engine ECU fault. Despite being an unconventional vehicle and having had the added complication of a third-party attempting repairs beforehand, ACtronics completed the work within eight days.

Supporting the future…

Karl is well aware of the issues affecting recruitment, especially as Gen Z is particularly distracted by promises of more glamorous and better-paid careers. He views external training for his younger staff as very good but less so for more experienced members of his team. To remedy this, he has brought in an OEM trainer twice a week to progress his technicans’ understanding and diagnostic process with OEM equipment.

Naturally, Karl’s focus is on the future but the firm is entering its new era with the same practical attitudes that Karl adopted in his career’s formative years. His “common sense” approach sees Karl Fisher Autos technical staff being schooled on more advanced electrical and electronics problem solving, including high-voltage training. While Karl recognises the importance of ADAS calibration, he has decided that it is not a priority, because he subcontracts such work to a neighbouring windscreen fitting specialist. Yet, he reports, this stance could change.

The future at Karl Fisher Autos is bright. The staff are keen. They are well-trained. They work long hours but quality and loyalty remain the remits. With such businesses like this championing the aftermarket, the main dealers will continue to have healthy competition that will beat them, hands down.

All repair workshops are aware of the vehicle repair technician shortage. Karl reports that he has ceased looking for skilled technicians but he has noticed that they are approaching him.



About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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