Venturing behind the open doors of one of Staffordshire’s newest aftermarket garages, Rob Marshall looks at how the new kids on the block are making their venture a success.
It takes a certain amount of bravery for anybody to switch careers, let alone a complete family. Yet, this is precisely what the Lazenbys did, when they left the construction business and ventured into the independent automotive aftermarket. Led by patriarch, Craig, his son Tyler James (TJ), and son-in-law (Mike), they all worked together building, repairing and competing with race cars, before branching out into the professional realm.
Craig recalls that it was a decision, which was not taken lightly: “While we love driving, building and repairing cars, we realised that we needed to do considerable research, before taking the plunge and starting a new business.”
Finding suitable premises was a major hurdle, especially one with sufficient space, both within the workshop and outside. The former ceramics factory on King Street was ideal but needed considerable work to transform into a professional workshop. Thankfully, the family’s construction industry experience came into play and the mezzanine floor was soon removed and a welcoming reception area built. The family also decided to split the main workspace into two sections: repairs and MOT Tests.
Naturally, equipping the workshop was the biggest financial outlay. Fortunately, the new business inherited many tools from the family’s former racing car exploits. This included ramps. Indeed, one of the first fixed ramps to be fitted was the Tecalemit four-poster. A lucky local find from a local detailing specialist that had decided to close netted a pair of new recessed scissor lifts. This situation freed-up capital that could be allocated elsewhere.
Realising that MOT Testing would be a core draw for new customers, the family embarked on researching their options. Finally, the company settled on Snap-on’s 5-tonne SVL5000. Craig’s son, TJ, conducts the firm’s MOT Tests and recalls: “We chose this one-person automated test lane, because it is a package that features everything that we need – so the beam setter, wireless torch, brake rollers and gas analyser, for instance, are all included and are intended to work seamlessly together. This was not the only reason – the dual ability to perform wheel alignment was a big plus for us.”
Mike elaborates: “We are big on suspension geometry – after any repair, we insist on performing a four-wheel alignment. Having a dual purpose test lane is a huge advantage for us and our customers.”
Craig recalls that the £32,000 investment was hard to swallow but it was not justified solely by the equipment. Snap-on’s customer service was a major incentive. As an out-of-action MOT test lane can be catastrophic for a VTS and its customers, decent support was crucial. He clarifies: “Snap-on is expensive but, while the equipment is good and the brand has a decent reputation, the speed of service was the deciding factor for us. Having local engineers and somebody at the end of the telephone is very reassuring.”
Craig’s son, TJ, reports that small initial teething issues saw them test out Snap-on’s customer service, which met their expectations. After fourteen months of virtually constant use, he concludes that the test lane is well-engineered and has been dependable. Small gripes include a brittle finish, with some light rusting starting where the paint has chipped off in places. While Craig highlights that the £800 calibration invoice was a little higher than he expected, he admits that the rate is still lower than that offered by some other companies.
The repute spreads…
In fewer than eighteen months, Longton Test Centre has garnered not just retail customers but also nearby garages have turned to them for help. Craig and Mike figure that the MOT Test bay is one reason, because they carry out not just testing work but also four-wheel alignment services for those businesses, who have become either too busy, or have let their tester qualifications lapse.
The family also prefer repairing motor vehicles to their prior construction careers. Mike highlighted that aftermarket repair work is more multifaceted, meaning that each day brings fresh challenges. This has led to greater job satisfaction and higher motivation.
With its eyes on growth, the youthful company is investigating moving into the adjacent unit, already. At this stage, somewhat surprisingly, Craig is not considering installing another MOT Test bay but he is investigating a dedicated wheel alignment ramp. Naturally, this will free some capacity from the existing MOT bay, proving a dual benefit.