In conjunction with Martyn Langbridge, owner of Cheltenham & Gloucester Autocentre, Cheltenham. Iain Robertson highlights the benefits of a balanced management style, centred on its customers, with high attention to detail.
Going to school involves learning ‘The Three Rs’; Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Owning the C&G Autocentre also warrants its own version of the meme: Recognition (of customers), Resolution (of problems) and Recognition (by those in authority). While membership of the ‘service industry’ means a constant pursuit of meeting standards, which warrants repeat business, making a difference for the customer ‘in distress’ builds the enterprise.
“Opening the doors to my new business twenty years ago, which had already earned its place in the local market,” recalls Martyn, “was the challenge I craved in my working life. From the outset, I recognised that establishing standards and raising them would become the key parameters. Although many consumers scarcely appreciate measured improvements immediately, they become increasingly aware of them, as time passes.”
In chatting with Martyn, I perceived a warm, human level of understanding, with an intriguingly icy clarity. Icebergs may appear 10% above the waterline, even though 90% of their content and integrity lies below it. Martyn is a man of purpose. Quite intentionally, he has positioned himself at the front of house, while his support team runs both reception and workshop with cool efficiency. He admits to not being a technician but he knows how to manage expectations, not least from a customer’s viewpoint, which is a vital aspect of separation of duties.
He continues: “We never lead on price, in fact, it sits very low on our list of priorities. Yet, we insist on providing premium levels of satisfaction. Keeping the customer happy maintains our growth potential, a factor that has future-proofed it since the outset. Naturally, keeping abreast of staff training needs and engaging with the most appropriate technology are essential support functions. When they culminate in receiving not one, but two industry awards this year alone (Top Garage 2019; Automechanika Garage of the Year 2019), the second definition of recognition comes into play as a reward to the entire business.”
Martyn may not be a technician in mechanical terms but he is a tactician in business terms. He has been very careful to align himself and his business with people that have a positive impact on it. “I am so grateful for the relationships I have built with people like David Massey”, he explains. “He runs Preston- based ADS Automotive and both he and his father Frank are highly regarded exponents of vehicle diagnostics and training. Their advice and friendship have been welcomed as much as that of ‘The Garage Inspector’, Andy Savva, whose training services have been empowering.
“I also include James Dillon, whose reputation in the diagnostics scene is of the highest order, as well as John Batten of AutoIQ, for his knowledge of management, marketing and the broader field of vehicle diagnostics. In a business that is increasingly systems based, their input and education has been invaluable and enabled C&G to remain on the top rung.”
Cleanliness is parked alongside godliness in Martyn’s company, working from a premise of strong initial perceptions. If the place looks good, it is more than half the battle won. Yet, like the iceberg, it is not a superficial choice but a determined stance that reaches deep into the core of C&G’s business.
“Someone asked me,” he remembers, “if owning C&G Autocentre was easy. In truth, I like to make it look that way but it is a modern business, with external pressures foisted on it daily, which is what I have always determined to keep separate from the team. Yet, our growth rate has never once slipped backwards, in 20 years, which suggests that we must be getting something right!”