Round up of 2021 and using Twixmas to plan for 2022

Hayley Pells MSc CAE FIMI

Covid stubbornly dominates operations with devolved politics adding an extra layer of barriers to navigate as we move into 2022. It has left many confused as to what is permissible, what is essential, and what can be planned – but plan we must and hope that those plans are flexible enough to withstand the ebb and flow of corona directives and guidance.

Dashing out during breaks in restrictions over 2021 gave some welcome relief from the grind and a sense of how we might return to more familiar events. As the skill gap potential widens, it has never been so important to complete Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and peer to peer support has assisted organisations large and small to learn from one another and develop future strategy. It is with this concern I now map out my CPD expectations for my workshop working into 2022, starting with a reflection of this year.

A rundown of 2021 for the workshop

January – The workshop reopened to a slow start, REPXERT Online training kept us going with CPD and was a welcome event. Building on the successful launch of this type of live stream training from last year it was good to be able to participate in a live event, ask questions and enjoy a bit of banter with the REPXPERTs and the other participants. The month built up to dumping all the demand into the final two weeks as motorists became more confident in moving around. Workshop labour & MOT sales were around the same for January 2020, but we saw a 32% increase for parts turnover, and a whopping 88% increase in diagnostic demand. This translated to an overall increase of 14.6% in profit, setting the tone for the future of our investment.

February – The workshop is still occasionally using furlough for staff members with concerns, but not as frequently. We started to see sports cars again for performance services and injector extraction seems to be the job of the month with a seemingly endless demand for increasing complex extractions. MOT sales are up 27%, parts and labour are slightly down, diagnostic sales surprise everyone with a 265% increase in sales on February last year. This is when percentages are a little funny, January is still the monetary winner but this emerging trend for the business has got some serious research underway.

March – MOT sales are down 34% on the previous month, examination of records show we’ve not lost any motorists, but they appear to have considerably downsized. Three car clients are now two, two car clients are now one, how long will this continue? Speaking to my motorists, some are waiting for a more sensible market to purchase and had taken advantage of inflated prices within the second-hand market to sell an asset, especially if they were working from home. I’m a little more reassured by this, but wonder if the landscape vehicle ownership is set to change? March also saw Schaeffler filming again at the workshop, and I am still delivering training online for schools. Brembo delivered excellent training within the workshop and the Brembo Expert exam was successfully passed. Not going to lie, it was quite the test! Historically this is a busy time for alignment for the company, the reduction in sales may be down to more workshops performing this service for themselves as most of the work lost is to trade.

April – Flattest month of the year thanks to the legacy of the MOT extension, but still over double gross profit on previous year. My work with the Federation of Small Business is keeping me busy with the Wales Policy Unit, I joined the panel of judges for the IMI Awards, joined the Servicesure network and created content for the BBC. At the workshop we took advantage of the quiet period by building content and having a workshop shutdown, I turned 40 and had a marvellous time celebrating with my family.

May – Schaeffler returned to the workshop for filming, as a workshop our reliance on Original Equipment (OE) is becoming more apparent, much of the demand is coming directly from the motorists seeking to use their cars for longer. BBC Radio and getting the truck ready for my father filming with Henry Cole kept the content side of the business occupied. My FSB role continues to develop with a meeting with Parliamentary Under Secretary for State in the Department for Business Paul Scully MP discussing the needs of small business in the automotive aftermarket and what shape of government support would be helpful. Press Connect, a pet project with Mark Field of Impression Communications gathers pace and serves to be an extremely enjoyable way of bouncing opinions on current affairs in our sector. Scores on the doors saw a 167% increase for gross profit, all sales areas experienced increase and that climbing diagnostic figure is still snagging my attention.

June – We finally installed fibre at the workshop for our internet provision, this project has taken several years and a shout out to Simon Byers of Two Circles who finally made this dream a reality. The heavy implementation of digital technology now has the networking ability to really get this party started. Denso filmed an Air Conditioning instructional film at the workshop and the first of series of IMI textbooks with Tom Denton was finalised. We enjoyed a visit from Kieran, the new editor from PMM and I was very happy to learn that he was keen to keep me on as a contributor. Sales figures show a modest change but are around the same numbers as the previous year.

July – This was the busiest month of the year at the workshop last year, it proved to be the busiest again for this year with a 17% increase of gross profit. Although all sales figures show an increase, it is again diagnostics that are centre stage. I step back from media and consultancy work for the month to throw my efforts into the workshop front line and to care for my little boy, Henry, who had OMF surgery which had been on hold due to the pandemic. The digital upgrades at the workshop made working from home a far easier experience when I was duty parent, and I am very grateful for this agility at such a busy time.

August – Curiously, my first live event in mainstream education came in the academic summer holidays. It was lovely to return to face-to-face events and meeting young people again. I was a panel judge for an entrepreneurship project and was particularly interested by the surge of interest in automotive solutions.  The workshop enjoyed visitors, our friends from Denso enjoyed their stay and it was a productive experience at the workshop implementing E-Videns for a trial. The workshop took delivery of a new AC machine from Cooling Edge, we chose the Denso machine to purchase after learning so much about it from our media work.  Content with OE brands Motul, Fil Filters, and Brembo was started, we are looking forward to completing this project next year. Overall, sales were stable with a surprise increase of alignment work shoring up a slight disappointment in workshop labour sales. Spiderbots haven’t returned any forum activity that normal excites a surge, so I shrug it off as an oddity. ADAS investment is never far from my thoughts these days, but I am not certain this is an indication to build that ship into the fleet just yet.

September – Needing to get team members on some much-needed holiday, we over communicate to our motorists of our intention for reduced availability. Taking advantage of some downtime after a busy couple of months on the shop floor I took the opportunity to attend the first hybrid IMI Sector Advisory Group meeting, completed some oscilloscope training with Andy Crook, participated with FSB Policy at Westminster, had a glorious time with Motul at the Goodwood Revival, and sadly a fuel crisis cancelled the first book launch and there were crates of wine stashed all over the workshop. The hit to productivity was not as keenly felt as anticipated with a 10% reduction in gross profit on the previous year. Diagnostic sales made up most of the ground here.

October – Did somebody suddenly switch events back on? Furlough formally came to an end, not that we had really noticed in the last 6 months, but it was still strange to have this safety net removed. We have “ping”, a member of our team is living with a known covid case and due to current directives, this means he is to come to work alongside my team member with a terminal lung condition who uses a portable oxygen tank. The office switch around that was the norm in 2020 (and was not missed at all) is reinstated and the rules over followed. It feels strange that we are all working and living with a known contact, and we decide we must place our faith in the vaccine and operate as advised by HSE, we agreed this in the shop floor doorway with 3m between us all. Milton Keynes Top Technician Awards recognised Wendy Williamson for a well-deserved accolade, I had far too much to drink, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The workshop had a visit from Denmark Denso – I trapped them in a TVR, they worked out how to escape quickly and it was a delight to showcase the absurdities of British engineering when working through the efficiencies of the Denso E-Videns platform. Servicesure Awards Dinner in Coventry, I got to shamelessly fan girl at Sally Gunnell (which was marvellous) and meet fellow garage owners within the network and hear of their experiences.  FSB had me busy with “Meeting the Challenge”, Reuters Automotive Global was heavy going but insightful, the Budget left me with many questions, many of which I got the opportunity to ask the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rt Hon Simon Clarke MP the morning after publication. I returned to my where my professional writing journey began, CAT Magazine, contributing a small piece about MOT testing. The workshop sales show a slump in MOT testing, repeating the trend shown earlier in the year of my motorists downsizing, overall sales are up and its diagnostics for the win.

November – Delivering at Autoinform Live at Wolverhampton was a great experience, it was my first visit to the facility and it is enormously impressive. Attendance for my lectures were heart-warming and filled all seats. Speaking in the space next to Frank Massey was a bit nerve wracking, he then greeted me like an old friend, and we had a great time.  Mechanex in Surrey was a few short days later and although my lecture was the same subject, the content changed for the different venue, number of participants and length of time slots. I got the opportunity to hear Tom Denton’s lectures which is always worth the trip and to catch up with Ring Automotive, Varta and the RMI IGA who I had not spoken to for a long time and make new friends from DEKRA.  The Delphi Training Centre hosted Autotechnician’s Big Weekend, I was participating and very much enjoyed the opportunity for Varta training and to really pick Phil Mitchell’s brains about the future of diagnostics at my workshop. My project with the Ford Legacy Fund and STEAM Academy, Pencoed reached agreement and I attended the Tech & Politics forum (Financial Times) which like Reuters, was very heavy going. I had lots of good news, I was appointed Chair of Automotive for the FSB and the proposal was accepted by the publisher following review for a second book from Tom Denton and I for the IMI textbook series. At the workshop, MOT sales were down, and diagnostics were up. It is time to invest further into diagnostic provision.

December – We enjoy a Christmas shutdown at the workshop and have done for many years. I take the opportunity to reflect on the year and plan for the next. Installation of new LED workshop lights has dominated the last couple of weeks, along with making space for a dedicated filming area to keep up with demand from the media side of the business. Coronavirus concerns were on the increase, leading to more conservative attitudes both from our motorists and ourselves.  I attended one digital event for the FSB as one of the speakers, and preparation for the IMI Awards Awards began as all the nominations have been received. Delphi pass through device and new GYS BSU arrived just before we shut down and our Master Technician training pathway is planned and is booked to start in the New Year. Judging by the amount of traffic on LinkedIn, it appeared the world celebrated with me on our new BSU acquisition. MOT sales were up for December on the previous year, but many came in early who we normally see in January.

In summary

Major acquisitions 2021

  • LuK self-adjusting clutch installation tool (REPXPERT points)
  • Fibre optic broadband direct to building (2Circles)
  • Spring compressor (Draper)
  • Garashield V2 (Beta testing, we are a customer for V1)
  • Denso E-Videns (on trial)
  • AC machine (Cooling Edge, Denso)
  • Tablet diagnostic device (Launch)
  • Diag-Startium (GYS)
  • Hydraulic ball joint separator (Pichler)
  • Battery Support Unit and pass-through device (GYS & Delphi)
  • Increased high voltage tooling (Draper)
  • Smart multimeter (Snap On)

Taking advantage of the super deduction and rates relief prompted investment into the workshop, 2022 will see a more consolidated approach, mostly because the Master Tech pathway will dominate time commitments, but also due to the planned acquisition of equipment to complete ADAS calibration before the Super Deduction expires.

Expectations that January will be slow to start are based on the uncertainty surrounding restrictions and school places. It is anticipated the final two weeks of January will see month’s loading of work as we saw in 2021. Restrictions will still influence sales trends and the inflated second-hand car market will be impacted by the manufacture’s increased productivity now computer chips are returning to more reliable supply levels.

April will continue to be quiet in MOT demand in comparison to the rest of the year, but for Avia, growth into diagnostics beyond our current tablet and oscilloscope provision, will mean a lessoning of reliance in this area and will be more inline with what our motorists want of us. Our experience has been that there is a cautious approach to replacing vehicles and an expectation that the current fleet will remain in service for longer. This has translated into greater demand for early diagnostics, timing belt replacement, and maintenance. Motorist interest in OE has increased, key themes coming through are centred on reliability, safety, and quality. Oil sales are down in quantity, but this in line with shrinking capacities and increased electric vehicle work. Demand for quality oil is increasing, but the price point and ready availability still proves to be a tricky hurdle.

Gripes – it is getting difficult to easily purchase small, low value items. It is easy to understand why sellers have focused on the high-ticket items the Super Deduction encourages, but sometimes I just really need a tyre brush.

Final takeaway

MOT sales are down 14.6% and diagnostic work up 426.5%, the Avia workshop hour has been more expensive than a MOT test for some time, but this may climb with rising energy costs and the reintroduction of business rates in 2022. Increasing costs are not just a concern of Avia, pushing costs nationwide may further decrease the number of older cars to repair if manufacturers have affordable and immediate solutions for motorists.

Events & Activities 2022

  • Ford Legacy Fund Saturday Club with STEAM Academy, Pencoed. Starting January
  • IMI Textbook series with Tom Denton. Starting January
  • CAT Awards, Manchester. February
  • New media client. February
  • IMI Annual Awards, London. March
  • Autoinform, Dublin. April
  • IMI Textbook series with Tom Denton. Completion May
  • UK Garage & Bodyshop Event, Automechanika Birmingham. June
  • RMI IGA, The British Independent Garage of the Year Awards, Farnborough. August
  • Mechanex, Surrey. September

Media booked for 2022

  • Professional Motor Mechanic
  • Motor Pro
  • auto:resource
  • Routledge

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