Opportunity knocks

Baldwins Repair Group is a well-established name within the industry. With over 30 years’ experience as a leading accident repair specialist, combined with its sustainable and forward thinking business approach, it is no surprise it finds itself in the positive position it is today. bodyshop’s Mark Hadaway caught up with Baldwin’s managing director, Steve Warner and group general manager, Peter Randhawa, to find out more.

Baldwins was originally established over 30 years ago, operating in the Buckinghamshire area from its, now, Aylesbury headquarters site. During the past seven years, managing director, Steve Warner has invested vast amounts of time, energy and money into Baldwins to create a fast moving forward thinking group of companies. ‘We have a strong ethos – dedication to giving excellent service with a friendly and flexible approach,’ said Steve. ‘We are a rapidly growing and profitable business with innovative ideas and use modern strategies to create positive solutions for all stakeholders.’

As such, the business now comprises five regional centres covering Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, with four of the sites boasting PAS125 BSI Kitemark accreditation, with its fifth site, Leicester, due its audit inspection in February 2015. Vehicle manufacturer approvals in the shape of Ford, Mitsubishi, MG and Suzuki are in place at its London site, whilst the Stratford branch currently holds Nissan accreditation. However, this is an area which looks set to develop in the near future.

‘This is most certainly an area we are keen to focus our attentions on for the future,’ said group general manager, Peter Randhawa. ‘We already have strong links with a number of manufacturers but feel we have plenty more to offer across all sites. With the plans we have for the business, and the propositions we are developing, I believe there is great potential to further progress relationships with specific manufacturer brands.’

Partnerships

It is evident vehicle manufacturer relationships are not the only partnerships the business has its sights set on in the future, with further ties with insurers, corporate clients and retail propositions all being part of the strategy.

‘In late 2013 we invested £90,000 in our fast track Leicester site and 2014 has seen us broaden our asset base further with the purchase of a 23,000sqft workshop in Aylesbury which will include the repair centre itself. We just seem to be outgrowing the space for our ideas, therefore the extra space was a necessity for the growth of the business. We have plans to utilise the space in the creation of a centralised administration facility to oversee all sites,’ explained Peter. Part of the development will also see the creation of a group training centre.

The investment has seen the business purchase not only its existing 8,000sqft site, after 11 years of trying, but also a facility, twice the size, directly opposite which it plans to use part of for the development of a fast track workshop. ‘Our Leicester site has really been the pilot of our fast track philosophy and has been highly successful,’ said Peter who points to the LE1 postcode as being a key part of the approach. He continued, ‘Not only has it given us the customer facing proposition but it also offers us the capability to direct specific fast track (sub eight hour) repair work to the site in order to enhance cycle time efficiencies. Looking ahead, this approach is a policy we plan to deploy elsewhere within the group’s reach.’

Identification

The Baldwins team identify the key to fast track success is in the identification of damage and ensuring work is triaged correctly. ‘This is another benefit of centralising our administration tasks as we can ensure uniformity across the group both through equipping our recovery drivers with the correct skills to document damage at first sight, but also for our office based team to ‘screen’ any images live,’ explained Steve.

The light commercial vehicle (LCV) market has also been identified as an area worthy of further attention, especially with reference to Baldwins London (Heathrow) site. ‘This market is colossal within the London region and recent data would suggest it is only increasing. We already cover the LCV market but it is an area we have potential to do much more with,’ suggested Steve.

A rather ‘alternative’ revenue stream for Baldwins comes in the form of a specialist division within the business, known as Baldwins Surface Coatings. Operating out of its London site, the division provides a finishing service for film sets, shop-fronts, mannequins and exhibition stands. ‘This is not a major part of what we do but, at the same time, acts as great use of resource and extra revenue generator for the business with little input,’ said Steve. ‘There are all sorts of opportunities such as these out there for bodyshops but they do require investment in time and energy.’

Focus

Whilst clearly plans are afoot and the business continues to evolve, the very core of the business is centred on ensuring its attention is 100% on the most important stakeholder within the entire process – the vehicle owner. Steve said, ‘Safe, structurally sound, high quality repairs combined with exemplary levels of customer service is what we deliver. It is a central philosophy of ours to do things the correct way and it’s highly satisfying to work with progressive, forward thinking partners within the industry that support that very ethic.’

The business is proud to be in what it calls a ‘very stable financial position’ by which it prefers to invest and attain assets rather than carry mounting debts – a strategy Steve has implemented throughout the business. ‘Being solvent allows us to concentrate on the business’ explained Steve. ‘I am a great believer in building an asset base which is why we own over 130 vehicles within our courtesy car fleet, have invested in 13 recovery vehicles and carried out the new site build in Leicester late in 2013, which was a new experience for us.’

People

Baldwins is also very aware of the necessity to invest in its people and identifies a serious skills gap emerging within the sector. ‘We see investing in people as an absolute ‘must do’,’ said Peter. ‘We aim to take on one workshop discipline apprentice at each site every year. Not all are successful but we persevere and have had some great successes in creating a loyal workforce.’ Workshop apprentices are overseen by the watchful eye of the ATA qualified technicians.

Peter continued, ‘But there is so much more to the repair business now than just repairing cars so we have to look across the whole spectrum of business skills and ensure we invest in these areas too. Customer service personnel are essential and need to be supported in the same way as technicians.’

‘I have a bit of a saying about bodyshops,’ said Steve, ‘We need to have the appearance of a hotel, the administration of a small government, the logistics of DHL… and that’s without even mentioning the constantly changing and technological demands of repair. A bodyshop business is pretty diverse and highly skilled across all disciplines. I would suggest, as professional repairers, we do a good job on the whole.’

Only time will tell, but currently one year into a 10 year plan and clearly making headway, it would be fair to suggest that if opportunity knocks and strategic plans play out as intended, there is a very good chance Baldwins Repair Group will be a major market player in the near future.

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