A new approach to delivering servicing, maintenance and repair services to fleet and retail customers is being promised with the launch of the Independent Garage Cooperative (IGC).
The national network unites more than 120 independent garages – expected to rise to 200 by summer 2015 – and involves Geoffrey Bray, founder of Fleet Support Group, which became ARI Fleet UK.
The co-ownership approach, which has been endorsed by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), is being led by a management team that has almost 100 years of working with the independent garage sector.
They are: IGC chief executive Steve Wadlow, who for more than 30 years has owned independent garage AME in Shenstone, Staffordshire; IGC operations director Dave Poole, who for more than two decades has run independent garage Autolube in Letchworth; and IGC national network manager Phil Todd, who has more than 30 years’ experience within the independent sector, including previously managing the garage network at FSG and then ARI Fleet UK.
They are in turn supported by an 11-strong team of business development partners, all of whom are successful garage owners in their own right.
IGC has divided the UK into 11 regions, with each area represented by one of the business development partners.
Geoffrey Bray, who founded Fleet Support Group (FSG) in 1987, and oversaw its expansion as it became the UK’s largest privately-owned fleet management company with 55,000 vehicles on its books, is honorary president.
Bray recognised the virtues of the independent garage sector through FSG, before it was acquired by US-based ARI in December 2011 and renamed ARI Fleet UK in 2012. Bray subsequently retired in 2013.
The launch of IGC comes more than a decade after the October 1, 2003, introduction of Block Exemption regulations that heralded a new dawn for independent garages in their battle for business with franchised dealers.
Although welcomed, Block Exemption triggered the launch of a number of independent networks by middlemen firms.
Wadlow said: “On the surface it was a positive move for independent garages, but in reality many are being exploited.
“The offer to garages of high-volume fleet business is always accompanied by the demand for very low labour rates and major discounts on parts.
"In addition, garages are expected, in some instances, to provide extended credit. Invariably the winner is the middleman, not customers or independent garages.”
IGC claims to change that via a co-ownership approach in which each individual garage is a shareholder.
Wadlow continued: “With common aims and objectives relating to standards and service levels it means fleet customers always deal directly with the garage owners who deliver the service.”
IGC members must comply with a strict vetting procedure, a quality standard focused on ethics and competence and a code of conduct.
The network has been backed by the Institute of the Motor Industry, which said: “The IGC standard incorporates current competence to ensure its partners employ individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills to maintain and repair vehicles to the required standard.
“The IMI endorses professionalism of individuals working competently and ethically in the retail motor industry, and therefore supports the IGC standard.”
At the core of the co-ownership company is the launch of ServiceLink, IGC’s maintenance programme that includes: nationally-set rates for labour parts and oil, free vehicle collection and delivery, free vehicle wash and vacuum, free top-ups between services as well as free tyre and vehicle winter and safety checks, and a national guarantee.
IGC anticipates launching other initiatives under the Link brand, such as TyreLink.
It also plans to establish a network of independent garages capable of providing service, maintenance and repair to truck fleets and a network of associate partner garages that will service corporate and private customers located in more remote areas of the UK.
Customers have the choice of how they manage their accounts and arrange vehicle bookings.
The core service sees customers accessing the IGC website – www.igcltd.co.uk – to find their nearest network garage and then arrange their own booking.
IGC+, which is specifically targeted at fleets, provides access to IGC’s Wiltshire headquarters’ call centre which will handle vehicle bookings and manage centralised invoicing.
Todd, who managed the independent garage network at FSG and more recently ARI Fleet UK, said: “The co-ownership structure enables every IGC partner to learn from one another, exchanging ideas, sharing best practice, buying better, overcoming technical challenges and together they will be recognised as an industry-leading service organisation.”