UK’s independent garages adapt to current challenges with more now reopening

Garage Wire’s columnists react to lockdown easing and discuss business recovery

More independent garages are this week reopening following a temporary period of closure during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown.

It follows Boris Johnson’s TV address on Sunday which outlined the government’s lockdown easing plans.

Workers are now being encouraged to return to work where they cannot work from home and are advised to travel by car, bicycle or foot, avoiding public transport to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Business recovery

Barry Parker of BTE Automotive in Bordon, Hampshire said: “I think Boris’s speech was a little misleading, and non-specific to any industry type, which is understandable considering the variable business types.

“I still feel business owners are accountable to ensure the safe management of staff, clients and their own business recovery.

“I had to engage with my team and provide a message of reassurance and update them on the current and ongoing business strategy.

“The detail and timing of the message regarding the specific term ‘you must go back to work if you can’ was particularly incoherent and generated more questions for my team than answers.

“The timing of the speech meant I had a very short period of time to re-develop a pre-engineered message to ensure team stability, mental-wellbeing and reassurances to those who may have been expecting to return to work just 12 hours after the speech was broadcast.”

However, Aaron Phillips of Jackson & Phillips Automotive Services in Leighton Buzzard welcomed the government’s plan, saying its timeline is helping him plan the recovery of his business.

After reopening his garage business yesterday, Aaron told GW: “It is an unprecedented situation and we and the government are clearly learning as we go along.

“We’ve had to completely change the way we work.”

Workshop social distancing and hygiene measures

Customers at Phillips of Jackson & Phillips Automotive Services are now asked to remain in their vehicle where they are greeted at a safe distance.

Once job details are confirmed, the customer leaves the vehicle with keys still in the ignition so staff can sanitise the vehicle in preparation for the work to be carried out.

Aaron added: “Our reception area is closed and customers are informed that there is no waiting on site.

“We do offer a collection and delivery option but our courtesy car is not available.

“On coming to collect their vehicle customers are again asked to wait in the vehicle and we bring the keys to them.

“We aim to email a copy of the invoice rather than paper copies, we also take payment over the phone to limit customers time on site.

“We are using STERI-7 disinfectant both in cars, on surfaces and each member of staff has a personal spray bottle for hands, gloves and surfaces.

“There’s also new pull down screens in the office and reception, ready for when we reopen it.”

MOT bookings

Andy Parsons of Shortfield Garage in Surrey, which had been closed for six weeks and has now reopened, told GW that he’s beginning to see a return to normality.

He said: “We are currently 100 per cent booked on MOTs for the next eight working days but the rest of the workshop is probably 60 per cent booked after the next two days.

“We have one member of staff still furloughed but everybody else is currently in.

“Unfortunately our car sales operation is still closed following government guidelines which has a severe affect on our bottom line, so hopefully that will be relaxed soon.”

However, parts-supply remains a significant problem for Andy.

He said: “Our first day back has raised some challenges both physically, dealing with the hygiene issues but also operationally as many franchised dealers are still closed making parts attainability hard.

“We are having to rely almost entirely on factor parts.”

Government support

BTE Automotive has reported “fantastic support” from its local authority and government schemes.

Barry said: “I know some are really struggling with this but we had quick access, explained our business operation as a ‘retail service’ to the community and two grants were issued and revived within seven working days.”

Jackson & Phillips Automotive Services is currently waiting for its furlough claim to be paid but received its £25,000 grant by the second week of lockdown.

Andy Parsons said: “The Business rate relief was automatic and received very quickly.

“We also applied for the business interruption grant which we received very swiftly.

“I do fear though that all these support systems will have to be paid back in the long run making a tough business even harder.”

Lost revenue

While data on garage workshop activity during the lockdown from GiPA UK suggests more garages are now starting to reopen, it has reported a 5.8 per cent loss of the annual turnover for workshops during the UK’s lockdown.

A GiPA UK spokesperson said: “This does not mean that 5.8 per cent of the annual turnover is lost for good.

“While a share can be recovered in 2020, there is also a share that will not be. 

“The volume of business that can be recovered depends on how the industry will be able to operate in the coming weeks and how, and when, drivers will start re-using their cars.”

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