PMM visits Robert Cockings Motor Repairs

PMM visits Robert Cockings Motor Repairs

PMM travelled down to Yeovil to meet Tom Cockings, managing director of Robert Cockings Motor Repair. Tom spoke last year at the Blend about the advantages and challenges of running a family business as it passes from father to son.

Hi Tom. Let’s get straight into things – how long have you been working in the garage?

I started helping dad out in the garage when I was about four or five years old. I would come in on a Saturday and watch what he was doing, helping out where I could. One of the first proper jobs I remember doing was taking a cylinder head off an Astra. I was eight by that point! I couldn’t lift it, of course, I needed dad’s help for that. But I knew the whole process myself. I continued with dad all through school, right up to my A-levels. I got into Swansea University to study Motorsport Engineering and worked with dad during the summer before I went. The only problem was that I realised I preferred working in the garage to going to university. So, my summer job carried on past summer – I’m still doing it now!

What was your dad’s reaction when you said you weren’t going to uni?

He wanted me to get qualifications. He said I had to enrol at the local college, get my NVQ level three, which I did. Then I also became an MOT tester. Mostly, though, it just on the job training and learning more and more as the years went on.

Why do you think father-son garages work so well?

Oh, that’s a good question.

Maybe I should ask, ‘do they work so well?’

There is a level of trust involved. You know how each other work, which makes it easier to ask for something or give an instruction. Also, I think that the father can pretty much guarantee the job’s going to get done how he wants it to be done. But it can also have its own issues working with family as well. We didn’t always leave work behind us at the end of the week. But, by the same token, dad and I have a great relationship and we’ve always been able to talk honestly to each other, both inside work and out.

So you gradually took on more of the business, how did that go?

In 2008 I became director of the business and from there, started to take on my responsibility for running the workshop. We used to take on all brands but decided we needed to specialise. We rebranded as a German vehicle specialist, which is something I personally have a passion for. Right as Covid hit, we moved premises to the one we’re in today, which is much larger.

Why is specialising on a brand important?

Specialising allows the business to be able to buy special tools that you’re likely to use more frequently than if you were working across all brands. Working on lots of brands of vehicle, you end up buying absolutely loads of tools for doing every single job and you only use them once. We have made thousands of pounds’ worth of investments in tools, but trust me, they don’t get dusty. I have a general rule: If we need it twice, I’ll buy it. Modern vehicles require more specialist tools than they ever have done in the past. There has to be a point where you realise you can’t just keep buying special tools for all the cars that comes through the door.

Obviously there’s a lot of change between the garage your dad started and the garage we see today, is the ethos similar?

The ethos is exactly the same. We are still a family-run business. We treat everyone in the team equally. Customer satisfaction and customer service are our top priorities. We avoid all low cost parts. I flatly refuse to have them invoiced to me. It’s as simple as that. We only use OEM or OE parts. Customers expect different things from what they did several years ago. The cars have changed, they require new things. But I still rely on dad for his advice. His skill set is invaluable. After all, he did build the business from nothing.

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