Tucked away on the outskirts of Hailsham in East Sussex is Scantec Automotive, a three- person business that specialises in diagnostics. The owner, Ross Kemp (no, not that one), works alongside his son Lewis, and partner Elisa, in a state-of-the-art, purpose- built workshop. PMM pays them a visit.
PMM: Tell us about how you got into the motor trade, Ross.
Ross Kemp (RK): I started life as a mechanic about 20 years ago, but in all honesty, my goal was always to be a ‘vehicle electrician’, so it was the diagnostic element of the trade that interested me. I worked at a Bosch centre for a couple of years and spent some time running their electrics department, before going it alone as a mobile technician.
My business model was simple, I would pick up work from garages in the local area that either didn’t have a diagnostic scanner – as many didn’t back then – or that weren’t particularly clued up on the art of diagnostics.
PMM: Sounds like you had a good thing going there. Why the change to the fixed premises where we’re sat now?
RK: I decided to buy the premises two years ago. This was driven by a couple of factors, but the main one was changes in the industry and in technology. What I found was that, as vehicle technology advanced, I started getting loads of double call outs because after I’d finished a diagnostic job and found the fault, in some instances the replacement parts would require coding or programming. This was proving not to be cost effective for our customers. Having the workshop enables us to not only complete any follow-up work that may be required, but it also allows us to keep complete control of the repair process.
PMM: So is your customer base exclusively trade?
RK: The garage that we run today has a client base of roughly 400 garages, which is split between main dealers, independents, bodyshops and car sales. We do a small amount of retail work, but we don’t really advertise for it. The average Joe on the street doesn’t appreciate the difference between a ‘general’ garage and a diagnostic specialist like Scantec, so it’s often difficult to justify diagnostic time and our labour rates.
PMM: How has the business evolved since you moved to Hailsham?
RK: I’ve slowly begun whittling down the pool of brands that we cater for. In today’s market I think that to truly specialise you need dealer level equipment, dealer level software, and access to the best data and wiring diagrams etc. To do this across a number of brands is not only expensive but very time-consuming due to the constant software updates required by each VM, so I think the sensible thing to do is choose a few brands and stick to them.
PMM: In focusing specifically on diagnostics on a few premium brands, do you think you are in some way future-proofing your business?
RK: To some extent, yes. When you look at the way vehicle technology is heading – i.e. towards hybrid and electric – the opportunities for standard servicing and repairs are getting scarcer and scarcer because there are fewer moving parts. The one thing that these vehicles will still require, however, is diagnostic work and programming.
PMM: It sounds like things are buoyant at the moment, but how do you manage the business side of running a workshop?
RK: That’s where my partner Elisa comes in. Before we met and she came into the business, I was doing absolutely everything myself. That meant leaving the workshop at 8pm and then working at home until 2am most days.
PMM: That doesn’t sound like fun. Elisa, what’s your background then?
Elisa-Jane Bramall: My background is not in the automotive industry. I worked as an NVQ Assessor in catering for a short while before running a diving centre in Spain, so the motor trade is not a place I thought I’d be! After I met Ross, I started helping him out a bit with the business and before long I was working full-time alongside him.
RK: Part of my philosophy is that all members of staff in our garage should have a certain degree of technical knowledge. Front of house is the first point of contact for many customers, so it’s important that Elisa has a detailed grasp. For this reason, when it comes to technical training, all three of us will attend events. Whilst Elisa isn’t ‘on the tools’, she still learns from events like Auto Inform and is able to use that knowledge to great effect when it comes to booking vehicles in. We regularly get trade customers who can’t believe the level of her knowledge!
PMM: How has bringing Elisa on- board enabled you to develop your business processes?
RK: It’s meant that there’s been more time to review all of our processes, and we’ve been able to learn from our mistakes. We’ve looked at the whole customer experience, from when we first answer the phone to when we hand the keys back. We try to run a very professional operation. As a garage, our rates are based on our experience, expertise, level of training, tooling and equipment. However, I also think you should aim to present an image that reflects this.
PMM: Do you agree that the wider motor trade suffers from a reputational problem?
RK: In some ways, yes, and to some extent it is justified. One suggestion to counter the issues with ‘Fred in a shed’-type garages is the introduction of licensing. I for one am on the fence with this. On the one hand it would be great for those that make the grade. But who would be responsible for policing it? What would the criteria be? It seems to me that there are too many variables at play.
PMM: With that in mind, what’s the outlook like for the next generation?
RK: Well, my son Lewis always wanted to be a diagnostic technician, so he’s gone down the same route as me. My perception of the college training these days is that the syllabus has barely changed from what it was 20 years ago, which is a concern.
Lewis Kemp (LK): My experience at college was that 90% of the people in my class were not interested in being there. It was just a box they had to tick. Thinking about it, maybe one of the people from my class is still in the motor trade now, but the rest moved on.
PMM: Why do you think that is?
LK: I think a lot of youngsters go into the trade because, traditionally, it’s been for the kids who aren’t that academic and they are encouraged to do something more practical. But these days, the job is actually very technical and it requires hard work, so it puts people off.
PMM: Is the current training adequate to prepare you for life in a modern workshop?
LK: Put it this way, I barely used a diagnostic tool during my training at college. I was lucky that I was also doing an apprenticeship in an independent garage at the time, so I built my skills up that way, but some of the other NVQ Level 3 guys that I trained with were not equipped with the skills for the job. There’s not enough coverage of things like scoping and diagnostics.
RK: I agree. It’s still the stereotype of academically underachieving males that are pushed into the trade. It feels like a losing battle at times. I see no reason why things like diagnostics, hybrids and EVs shouldn’t feature heavily on the courses, but they don’t. This trade has a massive skills shortage issue.
PMM: Just to wrap things up, how would you summarise what you’re trying to achieve here at Scantec?
RK: Offering the best level of expertise, knowledge and quality of workmanship has always been our goal. As vehicle technology continues to advance, we want to continue offering the best alternative to the main dealers to our customers and continue our close working relationships.