Browsing the website of Ipswich Accident Repair Centre, it was apparent this was one company with a passion for cars, and not just repairing them. bodyshop’s Rebekah Clements took a trip to Martlesham Heath, Ipswich, to visit Rick Kerry director at the site and, not to mention, the first-ever diesel driver in the British Touring Car Championship.
With a background of 26 years in the trade, Rick certainly lives and breathes the industry. He began his career working in his dad’s garage at 16, before opening his own garage at just 19 with a college friend, who sadly two years later passed away in a motorbike accident. Clearly a distressing time for Rick, both personally and professionally, however the outcome was his decision to continue implementing plans for the business. Rick said, ‘To start your own business at 19 you’ve got to have the right mindset – it isn’t just about repairing cars. It’s constantly looking at what you can do to make it better, because the second you stop, you’re working backwards.’
Rick moved to a new premises in Ipswich whereby he formed Rick Kerry Accident Repair Specialists. Following a dramatic influx in work, within six months Rick had expanded to a bigger premises, obtaining the unit adjacent to the existing site. Then, when the local Volkswagen approved bodyshop, Ipswich Body closed its doors in 2001, Rick took it in his stride to take on the business, and in March 2001 Ipswich Accident Repair Centre was formed. However, 10 years later the unit once again could not accommodate the increasing workload and, two and a half years ago, the company moved into its present, 8,000sqft unit which, according to Rick, was ‘perfect for what they needed’.
Entering the workshop, it was clear why the site fulfilled the ever-expanding company’s needs. The workshop, which includes a spraybooth and side-loader, is also equipped with a SMART and aluminium repair bay, as well as space for the company’s motorhome and caravan work, which now comprises 15-30% of the sites overall work. Non-approved work also now accounts for nearly 40% of its work.
The site is certainly a far cry from the ‘typical’ perception of a bodyshop. Light and airy, clean and spacious, it without a doubt reflects a professional, smart business. Because of this, Rick is also developing its new mechanical workshop on the opposite side of the road to ensure the clinical feel is conveyed throughout the company.
Whilst the workshop was equipped with all the latest equipment, the site still needed to adopt a work approach – and for this, it chose Bodyshop Revolution’s holistic approach. Here, each technician has their own dedicated bay where they work on one specific car at any given time.
Rick explained, ‘Each technician will ‘project manage’ their own car. This helps with customer communication as they know exactly where the car is at, and when it will be complete. To help improve efficiency and to convey a ‘relaxed’ feel for the staff , no cars which are not being worked on are sat waiting in the workshop.’
He continued, ‘It’s simply daring to be different. We have had a number of bodyshops coming to look around the site. We ourselves looked at a Gemini ARC site which has also adopted the Bodyshop Revolution method. It’s a learning curve for us all.
‘We are now throughputting the same amount of work as we were three years ago but with three less productives. This year, we will also be around 10% up on turnover compared with our best ever previous year, and our profits are forecasted to double.’
Rick explained, ‘Not only that, we have halved our gas and electric costs too due to one less booth, more roof lighting and a Symach system which has also been installed.’ Adopting the new workshop model has also meant the site has increased its efficiency from nearly 90%, which it achieved in its old unit with 11 productives, to now up to 130% with only eight productives.
Not only has adopting the Bodyshop Revolution approach helped the business to cut costs, but also joining The Bodyshop Fellowship over four years ago has also aided the company. Rick said, ‘Having been part of other repair networks in the past, Bodyshop Fellowship came across as genuinely interested in promoting change within our industry. Trying to promote its ‘total trust’ repair method to work providers is a fantastic idea. It has been a struggle for them, but by being part of its steering committee, I know there are a number of initiatives ‘in the pipeline’ for work.’
Bodyshop Fellowship has also recently completed an exclusive deal with BCR Associates. All Fellowship members receive a free cost review on their energy, telecoms and other essential business supplies. Rick added, ‘I feel that the only way for independents, like myself, is to join a network.’
Partnerships are certainly key for ensuring the company’s main priority, the customer, remains loyal. Rick said, ‘I’ve always tried to work properly from the start, it was never just about making money. It was instead, ‘if we are going to do it, do it right’, and I think that’s why people after 20 years still come back to have their cars repaired with us. We like to think we don’t just repair a car, instead, we win a customer.’
Because of this, the company has been providing customers with a privilege card scheme for nearly eight years. Once their car has been repaired, they are entitled to a number of discounts for different business services on the surrounding trading estate such as tyres, as well as MOT’s and servicing in the company’s mechanical workshop. Customers also receive a discounted labour rate for family and friends – resulting in a large proportion of the company’s work being directed through recommendations.
It’s not only the card scheme which helps ensure customers remain dedicated to the company, but the company’s sheer passion for anything automotive also helps build the customers’ trust. Discussing his Touring Car Championship debut and his track record for racing, Rick said, ‘It was nice because it all fitted in with the business. It shows that we are not just a bodyshop which repairs cars, but we know and understand them as well. Customers are not just a number for us – we live and breathe cars.’
And, as a result of Rick’s passion for racing motorcars, more specifically BMW motorcars since 2001, the site has been BMW approved since 2006, which Rick calls a ‘massive achievement for an independent’.
His passion was infectious, even just the mention of building, racing or repairing cars seemed to alight a spark which I don’t often see – it was refreshing to say the least.
With the recent expansion of the business and its loyal customer database, it was hard to see where the business was looking to go in the future. However according to Rick, he has ‘got to have a challenge’.
Discussing the next business move, he added that the development of the company’s mechanical site is definitely on the cards, as well as a possible move back into his racing, which had taken a backseat due to the developing bodyshop. Excitingly, the prospect of further expanding the site also cropped up, as well as the possible move into more SMART repair – as long as all the equipment, timing and locations are right.
And, following recent acquisitions on the bodyshop’s doorstep, you may have wondered what implications this has for the business. However, Rick is quick to point out he is not one to ‘make enemies’, instead he and the local sites help each other out because ‘there is enough work for us all, and at the end of the day, it’s all about the customer’. Although he politely refused to admit it, the word humble doesn’t come close.