Worked a Treat

It’s often said there’s a first time for everything – and this year’s Halloween certainly proved to be that. On the 31 October and, after a six hour train journey, I arrived in Newcastle for my first experience of the city, my first full-on experience of the ‘Geordie accent’ and, my first trip to Benfield Group Paint and Body Centre to visit David Morallee, general manager at the site. Thankfully, the only hair-raising experience this Halloween provided, was just how successful this bodyshop really is. Rebekah Clements reports.

As I entered Benfield Group Paint and Body Centre, I knew immediately this was one bodyshop which meant business. With the most spacious, and clinical, bodyshop reception I had ever seen, along with the most welcoming staff, it certainly guarantees the customers’ first point of contact is one to remember.

Then, just when I thought I couldn’t meet a friendlier face, I was greeted by David (opposite). Opening the door to his office, I was welcomed by a large, and very impressive, window wrap of the Toy Story cast which, I later discovered was due to David often playing Buzz Lightyear quotes through the company tannoy on a Friday afternoon when the staff are starting to feel a little frayed around the edges – it’s no wonder Benfield directors called the site ‘the most fun place to work within the whole group’.

Standalone

Benfield Group Body and Paint Centre is the standalone group bodyshop of multi-approved dealer, Benfield Motor Group. However, David is quick to reiterate it doesn’t automatically generate work for the site. He said, ‘Even though we have the luxury of franchises around us, they don’t naturally pump work into us – our success has been from us going out and getting it ourselves.’ As a result, by the end of May 2014 the site was £10,000 ahead of its annual budget target and, by the third quarter of 2014, it was achieving labour sales of £323,000 – an increase of £91,000 compared to the third quarter of 2013 – rather impressive for a company which ensures no work contract amounts for more than 10% of its work mix.

The company has also been working with a leading sports psychologist, Simon Hartley, in order to maximise its business potential. David explained, ‘One of Simon’s clients is a north east based Olympic swimmer and, together they realised in order to succeed, the process didn’t have to be complicated – they just had to figure out what their ‘two lengths of the pool were’. It’s not about swimming faster, better or different from anybody else, it’s about doing it as fast as you physically can. Then, if you’re at the end and in front, they’ve won. If not – then it’s finding out how you can adapt to achieve your goal. That’s exactly what we’ve done, we now know our two lengths of the pool.’

Diverse

Taking the business forward and understanding its main focus is key when there are 108 people working across all of the group’s sites – including body and paint, Audi preparation, mobile cosmetic repair, its transport logistics business and its graphics division business.

‘When I actually start to break down the business I realise how diverse we are,’ said David. ‘I wouldn’t say we are elite, but we have ended up in a place now, through diversifying, that I don’t feel I need to have a constant handle on ‘the UK body repair industry’ – we know where our business is going.’

To add to its diversity, the group is now looking to improve its used car preparation time by investing £30,000 on a revolving turntable photobooth, supplied by UK Turntables. The new photobooth will provide the bodyshop with 36 different images of a vehicle in just four minutes, a full YouTube compressed size video, and full 360 degree shots from inside the vehicle, due to an advanced eyeball camera located inside. The company also provides vehicle customisation, vehicle wraps and commercial vehicle wraps, all of which can benefit from the photobooth facility. David said, ‘We are never satisfied with what we have, we will always keep pushing to see what else we can do.’

Manufacturers

As a result of its commitment and desire to continually invest in new technology, the company has forged strong relationships with a number of vehicle manufacturers. David explained, ‘If your marketing strategy is to make sure there is a full pack of paper in the fax machine before you go home on a Friday – then your business may as well be shut. We weren’t just given these contracts, we had to earn them.’

The bulk of the company’s business is Volkswagen Audi, which David emphasised it ‘lives and breathes’, however amongst its many approvals, it also has a strong partnership with Nissan. ‘The Nissan factory is only located down the road,’ said David, ‘so when the Nissan Leaf was due to be produced at the factory last April, we were contacted about painting the iconic metallic blue model ready for the Geneva Motor Show.’ And, as a result of its passion and workmanship, Nissan now provides the site with a number of specialised projects.

To add to this, Benfield Group Body and Paint Centre is one of four bodyshops in the country to hold the Volkswagen California contract. David stated, ‘If you get the momentum, the momentum breeds something. I want to work with people who want to work with us, and that’s what we have developed with all of these companies.’

Advocates

Being advocates of the Volkswagen Audi brand means the company is dedicated to ensuring its staff are trained in implementing the Volkswagen customer satisfaction survey (CSS). ‘We have made our branch improvement team solely responsible for pushing the CSS,’ stated David. ‘We also launched Target 90 – our campaign across the company to ensure we are receiving at least 90% satisfaction.’ Now, across the site is a number of Target 90 campaign posters, with the reception displaying a scoring matrix board for customers, and signs showcasing the chance to win a bottle of champagne upon completion. ‘We are looking to extract a list of the Volkswagen Audi customers each day, along with a criteria of what needs to be delivered, because if you live and breathe the standards, for those customers, you will deliver the same quality to all,’ said David.

Expansion

In order to keep pace with the manufacturer work, the company is now expanding its already impressive premises. The investment will cater for a new workshop which will provide mechanical electrical trim (MET), valeting and photography. The new workshop will also include a brand-new parts department, which will work alongside the sites existing panel and paint workshop and it’s other, large workshop which caters for SMART repairs, rapid repairs for Audi, wheel refurbishment and its mechanical work.

David explained, ‘I’m always happy with what we have – but I’m always looking for something else. The only constant in the universe is change – that’s it. It’s not I’m dissatisfied, but if you stand still, you will always be going backwards.

‘I think if you’re in this industry, it’s because you truly love it. You might have to change, you might have to diversify, but it’s because the industry is always changing – you just need to decide whether you’re in it, or out of it.’

For anyone who believes having fun at work explodes success and ignites a spark in both the company and staff as much as I do, you should look no further then Benfield. Personally, I think this is one company which is going to infinity, and beyond.

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