Harrogate garage reveals lockdown experiences

Workshop makes first loss in 30 years of operation

Less than four months ago Simon Graeme was on a family holiday in Tenerife, contemplating how to use the momentum of a record-breaking year for his Servicesure garage – Simon Graeme Auto Service Centre – to make 2020 bigger and better.

However, less than a mile away from Simon’s hotel the first Spanish cases of the Coronavirus were confirmed.

The island was locked down and his family went through an arduous journey home that took in an unplanned stopover in Portugal and cancellations due to a sandstorm.

Within a month the world had changed beyond recognition.

Simon placed four of his staff on furlough but made the decision to remain open throughout the pandemic.

Although this crisis has seen the business make a loss for the first time in its 30 years of operation, Simon has no regrets about keeping things running.

Simon said: “We’ve had key workers to support and it’s made a real difference to them.

“We had an ambulance driver who came off a 15-hour shift to find a tyre blowout that we were able to fix for her straight away and that’s exactly the kind of story that tells me we did the right thing.

“What we’re seeing now – especially following the floodgates opening when lockdown eased last week – is a slow return to some kind of normality.

“Our trade is rising week by week and we’re back to between 50 and 60% of our usual business.”

This sustained increase has been driven by a new form of customer payment that Simon heralds as a game-changer.

He added: “Without doubt the best thing The Parts Alliance and Servicesure have introduced me to has been Auto Service Finance.

“To be able to offer interest-free credit payment plans to customers is fantastic it’s something we’ve made use of a hell of a lot these last couple of months.

“Repairs aren’t cheap and money is tight at the moment, so I think this sort of offer will be a key thing for our industry going forward.

“People are used to paying this way in all other walks of life now, so they’re comfortable doing it with us too.”

Another thing that made continued operation sustainable for Simon was the loyalty of his MOT customers.

He said: “When the MOT extension was announced I thought that would be the nail in the coffin, but we actually found that most of our customers were happy to continue on their normal timetables to make sure their vehicles were roadworthy.

“We’ve also seen quite a few customers who would usually go to the kind of national chains or dealers that shut down immediately come to us instead, which is positive.”

Simon and his team put comprehensive measures in place at the outset of the crisis to keep them and their customers safe, and they’ve continued to strengthen these throughout.

Everyone in the team wears PPE, perspex windows are in place in the reception area, only one customer is permitted in at a time and each vehicle undergoes a complete sanitisation process before and after any work is carried out – right down to the keys.

“We need everyone as safe as possible so we’ve used local businesses to help supply us with the screens and PPE quickly,” said Simon.

“It has been weird and it’s taken us a while to adapt to how we work differently, but I’m lucky to have a great hard-working team here and we have to stay positive because we know we have a future in this industry.”


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