Inspiring SMB:

4 June 2015

2 min read

In the first part of our our series on Inspiring Small Business we spoke to petrol-heads Alistair Preston and Ian Griffiths who co-founded a business that aims to give customers a real choice when it comes to getting their cars fixed.  

Inspiring SMB: (Desktop)

If ever an industry was steeped in dated technology, it is the car-repair business. The perception is of grimy mechanics, often hidden away in back streets and relying on a tiny pool of loyal customers, with little chance of competing with franchised dealerships and larger operators.

Since the advent of, though, all that has changed. Self-confessed petrol-heads Alistair Preston and Ian Griffiths co-founded the business that they say creates a level playing field and gives customers a real choice when it comes to getting their cars fixed.

As an ex-City trader, Mr Preston, who drives a 10-year-old BMW, was inspired by the Bloomberg terminals that enabled him to communicate and execute huge transactions in a transparent marketplace in seconds. He decided to apply a similar principle to the after-sales motor trade using online, customer-facing technology.

“Most people don’t know a lot about their cars and what they should be charged for repairs. What our system does is allow customers to post their job and get garages to compete for the work,” he says.

This dispenses with that awkward moment when you’re face to face with a mechanic and find it difficult to question a costly quote. Customers can take their time, choosing their repairer based on the price but also on the reviews left by previous users.

It’s not just consumers who are benefiting from this site. Independent garages have a new way to reach customers and build their businesses, some with extraordinary success.

“Our top six garages have won more than 1,000 jobs, generating over £500,000-worth of business,” says Mr Preston.

Patrick Patel, who has won £250,000 of business through the site and grown his one-man, home-based operation into a nine-bay, five-man workshop, is so impressed that he has become something of an evangelist. “He often turns up at trade shows and tells other garages that they would be crazy not to sign up,” laughs Mr Preston. charges garages a £50 annual registration fee and a small commission, starting at £5 and capped at £25, for each job won. It now has a total of 6,000 registered garages.

Franchised dealerships have been slower to take up the gauntlet, but Mr Preston notes Ford is in the process of signing up 500 dealers. “Its position is that there are many misconceptions about franchised dealers being too expensive and it wants to address that. For us, it’s great because we want our customers to have as wide a comparison as possible when they choose their repairer.”

The office is a true virtual one, split between London, Newcastle and Ukraine. “Thus Dropbox file-sharing, online collaboration through Google Apps, Skype and the like are the only way for us to function in this low-cost, time-efficient way,” he adds.

The website was built from scratch, but the company uses Amazon Web Services and Clickatell for its email and SMS deployment respectively.

With the number of jobs posted on the site reaching 10,000 a month, a seven-fold increase in the past year, Mr Preston says it feels like the business is “pushing on an open door”.

And those figures will only rise if Mr Preston has his way: “We are really excited by the potential for growth, and to cope with that we are going for a new round of funding so that we can scale efficiently.”

For more advice on preparing your small business for the tech challenges of the future, read our business tech guide to punching above your weight.

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