Winner Wessex Garages
GONE are the days when car repair garages were oily rag affairs in what were little more than back street sheds. Sales sites have moved on too, from the ubiquitous street corner plots to purpose-built showrooms of glass and steel. Coffee- making machines and magazines now seem almost obligatory in customer reception areas.
Car mechanics have now become service engineers using computer technology to diagnose faults and customer service has almost become an art in itself.
"Since we were founded in 1986 Wessex Garages has developed into a modern business and expanded. This has been done gradually. We are not flash. We earn money then invest it," said Keith Brock, Managing Director, who started work in the motor industry at grass roots level more than 20 years ago.
"There's been expansion in terms of facilities and brands. We have a sensible geographical expansion plan in terms of opening new sites."
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Each of the firm's dealerships – two in Bristol, two in Cardiff, and one each in Newport and Gloucester – has been issued with point of sale materials including posters, mugs and pens.
"We have recently started a cultural change programme where we coach all of our staff to deliver even higher standards. We call this our 100 per cent customer satisfaction programme.
"Our own research into what frustrates our customers tells us that they often do not know who to speak to in order to solve a problem, to discuss concerns or simply to let us know what we are doing right or wrong.
"In order to assist anyone who visits one of our dealerships, you will now see posters with pictures and contact details, including phone numbers and email addresses, of all the relevant managers of the departments," said Mr Brock at the firm's headquarters in Pennywell Road.
"If someone's not happy we want them to contact a manager immediately. Through our feedback system I and all the other directors review the comments. On the odd occasion something is wrong we will deal with it straight away. Our transparency means that customers do not get passed from pillar to post," he said. "We are interested in customers for life and we want to sell to other members of their family and to their friends."
The firm has embraced new technology, with its website even allowing potential customers to reserve a car from the comfort of their homes. There are also a number of videos about various aspects of the company.
Internet facilities are also installed at all branches, and every car being serviced now receives a complimentary wash and vacuum.
Wessex Garages has also set up Premier Club which invites people to sign up online to get a variety of offers ranging from free tyre checks and fitting, bulb replacements and even discounts on family days out. There are also two-for-one vouchers at certain restaurants.
In the 12 months ending March 2012, sales at the dealership were 41 per cent up on the previous year. Sales for the first quarter of this year have jumped by 33 per cent.
A recent report by the Society of Motor Traders and Manufacturers said UK new car sales jumped 7.9 per cent in May compared with the same month last year. Its spokesman said this suggested confidence was returning despite ongoing financial uncertainty.
Mr Brock said that to help potential customers find fuel-efficient cars the firm had incorporated a fuel calculator into its website which shows people the financial savings they could make.
The company, which sells new and used cars, is also a runner-up in the Best Employers with More Than 100 Employees' category of the Post's Business Awards.