Great work in tough times – 1 – ‘Jack in the Box’
Coursing through the Covid era, with its uncertainties and potential pitfalls, Iain Robertson is delighted to report on a young man determined to make his mark in life and how a series of fortunate happenstances have helped his progress positively.
Possessing the faded ‘elegance’ of a French provincial garage, albeit adjacent to the A57, somewhat closer to Lincoln (two miles), than Liverpool, Keith Arnold Cars has been an important transport hub in its over thirty years of history. Located in the heart of the largely agricultural county of Lincolnshire, it has supplied quality, used Land Rover and Range Rover models to farmers, fashion addicts and business users far and wide.
As with many garage operations, it has suffered from the dearth of skilled personnel, namely a qualified mechanic. As owner Keith outlined, “Our previous mechanic was a person in whom we invested both time and money to ensure that he was as skilled as possible. He attended various training courses and we were exceptionally pleased with his development. Yet, we hit an inevitable hiatus, at which point he became more skilled but open to employment opportunities elsewhere.”
A common cry from the garage sector is the lack of young people wanting to get dirty fingers, which is leaving it ill-equipped to deal with future activities. The most skilled members of the community can earn strong salaries in a business sector renowned for charging its customers upwards of £150 per hour for labour, while the mechanics often receive pitifully low wages. Unfortunately, garage mechanics are treated often as ‘unskilled’ workers, despite needing to be ‘time-served’, arising from a typical apprenticeship to skilled exponent status, over a period of four to five years.
They are required in most cases to buy their own tools and to maintain their skills right at the cutting edge of the motor industry, which is changing more rapidly these days, than almost at any time in its 135 years’ history. Jack Bailey (25) is a rare exception to the breed. His father is ‘in the trade’ but it has never been in Jack’s mind to work for the family firm. “Ever since I was at school,” he explained, “I wanted to make my own way in life. I love cars and bikes and most things mechanical and becoming a Land Rover dealership apprentice, as a teenager, was one of the best days of my life.”
Jack passed the various examinations and skills tests, with flying colours, soon reaching the hallowed title of time-served mechanic. However, he wanted even greater knowledge, a factor that could only come from working for other brands, which led to him joining the strength of Just Audi/VW, a sizeable but specialised used and prestige car centre, in the City of Lincoln, where he spent several years working on VW Group products but also Ferrari, Porsche and other top marques, until a case of ‘itchy feet’ led to Jack seeking a fresh employment challenge.
In the meantime, Keith Arnold was farming out mechanical work to various local specialists, which was adding both time and additional financial burdens to an increasingly stretched profit margin per vehicle in his stock. His business needed its own specialist desperately.
Chatting with long-standing friends in the local garage scene led Keith to an introduction to a ‘bright, young man, who might be able to effect a replacement turbocharger installation on a 10 years old Range Rover Sport’. An empty but moderately well-equipped workshop beckoned. Jack Bailey was introduced to Keith and the facilities.
Keith was highly satisfied with the completed task and an idea brewed: if this young man could be encouraged to take that next step in his personal career development, to be his own boss, both Keith’s and Jack’s needs could be met and a fruitful, long-term relationship might develop. Both parties were up for the challenge and agreement was reached on a seed-corn rent for the workshop premises, with Jack providing a preferential hourly rate to Keith, for work prioritised and undertaken on his behalf. Yet, it would be Jack’s business. He could establish his own hours and also work on developing his own customer base.
Seeking the help of various friends, Jack registered his own company ‘Jack Land Rover Specialist’, registered a website (firstname.lastname@example.org), designed and bought business cards and commenced to fill his new business diary. The workshop was in dire need of housekeeping, having lain dormant for almost a year, prior to Jack’s arrival. “While it needs a lick of paint,” he admitted, “it is a perfect base for my new business, complete with two, well-serviced hoists and good workshop lighting.”
Jack encouraged a couple of his mates to help him spruce-up the premises, where he also has an office and spare parts area. Considering that he commenced working at the A57 Complex, just two miles out of Lincoln, only a week out of ‘lockdown’, the transformation has been remarkable. Keith is able to make each used vehicle sold realise a sensible profit margin and Jack is happy to split his work almost evenly between jobs for Keith and himself.
“Although I am not yet at the point of looking for a salaried assistant, I can see that day approaching,” he stated cheerfully. “However, I am really enjoying the sense of achievement attached to running my own business and the work I complete for Keith Arnold Cars is varied and valuable bread-and-butter for it.”
Conclusion: The demands on the garage scene are flourishing at the moment, which makes this enterprising union during the Covid-19 crisis even more crucial. It is also fantastic to watch a young man developing a business idea that possesses tremendous mutual benefits.