Chairman’s Spotlight on Andy Patterson, founder of Automotive Group
“I can’t sit still. I’m always on the go and constantly coming up with new ideas.”
Does this sound familiar?
When I sat down with Andy Patterson, the extraordinarily successful serial entrepreneur behind Automotive Group, he talked about his drive – “I really enjoy working,” he told me. “My ideas may not always be perfect, and they aren’t always executed flawlessly but I do it anyway, and that’s how you get somewhere in life.”
I think most entrepreneurs would identify with this statement. I certainly do. According to Andy, success comes as a result of three things: ambition, being open to new opportunities, and embracing change.
Andy’s story is seriously impressive. He spent his younger years working in bars and pubs on behalf of a major brewery. But even then, he had an entrepreneurial flair. “I have always liked cars and I’m good with my hands so when a friend started working for a dent repair company, I decided to try it out.” He wanted to be his own boss, he told me. “I wanted to be in a position whereby if I worked hard, I got rewarded. If I was lazy, I wasn’t. As an employee, it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference how much effort you put in, you get the same result. As my own boss, I was in control.”
He started his first company, Automotive Repair Systems, in 1997. “I was a man in a van, travelling around selling myself to car dealers, leasing firms and the like, taking small dents out of vehicles.” However, it wasn’t long before he spotted the opportunity to diversify. “Customers wanted bumper repairs and alloy wheel replacements,” he said. “I didn’t offer them at the time, but I decided to give it a try.”
The power of ambition
Today, Andy’s company is one of the most successful independent firms in SMART repair, serving customers across England. SMART, which stands for Small and Medium Area Repair Techniques, which means most of this work can take place in under an hour. As a group, Andy’s companies has over 178 vehicles out on the road, with mobile technicians providing services as well as implanted technicians in major car dealerships. The business head office is in Orpington, Kent with a Northern office in Liverpool.
Ambition has been key to Andy’s success, helping him over bumps in the road. “When we started employing people, that was hard,” he recalled. “At one point, we had 10 people, which meant ten times the responsibility and headaches, but I was no better off financially. At that point, I found myself wondering, ‘Why am I doing this?’” He persevered, and today the business employs over 200 people, and Andy’s talented management team have allowed him to step into a strategic role and found other ventures.
Change is crucial
As the business became more successful, the admin piled up. “Our lady in accounts was spending an entire day each week inputting paper invoices into our accounts software,” Andy says. “Our technicians were using carbon copy invoice pads, which were not only producing ridiculous amounts of paper, but they were also creating too many errors.” Incorrect VAT calculations, illegible handwriting, and other human errors meant that 5% of invoices had to be reviewed. It was time to make a big change and modernise the business.
“Since implementing BigChange, our accounts teams no longer spend one in five days on admin input,” says Andy. “There are now rarely any human errors, and we have access to a phenomenal wealth of data that helps us make business decisions based on facts rather than gut feel.”
BigChange has had a big impact on the business, especially when customers have a query. “We no longer have to go to the archive room and sift through hundreds of paper files. We have it all at the click of a button.” The only downside of BigChange? “When you have people on the team who have been using paper processes for 20 years and don’t want to change, that’s a challenge. We tried to downplay the scale of the transition but that’s a little difficult when you’re working with a company called BigChange – thanks for that, Martin!”
Over the years, the business has been through tough times – like when a dealership went bust, owing Automotive Group £35,000; “That really hurt us. I took the hit personally to make sure our people got paid” – but every day, there are little wins that make it all worthwhile. “It’s so satisfying when people are blown away by your service,” Andy says. “When their car looks brand new, and it only cost them £100 when they thought it would cost them 10 times that amount.”
And with other businesses currently achieving great exponential growth and acclaim across F1 Hospitality, Wine business in Monaco, Other Automotive businesses, along with an extensive property portfolio and more, Andy is proving that his recipe for success can be applied to businesses in all sectors. We wish him well!