REPXPERT Conference 2024 hailed as a success

The first ever REPXPERT Conference for UK Garages has been hailed as a huge success, as business owners and technicians descended on Coventry’s Manufacturer Training Centre.

The all-day event drew a line-up of aftermarket experts, with presentations, panel sessions and break-out talks all taking place to aid attendees with their understanding of the challenges, opportunities and technologies present in the industry at the moment. More than 200 people attended the inaugural conference.

“We are more than delighted by how the REPXPERT Conference was received by attendees,” said Matthew Selby, Sales and Marketing Director at Schaeffler Automotive Aftermarket (UK) Ltd. “Representatives of the best businesses in the automotive aftermarket were able to hear from inspiring speakers, listen to the latest business advice, and learn more about our latest products. It was a huge success.”

Auto Repair Focus Editor, Phil Curry, who led the REPXPERT Conference Vlog series and attended on the day, added: “having spoken to numerous attendees, the consensus was that this was an event that was well worth attending. I think the conference has been a great success, and both speaker sessions and the exhibition area were well received.”

Experts galore at the REPXPERT Conference

Automotive journalist, TV presenter and content creator Abigayle André was host for the REPXPERT Conference, which kicked off with a presentation from GiPA’s Quentin Le Hetet. He looked at how garages can future-proof in a fast-changing world. Next up was Colin Denton, star of TV’s Classic Car Garage, who discussed the ongoing importance of apprenticeships. 

The REPXPERT Conference panel discussion featured REPXPERT Ambassador Andy Savva ‘The Garage Inspector’, Matt Cleevely of Cleevely EV, Tim Benson of Oldfields Garage, Matt Wiseman of Wiseman Motor Services, and Dean Lomas of DC Lomas.

REPXPERT Conference panel discussion

“I have never known independent garages to be so busy,” commented Savva. “The only thing holding us back right now is people, and space. We have to think differently about how we can run workshops. But I have never known lead times for work to be running at two or three weeks, and never know garage owners to not be taking on work for new customers. It puts us in a good position to charge the right fees, and to be picky over the work that we choose.”

Wiseman added: “As a garage, we have accessed new work, as people are keeping their cars for longer. This is bringing jobs out of the dealership, and into the independent sector.”

Discussion turned to apprenticeships, with Dean Lomas commenting on his experience in taking on young workers and ensuring they have the skills they need to succeed.

“I want the people who no one will want because they are hungry, and they really need to be given a chance. So, if any of you garage owners in this room do not have an apprentice tomorrow morning, contact your college and go and get one. For the cost it takes to pay for an apprentice in one day, I wasted time putting the legs under a ramp and topping screen wash up.

“So you think about that little skill. You can give them tyre pressures, topping up screen wash, putting the legs under, doing an inspection. Within three months, they can do a thorough inspection on any vehicle. Within a year, they can do a full service on any vehicle. Within two years, they are doing your cam belts and clutches and other big items.”

Electric vehicles on topic

The REPXPERT Conference panel soon turned to electric vehicles, and the need for training on the new technology. “There is a market out there for EV. So, what we are going to do is train up. So, we have two EV level four technicians, we have two at EV level three. We have the training, we have the competence, and now we have got to go show confidence. This is why we are pushing the EV side of the workshop.”

Benson added: “We have two technicians trained in EVs, and we are starting to plan, and are just in the process now of redoing our website, which is going to include EV as part of it, rather than being an add on. And this is all to do with speaking to people like Matt Cleevely and Dean Lomas, and understanding that you must. As well as being EV ready, you have to communicate it to customers to tell them that you’re EV ready.

We have already got a customer base that are starting to inquire about EV repairs. I wanted to be in a position where we can take care of our existing customers before they go somewhere else.”

EV expert Matt Cleevely also highlighted the reasons for tackling the technology. “Cleevely Motors is a 60-year-old, three generational business,” He told REPXPERT Conference attendees. “And I thought, I do not want to be the generation that lets it dwindle to nothing. What is the future of my trade and my job and my family business? And it has spawned a monster, essentially, off the back of it.

But I have loved every minute of it. And I have learned so much about our business, about me as a person, about our customer base, and about our trade. And that is why I am sat at events like this today, giving my experience over and my presentation.

However, Andy Savva had a different view of the technology. “EV repairs are not for everyone,” he commented. “It is actually not for the majority. And the problem with our trade is that when there is a lot of noise about something, everyone follows, and everyone follows without doing a lot of research within their given area.

“If I opened the garage tomorrow, I would not care one iota about EVs, because that’s not what is going to make me money. There is enough of the other powertrain types for the next 30 years for me to make my living and more.”

REPXPERT Award winners

Next on the REPXPERT Conference agenda was the inaugural REPXPERT Awards. The Apprentice of the Year award was won by Mia Reeves, from the Bear and Bee Garage in Grantham. 

Mia has shown incredible will to get into a workshop and was recognised for being committed and passionate, and leading a successful collage race team while continuing her apprenticeship.

The Extra Mile award went to Andrew Mather of Stockport Truck Centre, who was recognised for his professional manner, with nothing being too much for him to work on, treating every vehicle as if it were his own. 

The final award at the REPXPERT Conference, for Workshop of the Year, was won by East Boldon Garage. 

Breakout time

After lunch, the REPXPERT Conference entered its breakout phase. Three lectures were held in the afternoon, led by Matt Cleevely of Cleevely EV, Louise Baker of Womanic, and Head of Schaeffler REPXPERT Sven Olev Mueller. 

Meanwhile, visitors could take in the Technical Zone, where they could see the latest innovations from Schaeffler, along with specially invited workshop service providers including Laser Tools and Garage Hive.

“It was an action-packed day,” said Selby. “We have had some fantastic feedback already. Thanks to everyone who came along to the REPXPERT Conference and got involved.”

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