ILC ARTICLE

Interview with Richard Steer, CEO, Steer Automotive Group


Industry Leader Interview – Richard Steer, CEO, Steer Automotive Group

Making a measurable difference

As if acquiring a bodyshop group, adding more sites to it and undertaking a complete business transformation strategy starting with a major rebrand wasn’t enough – how about conquering Everest Base Camp in the meantime too?

Welcome to the world of serial industry entrepreneur, Richard Steer ex-managing director of LKQ Coatings and now owner of Steer Automotive Group. Here, we catch up with Richard to find out more about his whirlwind re-entry into the bodyshop domain.

Richard’s industry links go back some 30 years when he first started out with ICI Paints but this latest chapter begins back in July 2018 when, following a chance conversation with then owner of Baldwins Repair Group – Steve Warner, Richard’s interest was piqued and he acquired the four-site accident repair group.

He officially took up post at Baldwins Repair Group on 1 August 2018. This was then soon followed by the acquisition of Quicks ASR and Prestige Car Refinishing in Northampton, as well as the wheels being put in motion for the opening of a new site in Brackley. That site opened in April 2019.

And all this at the same time raising £20,000 for the Royal British Legion with what Richard labelled as his ‘Big Hill Challenge’ which saw him trek to Everest Base Camp.

To say it was a busy end to 2018 and a flying start to 2019 is quite an understatement.

Paddling his own canoe

So with eight sites, a host of insurer and vehicle manufacturer approvals, and 200 people currently operating under the Steer Automotive Group banner – a major group rebrand which took place in January 2019 and a cornerstone of the business transformation strategy – Richard is well on the way to fulfilling his key aim of ‘paddling his own canoe again’.

‘People might know me from my time within the distribution sector – most recently establishing and heading-up Euro Car Parts, LKQ Coatings operation, and previous to that, through my own distribution business – JCA Coatings,’ [which ECP acquired, along with five others, in 2013] explained Richard. ‘However, prior to that I ran a successful bodyshop for four years so I’m not a total stranger to this world.’

However, clearly what does set Richard apart is his ‘journey’ to get to where he is today – a place, it’s fair to say, many within the industry certainly didn’t foresee him arriving at.

‘I’ve been fortunate to experience a variety of organisations – from corporate life to private equity owned companies and now back to owning my own business. Each has helped to shape the businessman I am today,’ explained Richard, who it’s no surprise to say has an infinite eye for detail and knows the ‘numbers’ of his business and the wider industry inside out.

‘The repair industry is changing at a faster pace than ever before and with that stems opportunity. It is our mission to create something unique, hence our motto of delivering a ‘measurably different repair experience’. The key components of repair do not change – labour, parts and paint – and, fundamentally, repairers are all selling the same thing but what is different is the way in which you deliver it.’

Time is the key

The key here, according to Richard, is time. ‘Time is the driver within the repair industry – your hour is critical,’ explained Richard. ‘As someone once told me, ‘you can’t sell today’s time tomorrow’ and I have taken that piece of advice with me throughout my career.’

However, as you might imagine with his business pedigree, Richard is very aware of the pitfalls of focusing too much attention purely on time and points to how repairers and work partners can all too often be ‘too busy’ focusing on arguably irrelevant KPIs and labour rates whilst overall brand experience, operating culture and service levels suffer.

‘There has to be trust within any partnership and that is earned,’ explained Richard. ‘Too often within this industry we get hardwired in focusing on a certain area when the reality is, we need to take a far more holistic approach and looking at the whole picture.

‘I think much of this comes down to engagement and we, as repairers, need to ensure we’re at the ‘top table’ having these high-level discussions with other industry stakeholders.

‘Part of our key strategic aim is to work in true partnership with our clients to ensure we’re providing a consistent brand experience that matches the different and changing needs of our customers – both the insurer and the driver.’

Removal of frictional costs

A key component of that proposition delivery is the removal of any frictional costs, an area Richard believes provides one of the greatest opportunities, industry wide, to bring about improvements.

‘The overriding aim of any supply chain is to operate as one seamless entity with each individual component adding value along the way. By removing duplication of processes and managing our own individual areas of expertise, naturally the entire system speeds up and assists in removing the unnecessary additional costs,’ explained Richard. ‘If we can get a driver back in their car quicker, safely and economically, then our customers are happy.

Along with focusing attentions on the opportunity to add value back into the supply chain, Richard is also addressing what he believes to be one of the industry’s greatest challenges – skills shortages and a ‘chronic lack of staff’. His pro-active stance now sees the business evaluating the creation of the Steer Automotive Group training academy and apprenticeship programme in order to develop its own talent pool to drive a sustainable business.

The business has also introduced a wide range of initiatives and employee benefits aimed at improving employee engagement, which claims Richard is ‘already reaping rewards’.

Taking stock

With the business already having undergone such a rapid transformation and with Richard’s entrepreneurial spirit now guiding the way, there are many within the industry trying to second guess Steer Automotive Group’s next move or long-term strategy but for now, at least, it’s all about taking stock.

‘Our initial target was eight sites with a £25m turnover which is our current run rate,’ said Richard. ‘It’s now time to take stock, assess the status quo and ensure we’re in line with our overriding strategy of providing ‘a measurably different repair experience’. We want our core proposition finely tuned before we consider our next move.’

Richard continued, ‘There is no rigid plan in place to get to a certain scale and the market is simply too fluid at present to allow that anyway. However, I do see lots of opportunities to work with our customers to meet their evolving needs and we’re exploring different ways in which we can do this. These opportunities will drive our growth strategy.’

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