Welcome to Saturday Business chat. Today we’re talking to Al Hunter, a fellow 4N member, who runs Auto Evolution, part of parent company, Motor-Stream Ltd. They undertake car repairs, including both small (“SMART”) repairs and doing clever things with the electronic and computer side of things (ECU remapping). I don’t know much about cars (obviously) but Al has good points to make about market research and marketing. As I was saying in my blog post about goals during the week, I agree that it’s vitally important to love what you do and what you’re aiming to do, otherwise the tricky points outweigh the good ones. And Al makes a very good suggestion for those who don’t end up running a business in an area in which they already have experience: get some work experience and inside knowledge of the industry in question before you launch.
I really appreciate the honesty with which my interviewees answer the questions: this is something that I’m sure will help other small businesses and entrepreneurs as they launch and begin (do let me know if any of these interviews have helped you and your business!)
Let’s say hello to Al …
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
Our brand name is Auto Evolution, although our company is called Motor-Stream Ltd. These names were chosen very deliberately. Throughout the winter of 2010 we surveyed both existing and potential clients on what they thought our brand name should encapsulate. In the main, the survey responses said our brand name should be instantly related to cars and not tied to one particular product or service. As such, because the automotive industry is constantly evolving, we came up with the brand name Auto Evolution.
Auto Evolution was launched on April 1st 2011.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
The decision to set up my own business was down to the fact that no one would provide me with the job I wanted in the finance world. For 10 years I was pigeon-holed into being a financial adviser: a job I neither enjoyed or wanted to do. As such, I thought, “If no one will give me the job I want, I will create the job for myself!”
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
I’ve always had two passions: investments and cars. As the sector I wanted to work within in the finance world didn’t open up for me, I thought I’d follow my other passion in the automotive world, which is to play with cars! Obviously, when a business performs well, it becomes its own investment, and so all my energies are now going into turning Auto Evolution into a successful business.
Had you run your own business before?
No, I had not. Although I worked as a Business Financial Adviser, there is a huge difference between understanding the financial shortfalls and implications for a business and actually running a company itself. As such, I’m much wiser now than I was when I originally started Motor-Stream and launched Auto Evolution as our brand. Given the time again, there are a number of things I would have done very differently!
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
The business was launched full time. This has created a tremendous amount of joy but also of financial stress, particularly as the automotive industry is struggling heavily at the moment.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
The importance of promotion. Originally, we started our business as providing just SMART repairs. The research I performed led me to believe that the market was a dynamic one: a market where someone with passion and talent could succeed. However, this is not true. With so many SMART repair operators in the market, many of which provide cheap repairs at cheap prices, making a profit in this sector is not easy at all. As such, promotion is very important if your company and brand is to stand a chance in people’s memory retention when they’re looking for the services you provide.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Before you take the leap in starting your new business, aside from the typical research of looking at the numbers provided by the industry, go out and have some work experience in the industry you are thinking of working in. This is because, as we have found, the reality is very different to the image the industry portrays.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
I wish we’d got our marketing strategy more succinct from the get go. This is what has truly let us down. Not understanding the importance of the internet, networking and advertising in general has made growing our brand very difficult. The most simple way to understand what we’d not done properly is to consider a new brand and company as an infant. The infant that cries the loudest gets heard. We launched our brand with a too mature and quiet approach which, in hindsight, is a harsh error to learn.
What are you glad you did?
It’s important to recognise what you’ve done well in business, and despite our severe lack of marketing, we have generated a trusted network of clients and have had some glowing testimonials. Customer service is key to growing brand value, and we always pride ourselves on doing the best we can for our clients.
What’s your top business tip?
Love what you do. If you love what you do, then you’ll be prepared to do what is necessary to turn your dream into a reality. You’ll also be prepared to accept the challenges that are thrown in your direction that you’d have otherwise run away from.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
We have rapidly learned just how weather-dependent SMART repairs actually are, to the extent that it’s unrealistic without any premises, such as a body shop, to expect this business to be profitable throughout winter. As such, we’ve diversified into ECU remapping, the more grown-up version of Chip Tuning. We’ve created two brand to do with this service, our EcoMap service that will reduce a car’s fuel consumption, thereby make motoring for our consumers more affordable, and our ProMap service which will improve the outright performance of our clients’ cars.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
Auto Evolution’s primary service will be the ECU remapping services. With fuel costs seemingly rising on a day-by-day basis, we see our EcoMap service as becoming increasingly popular, as clients want the benefit of reduced fuel costs without the associated costs of buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Additionally, remapping a car’s ECU is not weather dependent like your typical SMART repair service such as repairing alloy wheels or a bumper scuff. We will continue to provide our SMART repair services, as we are skilled in these and want our clients to have the option of a quality SMART repair service through us. However, until we can afford our own in-house repair facility, which will remove the complications associated with completing a car body repair outside, we will focus the bulk of our energies on promoting our ECU remapping services through our EcoMap and ProMap brands. So in a year’s time, we’d like to see ourselves in the position where we can afford a unit large enough for our ECU remapping services as well as our SMART repair services.
An honest assessment of how the company has got where it is today, and a more refined version of where it needs to go – good luck to Al and Auto Evolution over the next year!
Auto Evolution are based at 5 Longfields, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB6 3DN. Their website is at www.auto-evolution.co.uk and you can contact the company via email, on Facebook or on Twitter, or call them on 08000 515 415.
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