A high standard of aftersales support is important to hauliers. If trucks cannot be repaired quickly they lie idle, which costs money, and with profit margins pinched across much of the industry that is something no operator can afford.
But if you deal with Sparks Commercial Services, that should never be an issue, which is why, despite the stiff competition, the highly successful Renault Trucks dealer was named Aftersales, Workshop and Maintenance Provider of the Year at CM’s Dealer Awards. The accolade acknowledges that the dealership has consistently delivered outstanding aftersales service and levels of customer care over the past 12 months.
The judges were looking for successful R&M packages, long-term customer relationships and aftersales packages tailored to individual transport companies. They found all this and more at Sparks. “In the past year we’ve worked tirelessly to retain and win new customers through good communication, reliable service and dedicated staff,” says owner Michael Spark.
With more than 115 employees, Sparks operates branches in Southampton, Portsmouth, Poole and Swindon. One of two depots in Swindon is a vehicle maintenance unit (VMU) for retailer Iceland, which Sparks began operating in August 2016. Iceland runs more than 120 Renault tractor units out of its nearby Swindon DC.
Iceland’s willingness to let Sparks run its VMU is a tribute to the dealership’s aftersales capabilities, which are reflected in the high rate of first-time MoT passes at all the firm’s depots over the past year. “Group-wide the average is 97.8%, but Southampton is averaging 99.18%,” says Spark.
“Every truck is thoroughly quality-checked before it is presented for test by a senior technician that has not been working on it,” he says. “If we get a failure, the information comes to me so I can understand why it occurred and ensure steps are taken so it doesn’t happen again.”
Sparks has an authorised testing facility at its Portsmouth depot and aims to install one in Swindon. Started by Michael and Julie Spark more than 25 years ago with a single service van, Sparks moved to Swindon in 2015 when it bought the Complete Commercials dealership. The 1.25-acre plot, in South Marston Park, not far from junction 15 of the M4, has been refurbished.
What Spark calls “drive-by defects” are treated as a priority at each branch; situations where a truck has come into the workshop with a fault that needs urgent attention before it continues its journey and delivers its cargo. “We address them straight away and nine times out of 10 we deal with them within the hour.”
The Portsmouth and Southampton workshops are open 24 hours, Monday to Friday and Saturday mornings. The main Swindon site is to follow suit, while the Poole depot remains open from 6.30am Monday to Friday until all the jobs that need completing are done. “The VMU in Swindon is open almost all the time, it only shuts for about 16 hours.”
Iceland’s tight security means it is impractical for the VMU to take on third-party work. But with the town’s main Sparks branch just four miles away, that is not an issue. Renault’s roadside breakdown service is on call 24/7, supported by 18 fully-equipped vans manned by technicians capable of dealing with the majority of the problems they encounter.
A firm believer in the value of apprenticeships, Spark takes on three apprentices a year in conjunction with the Renault Trucks scheme, which involves block release courses at Stephenson College in the East Midlands. But the training of more mature staff members is not neglected. “We invest in our employees and believe in giving them the right tools so that they can complete a first-time fix,” Spark says.
“We’re judged on first impressions so our technicians are always friendly, helpful and wear clean overalls.” When employees join the dealership, they tend to stay. “Our team is loyal and committed,” he adds. “More than 60 of our staff have been with us for more than 10 years and many of them have worked for us for more than 20.”
Its customers are similarly loyal. “We’ve been working for some of them - Veolia for example - for more than two decades,” he says. “We listen to them, we understand their businesses and the challenges they face, we do what we say we’re going to do and we react to problems efficiently and effectively. And if we’ve got bad news to deliver, then we tell them quickly.”
Left to right - Shell Lubricants B2B marketing manager Andrew Gibson, director Mike Spark, Matt Spark and Road Transport Media MD Andy Salter.
Not every operator has their trucks serviced at a dealership. Many have their own workshops and for these customers Sparks runs a parts delivery service from each of its three main branches. As well as replacement components from Renault’s portfolio, it supplies items from the manufacturer’s all-makes Roadcrew range. “Renault’s parts support overall is fantastic and Roadcrew prices are competitive when judged against factor prices,” Spark says.
With the acquisition of the Swindon branch and the opening of the VMU in the past 18 months, 2017 looks set to be a year of consolidation for Sparks. And one thing is guaranteed not to change; its emphasis on top-quality aftersales support.
What does winning the Aftersales, Workshop and Maintenance Provider of the Year at the inaugural CM Dealer Awards mean to Sparks?
“We’re over the moon about the award,” says Michael Spark. “It shows that people have recognised what we are doing.” “This award is about delivering the best customer service in the UK,” Spark says. “At Sparks Commercial Services our customers always come first and we pride ourselves on offering a one-stop-shop where no job is too small and nothing is too much trouble.
By doing the simple things right every time, with honesty and integrity, we aim to deliver exceptional service every day,” he adds. “It’s a team effort, everyone at Sparks plays their part and this award is a reflection of their commitment. We couldn’t be prouder.”
That pride is reflected in the efforts Sparks is making to spread the news of its award to its customers, in fact it already features loud and clear on the dealership’s website.