MTC Northwest explains the Golden Rule of having two truck franchises under one roof

If you hold two major truck franchises at the one location then there is a golden rule you should always observe.

Treat them - and their customers - equally and never favour one franchise over the other.

That rule is being scrupulously observed by family-owned Kirkby, Liverpool-based MTC Northwest says MD, Stephen Gray (pictured, left). Already a Daf parts and service dealer, it began doing the same job for MAN in 2014 thereby filling a long-standing gap in the German manufacturer's network coverage.

"However this has not altered our commitment to the Daf brand," he stresses.

While balancing the requirements of Daf and MAN, Gray and his colleagues also have to address the interests of the company's third franchise; Hino. Like several other former Foden dealers, MTC signed up with Hino when Paccar of the USA - Daf and Foden's parent company - decided to “retire” the latter brand ten years ago.

"When Foden came to an end we were given a compensation package by Paccar," recalls  Gray. It included the Daf service and parts franchise, but not Daf sales.

Taking on Hino meant the company still had new vehicles to sell.  "It did well for us until the economy collapsed," he continues. "The construction trade was affluent and Hino was one of the few manufacturers with a stock of readily-available, ready-bodied, eight-wheelers."

Since then however it has stagnated on the new sales front thanks to a lack of availability of trucks capable of complying with the latest exhaust emission regulations; and if new vehicles are not being sold, then over time the service parc slowly dwindles.

Gray's decision to add MAN to the company's portfolio should certainly boost workshop throughput. "It's a make that's popular with local container hauliers - there's a big container yard close to us and Liverpool is of course a port - and there are already over 150 MANs in operation in our area," he says.

MTC will not be able to use MAN to hone its selling skills however. The German manufacturer directly employs its own truck sales force. Because it needs its workshop staff to be capable of servicing, say, a Daf CF in the morning and a MAN TGA in the afternoon, MTC's commitment to training is substantial. 

It employs a large workforce of 20 technicians at its site on the Knowsley Industrial Park, including four apprentices, and the workshop is open from 6am Monday to 12.30pm Saturday.
"We'll work Saturday afternoons if required but we don't open Sundays," Gray says.

"We've taken on five technicians over the past couple of months and we're looking for more," he continues. Recruitment is not easy however. "We're really struggling at the moment but everyone you speak to in our industry is trying to get fitters," he says.

Recruiting apprentices is somewhat easier. "The four we've got are very good and one of them has just been in the final of the Daf Apprentice of the Year awards," says MTC aftersales director, Martyn Allen (pictured, right).

"The apprentices we've got coming through are bright, articulate, they've got good IT skills, they've got a good work ethic, they're willing to learn and will succeed in whatever they want to do," Gray adds. "We plan to take on a minimum of two apprentices every year from now on to help us build a strong workforce going forwards."

Hopefully MTC will be able to retain them once they are fully-fledged technicians. "Over the last two years we've had five of our fitters leave the company in order to emigrate," Gray reports. "They've gone to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and one is going to Canada, although one fitter who emigrated has now come back."

Their skills are of course transportable and English is spoken in all four countries. MTC has been an Authorised Testing Facility (ATF) since November 2011 and is testing five days a week most weeks. "It's gone well for us, and it's worth noting that we've only had one failure since that date among those vehicles we prepared for test ourselves," Gray says. "It's been a worthwhile investment because although you don't make an awful lot of money out of running an ATF, it brings people to your door.

"It's also a useful extra selling point if you're going out looking for new work as well as being convenient for existing customers," he continues. "It's probably producing extra parts business too." That has to be good news given that MTC faces strong competition for parts sales from other franchised dealers and from a number of well-established factors. "One thing we have in our favour however as a Daf dealer when it comes to competing with factors is the TRP all-makes parts range," he points out. 

With an annual turnover of approximately £7m, MTC should be able to generate even more parts and service revenue in the future thanks to its decision to recruit a business development manager who is now selling what it has to offer to customers. "That includes repair and maintenance contracts although since the recession some operators have become more interested in underwriting the risk themselves," says Gray.

Several MAN TopUsed trucks are usually on display outside the dealership. "As with new sales, MAN handles all TopUsed sales itself - it's got a TopUsed place in Preston - but the vehicles need preparing and that generates workshop business for us," he says.

So what do the next five years hold for the dealership? "I'd like to build an extra workshop - we've got the land here - and have the ability to take on Pet Regs work," he replies. "I'm interested in taking on a van franchise too. All of our customers run vans as well as trucks."

What about the future of truck dealerships in general? "I think there will be fewer workshops and that those that are still around will be much bigger than they are today," he replies. "They'll be multi-franchise too, and if they're ATFs, then all of the testing will be privatised and carried out by their own technicians rather than by testers from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. "I can't see things going any other way."

Heathcliff Haulage to be liquidated

Wisbech, Cambridgeshire-based Heathcliff Haulage has entered the creditors’ voluntary liquidation process after it bought in an administrator and ceased trading last year.

Heathcliff was estimated to have owed unsecured creditors £1.2m at the time of its collapse in January 2014.

In a progress report filed at Companies House, administrator Harrisons said it had faced difficulty in obtaining money from some of Heathcliff’s debtors. It does however expect a sum of £446,929, owed to factoring company Bibby Financial Services, to be paid in full, as well as have a surplus available for the payment of other creditors.

The report also revealed Heathcliff had 14 vehicles that were subject to a finance deal with Eastern Counties Finance, which were returned to the supplier shortly after the administrator’s appointment. It also owned two trucks that were estimated to be valued at £18,000, however when taken to auction they were found to be in a poor mechanical condition and only raised £7,000.

The operator also received a £6,177 sum in respect of an insurance refund due at the time of its administration.

Heathcliff went into administration last year after a combination of the loss of a major traction-only contract, unsustainable rates, rising fuel prices and the cost of maintaining an ageing fleet.