Fixing up the garage industry

Douglas Rotberg left school as soon as he could. Being dysexic, he never settled in the classroom but having grown up on a farm, he was always good with his hands.

When he turned 16, he left school and took up a job as an apprentice mechanic before swiftly working his way up the ladder to become one of the industries leading figures.

“I worked my way through the garage, learning all of the different disciplines from servicing to parts etc,” said Douglas. “Then when I was 29, I went on to run the world’s largest Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealership, Jack Barclays in London.

“From there I decided to have a go at running some garages. I had a small group of three garages which I ran successfully until 1997 when I saw the internet come about. When I saw the internet, I saw how it was going to change the dynamics within the automotive sector.

“I then went on to launch a couple of software businesses. That culminated in the launch of a business called CarSite which we sold on to Tesco Cars, which was an online car buying site. That then started me off looking at the after-sales business, the repair and maintenance of used cars.”

Having launched and sold a handful of businesses, Douglas was always looking for the next opening. Following the success of CarSite, he had witnessed firsthand just how much the digital world was shaking up the car industry. From buying cars to purchasing insurance and accessories, everything was going online.

One side of the industry which was lagging behind however was the after sales business. Local garages weren't showing much interest in the online world and Douglas saw an opportunity to change the way the industry worked with the launch of BookMyGarage, ‘the JustEat of the automotive industry’.

He added: “The garage after sales industry is worth £10bn a year. There are 30 million cars on the road in the UK, 26 million of which require an MOT, and there are around about 25,000 garages supporting those MOT’s and after sales requirements. The industry is huge.

“Previously, there was nothing in the market which allowed the customer to go and compare prices, availability, read reviews and book online. I’m talking about four years now since I launched the business.

“I saw the opportunity firstly to create a platform which would compare like-for-like servicing and MOT prices for customers to go on and log on. Now, the customer experience as we all know has really grown.

“We all use our phones today for seeing availability, reviews, booking, etc etc and our garages are really way behind. There is only around 10% of garages that have any sort of online booking facility.

“We built our garage network up slowly from the pilot network and now have a garage network of around 8,000 garages. A lot of the garages weren't digitally enabled. If a customer wanted to get in touch with them directly online they couldn’t. They had no booking facilities on their website.”

With BookMyGarage, customers can enter their car registration and their location and within seconds receive a list of local garages that can work on their vehicle, showing prices, availability, location and reviews.

The feedback from customers has been exceptional. So much so, the company turned over close to £1.4m last year and now has 8,000 garages using its platform. The hardest challenge Douglas has faced however has been changing the perception of people working in a industry which is so set in its ways. But, he’s managing to do it.

“The main challenge has been changing the market. We have an independent garage sector where if we think about your average independent garage, it’s owned by someone who likes repairing cars, he likes repairing cars and people have always turned up due to his ad in the local paper.

“The majority of our garages are owned by independent people, they’re small businesses. They’re very business savy, however, they run workshops, they’re not usually digital sophisticated. Our job is to help them become more digitally sophisticated.

“That’s why nobody has really done it before - because its such a challenge. But, I know the market, I’ve been in it all my life. My advantage is that I know the garage after sales business. I’m a member of the Institute of the Motor industry, I’ve been a member for over 40 years and have been in the industry for just under 50 years.”

A year on since its launch, BookMyGarage has tripled in size and is set to continue growing after raising over £650,000 from its latest crowdfunding campaign. Douglas launched the campaign, via Seders, in a bid to raise money to market the business to potential customers. And it proved a huge success.

“We launched BookMyGarage in January 2016. As a business it has really taken off since its launch. We’ve just closed a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs which overfunded by 110%, raising £650,000.

“The money will be used to help get more of our digital managers out there to talk to garages and make them aware of the digital opportunities they have. In other words, getting them fully digitalised and on board with BookMyGarage.

“It’s just like the JustEat model. JustEat changed the takeaway market from 27% to 84% of takeaways using the online platform to manage their bookings in just five years. We will see that sort of growth as customers start to migrate towards understanding that there is an online booking facility where they can compare, read reviews or go straight to the garage if they wish to and book direct.

“Looking forward we want to really drive the digitalisation of the garage business. We have a long haul ahead of us to get garages fully digitalised so that they are talking correctly to their consumers and consumers are having a good experience. But we’re confident we can make it happen.”

Published: 16 January 2017

Article by Bryce Wilcock
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