Carlyle Bus and Coach – Parts and refurbishment specialist opens new chapter
History is something Carlyle Bus and Coach Ltd of West Bromwich is certainly not short of. Developed out of the engineering headquarters of Midland Red, once the biggest bus company in the country outside London, previous incarnations of the firm built buses under the BMMO and Carlyle brands.
However, B&CB has covered its back story before, so we won’t go too far into it again. What spurred Chris Peat’s recent visit to the company was the appointment of a new MD, the restructuring of its team and a reappraisal of the marketing strategy for the business. Having experienced rapid growth in the past few years, the parts supply and PCV repair and refurbishment specialist is opening a new chapter in its history, with an emphasis on further promoting its operation and improving efficiency
New man at the top
Heading Carlyle during this time of renewal is Neil Smith. Neil takes over from Mike Fortt, who decided to step down from the role and has now become the company’s Sales Director, a role that still sees him bring his abundance of experience to play. Despite stepping down, he remains very involved with the general management of the company. New MD, Neil, has worked for Carlyle for the last 25 years, holding a number of senior positions and has been in the bus and coach aftermarket business for over 35 years. An additional change is the appointment of David Glennon as Carlyle’s Glass Manager. He will be responsible for both the sales and purchasing of glass in this very important division. Glass is a key part of the company’s operations, representing ‘a good proportion’ of its business. Looking around its glass warehouse makes this point more than apparent, with shelves brimming with glazing stacked to the lofty ceiling.
Carlyle’s Chairman, John Turton, said, ‘I am absolutely delighted about these appointments. Neil and Mike have always worked very closely together, they have many years of experience in this industry and have both played a major part in the success of Carlyle. David Glennon originally successfully established Carlyle’s branch in London but for the last 15 years has worked for a major glass fitting company in the south east of England. He therefore has knowledge of the demands of procurement, sales and glass fitting and strengthens our team enormously. We now have the strongest senior management team that we have ever had.’
This change at the top is supplemented by a change in the sales team’s structure, with regional managers promoted, making them responsible for specific areas. The idea behind this, according to John, is to make the company more customer focused.
As well as there being big changes in the management side of the business, Carlyle’s marketing has also been ‘radically’ revamped. Spearheading this is Christine Babbington, Marketing Co-ordinator, who has implemented two major changes to the way the company promotes itself. One of these was reworking its catalogues, which involved not only changing their layout, but making them available online in addition to printed format.
A move further into the digital realm is at the heart of this marketing makeover, with the other major change being to Carlyle’s website (www.carlylebusandcoach.co.uk), which has been ‘revamped and redeveloped’. One particular area that has benefitted from this is its parts offerings for preserved buses and coaches, which it has ‘huge’ stocks for. E-mail marketing campaigns have also been implemented in an effort to further promote products and special offers. These special offers tend to be linked to the season, with products that prove popular during certain parts of the year specially priced. This online push has proved successful, with the greater web presence generating more global enquiries. Christine said, ‘We’ve had to really start from scratch with marketing, but it has paid off.’
New management system
Implemented to deal with the rapid growth it has experienced in recent years, as well as to cope with the influx of custom this latest push is expected to generate, is a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) business management software package. Carlyle realised its aging ERP system was struggling to keep pace with the developments it was experiencing and consequently started to review the ERP market place. It began a lengthy selection process to identify a solution that would provide the best functional fit and a rapid return on investment. In addition to its old ERP system, the company relied upon disparate databases and various Excel spread sheets. For more efficient management, it wanted a completely integrated system that would do away with these databases and spread sheets, a single platform that would give visibility throughout the entire business.
Following a protracted evaluation process of the leading ERP systems, the Carlyle team was impressed with Sage ERP X3 and the project approach suggested by the team at CPiO. It made the decision to adopt the Sage ERP X3 solution combined with the fully integrated Sage Inventory Advisor (SIA) solution. The system fulfilled the financial requirements covering purchasing, sales, electronic data management and powerful business reporting tools, in addition to the integrated SIA solution for more efficient stock management. SIA focuses on the two simple concepts of wanting to know ‘what is wrong’ and ‘what to order’ by using sophisticated algorithms and modelling technologies to improve the integrity of the replenishment process. With capital tied up in stock across its six depots, Sage ERP X3 is expected to provide Carlyle with a leaner, more efficient operation.
Operations Manager, Mo Hassanyeh, said, ‘I see Sage ERP X3 providing efficiencies in stock distribution and branch replenishment. Having the right stock in the right place at the right time is absolutely key to this demanding industry.’
Something Carlyle has always focused on improving, not just during this recent spurt of developments, is its database of bus and coach parts. The company keeps on file masses of schematics, diagrams of various buses and coaches from past and present, all with the various parts listed alongside the correct component number for accurate selection. John said, ‘We keep this extensive list to make sure we get the right part first time. If not, then it’s annoying for customers and it’s expensive for us, because we have to resend the correct part.’
Depending on customers to know what part to ask for is not the most reliable method, according to John. He related one story when an engineer from a local operator contacted Carlyle’s customer service team requesting a pane of glass. ‘When he was asked which body it was for, he said, “the red one”. Engineers tend to know all there is to know about the chassis, how to repair it and what parts to order for it, but when it comes to the body, that’s sometimes not the case,’ said John.
Carlyle’s database of parts and their corresponding numbers all link into the new Sage accounts package, ensuring the entire software solution can be used to select the required component and create an invoice for the customer. This is all part of the company’s recent drive forward. John said, ‘We’re not just going to rest on our laurels. It’s a change to improve things, not just change for change’s sake. It’s proving successful.’
The focus on increasing efficiency in Carlyle’s operation is key to the operation, according to John. Most of the business is generated from what he describes as ‘distress purchases’. The majority of its sales are for replacement parts damaged in accidents or as a result of vandalism. ‘When customers ask when the part they have just ordered will arrive, they only ever want to hear one word: “now”,’ said John.
One of the ways it has improved the likelihood of having any product customers request in stock ‘now’ is by increasing its range of glass products, particularly for coach applications. It has even diversified into supplying motorhome glazing, which John considers is not dissimilar to coaches. The company supplies its glazing from various sources, even sourcing a great deal from Finnlamex and Pilkington. It is all stored in the company’s 42,000 square foot headquarters, where £6.5m worth of stock is kept. Neil Smith explained that the warehouse used to keep this glass had been reorganised to create even more storage space in recent years, with a forklift truck used to retrieve panes shelved many metres high in the air. It is the preferred supplier to the whole of the Autoglass Group.
Not just glass, but new products of any type are added to Carlyle’s range on a daily basis. What is included in the parts catalogues is decided by the ‘extremely experienced team’, said John. Commenting on these staff, he said, ‘I defy anybody in the industry to have better knowledge. They will survey the vehicles in fleets and get to know what it is they will need to supply. We then source the part. It’s about getting the right products at the right price.’
Carlyle works with a variety of manufacturers, partnering with them to supply components. One of these is Hella, whose batteries have proved a ‘huge success’, with sales of them doubling over a short space of time. It is also an exclusive aftermarket dealer for Chapman Driver Seating. Its catalogues cover door parts, flooring, gas struts, switches, serveries, toilets, seating, bulbs, glazing tools and a multitude of body fittings. One of its most popular catalogues is for its electrical products. An impressive claim is that it supplies more mirrors than the rest of the industry put together. A whole article could be filled listing off the various products sold by Carlyle, so to find out more visit its website and download its catalogues.
Delivering these parts is a fleet of 7.5tonne trucks and 45 vans, many of which are Citroen Relays. It offers a same day and in some cases, a twice a day service. It also has what John described as its ‘slow’ delivery service, which being next day is still not to be sniffed at. Although the majority of its business comes from the UK, the company regularly supplies around Europe.
It is important to remember that its components are not only supplied from its West Bromwich branch. Carlyle has six depots across the country, located in: London, Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester. Its most recently opened branch is Dublin, launched five years ago. John said that it has only been in the past two years that business at this site has really started to take off, claiming the Irish market tends not to put too much trust in companies that have crossed the Irish Sea to set up business, with the perception that they will disappear in a short space of time. However, Carlyle has stuck with it and Neil has noticed at Irish trade shows that more operators are aware of the branch and, most importantly, that more are using it.
Not just parts
It is not just the supply of parts, Carlyle also has its refurbishment and repair workshop. Operators tend to turn to Carlyle for more major damage jobs, with smaller bumps and scratches usually taken care of in house. All aspects of refurbishment can be undertaken, from seating changes to structure conversions. The workshop is fully equipped and the staff are very knowledgeable, according to Neil. All staff in this department have been given regular training in an effort to offer the best possible service. Glass can be fitted in-house by these technicians if requested, but the company will not go out to customers to install it, as doing so would put it in competition with some of its customers.
A wealth of knowledge in this department has come from a long association with Van Hool, for whom Carlyle has been a UK agent for over 25 years. It is the official UK parts distributor for the Belgian manufacturer. John said that when the company became an official Van Hool aftermarket supplier, sales of the vehicles increased in the country, partly due to the extra support it offered customers. Despite changes in the UK market, it continues to successfully supply these parts.
Carlyle also has a metal goods department, in which it has the capability to produce panel sections for PCVs. Like the refurbishment section, the staff here are highly skilled, capable of creating components based on manufacturers’ drawings. The company has invested heavily in new equipment for this part of its operation.
Its workshop, metal goods department and parts supply division have all met with success, driving the recent growth in its business. However, this is not to say the market is an easy place to work in. When asked what the most challenging aspect of the business was, John replied that it was the massive variations in the vehicles, with there now being ‘even greater variation than there has ever been’. He said, ‘If you take one product group, say glass, there are not only variations in size, but you get variations in colours, heated or non-heated. Even for comparatively simple products there are several variations. You have to fit the exact right one, so you have to stock the right one. To do this effectively comes back to the experience of the team, especially when a customer comes along and doesn’t know exactly which one they need.’
Being able to offer such a comprehensive package of services and deliver them well has lead to them winning custom from all of the nation’s largest operators, as well as an extensive list of smaller independents. In 2005 it became the preferred body part supplier to one of the big groups. Despite so many successes, John said there is still work to do to improve the business even further. From this recent focus on improving efficiency and boosting marketing it is evident that Carlyle certainly isn’t standing still. It is heartening to see a company with so much heritage, linked to the past by such an eminent institution as Midland Red, continue to invest and innovate within the business to ensure its future remains bright.