Patrick Lockton, owner of Precision Paint Ltd in Wellington, Somerset.
Mark Hadaway took a trip to the west country to see how this ‘alternative bodyshop business is flourishing despite the current tough economic climate.
Setting up your own business is tough enough. Doing so on the cusp of an economic downturn is even harder. But Precision Paint Ltd based in Wellington, south-west of Taunton is very much lookingahead. The business is bucking the trend by carving out a niche position for itself by repairing and modifying cars from prestige marques, race cars, high performance kit cars, race and road bikes, exotic road and super cars, and rally cars.
Business founder, Patrick Lockton is no stranger to the industry. Patrick began his apprenticeship in the motor trade aged 15 when he started life building rally cars at a main dealership – Richardsons of Wellington, which strangely enough was on the same site as his current business. Patrick achieved his apprenticeship, gaining his NVQ qualifications in paint spraying, panel beating and welding. ‘I grew up just around the corner,’ Patrick explains. ‘I spent five, very good years with Richardsons. It was the era of the modified car led by the likes of MaxPower magazine – customers often wanted work done that was worth more than the car itself.’ On leaving Richardsons, Patrick worked in various bodyshop businesses from a specialist motorbike repairer to a high volume insurance driven operation. ‘It really wasn’t for me,’ said Patrick. ‘I didn’t enjoy the production line set-up and it felt too impersonal.’
This time in the industry led to Patrick, some four years ago, deciding to set up his own business. ‘I knew what I wanted to do, I needed to take the leap of faith and invest in my own business,’ said Patrick. ‘I sold everything I could to raise finance for the new venture as I wanted to do this off my own back. I was committed and although all this came at a time two months after the recession had hit I was positive I was going about things in the right fashion. It was tough – I didn’t take home a penny in wages for the first six months but within three years I had already paid off my business finance. ‘I’ve been helped by a great team of people, particularly Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes who have supported me every step of the way.’ And that support is evident as Sherwin Williams’ Dave Gravenor is present during my visit. ‘Dave has been a real support to the business from the outset and has been behind our continuing expansion with technical assistance and advice. Implementing the AWX paint scheme has been a great asset to the business,’ said Patrick. ‘Precision Paint is exactly the type of business we want to support,’ said Dave.
“I know how passionate Patrick is about the business, I see the high quality of work the business produces and I know its aims for the future – it’s great to work with such pro-active people.”
The initial Precision Paint site was a four bay workshop. Within a year the business needed to expand into larger premises and moved to its now current site. In addition, to the established Todd Engineering booth, today the 15 bay workshop now houses a Bradbury lift. The business also has a fully sign written van and two courtesy cars. ‘Much of our work comes from the world of motorsport,’ said Patrick. ‘For example, we rebuilt the Generation AMR Aston Martin Vantage, which was exhibited at the 2012 Autosport Show at the NEC and a Juno Sports Prototype Race Car, which recently finished second at the Castle Combe Motors TV race day.”
“We also do a lot of work and have a long standing relationship with Dave Appleby Engineering. They send us cars from their HQ in Oxford because they know and trust our quality of work.”
And the streams of work do not stop there. Precision Paint is often sought out by local dealerships as well as the local community for their services. Patrick said, ‘We do a variety of work for a range of people. All of our business comes from word of mouth and we have a strong reputation within the local area. People will often choose us to repair their vehicles despite the fact insurance work is not our focus.’ And to this end, whenever such work comes their way, Precision Paint has systems in place in which to ensure a smooth process. The business uses an external, self employed estimator to price work and has working relationships with nearby businesses who can undertake diagnostics work, alignment checks and aluminium repairs.
Patrick himself has had to ‘learn the ropes’ when it comes to financial matters and the management side of the business. ‘Our accountant has been a great resource in helping us establish simple, yet effective, financial processes. I’m very much a ‘hands-on’ person and still get involved on the shop floor but I’ve also taken on the admin controls to ensure we are operating as a business,’ said Patrick. Such has been the success of Precision Paints that Patrick now employs two staff – panel beater Steve James and his ex-foreman from his time at Richardsons, Matt Thorne. Both have vast knowledge and experience within the industry and are a real asset to the business. A new addition to the team is Danny Morison who works part-time at the weekends and during his school holidays. Patrick’s drive and enthusiasm saw him crowned WWN Business Person of the Year in 2010 by the local Wellington newspaper group – a proud moment for the 28 year old.
“I’ve put in a lot of hours because I’m passionate about doing a job well, I’m involved with some terrific teams like Aston Martin Racing and am part of a kit car business building and painting fibre glass bodies for Cobra replicas.’”