‘I looked online for a car repair price comparison site and saw a gap in the market’
Emma Deighan talks to Scott Hamilton, founder of mycarneedsa.com
It would take a lot to lure an avid Liverpool fan away from a lucrative role at BMW where unlimited season tickets and rubbing shoulders with players were among the perks, but for Scott Hamilton, the founder of mycarneedsa.com, going it alone has paid off.
Scott, a former award-winning car dealer, and his wife Alison, an auditor, were in "really good jobs and a nice position" before setting up the first car repair price comparison site in the UK in 2014.
Scott commuted between Warrington and Banbridge, where his wife and their five children live.
He ran Halliwell Jones' BMW group in the Cheshire town where he won BMW dealer of the year and retention dealer of the year.
Scott had made his way up in car sales after winning a trainee role at Charles Hurst in the 1990s. He left as a general manager to work for David Prentice, where he became a director and opened the firm's BMW dealership in Omagh.
The Warrington job followed and he came up with the idea of mycarneedsa.com.
"I was working with customers who were driving four to nine-year-old cars that were out of warranty. Those motorists always thought dealerships were too expensive for repairs and I felt like we needed ways to show that we are competitively priced. I looked online for a price comparison site and there was nothing.
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"I thought if we could offer that and get three or four companies quoting it would show customers that there wasn't much difference in price. I began looking into it and saw there was a real gap in the market.
"We realised this is our chance, and we could leave and come back if it doesn't work out."
And so after a discussion with his wife and a £1m investment, mycarneedsa.com kicked off in October 2014 at the couple's kitchen table.
Mycarneedsa.com has now captured 98% of the UK market, with London its biggest area of custom. It has 16 staff, most of whom are based at its new Portadown office. Its customers are some of the UK's biggest vehicle repair firms, who pay a monthly subscription fee to be included in the site. "We have two customers - motorists and car repair firms. Among those we have Halfords Autocentres, Formula One, Charles Hurst and Vauxhall.
"There would be around 4,500 service providers on our site. They're a mix of independent, franchise dealers and big chains and all of them must be part of an industry body," says Scott.
In Northern Ireland Scott says there are around 50-60 car repair firms listed - a figure that "we are always looking to grow".
And any service provider with negative reviews is axed from its list. Weeding out the bad reviews is all part of a refining process at the business and a way to safeguard its reputation, he says.
"The automotive trade sometimes gets a bad Press but it really is down to a rogue minority. Look around Northern Ireland and you will see some of the leading dealer groups and franchises in the UK within our own market. That is down to the people running these businesses and demonstrating passion for service and innovation. It's something I think we should be very proud of here but doesn't get enough recognition."
Customer feedback is always at the fore of the business, says Scott. It accompanies the site's aftercare service and follow-up call policy which has generated "a really good return" for its clients.
And with that attentiveness the business has doubled its growth in two years, with plans to take a bigger percentage of the car repair market.
At the latest count, there was £21.1bn spent on job repairs in the UK. That can be quantified as 3.6 vehicle repair jobs for every motorist on the road. And recent statistics show that spend in the UK on vehicle repairs is 12% higher than the global average.
The most common car repairs carried out by mechanics for drivers in Northern Ireland include brakes, servicing and MOTs, according to mycarneedsa.com's research.
The stats were revealed just as the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said there had been a 17% slump in new cars sold during the month of March with a total of 7,122 - down from 8,556 the year before. Between January and March there were 17,200 new cars sold.
Scott says: "As new car sales dip, we'll see more older vehicles on the road and they will need more regular servicing and check-ups to ensure maximum performance and safety.
Scott studied computer science at university before bowing out of his degree to focus on a career in car sales. And it's been non-stop ever since. "I think when you run your own business you never really 100% take a break. You wouldn't believe the traffic the site received on Christmas Day.
"And we see traffic peak on a Sunday too.
"I think it's that time of the week when people have time off and use it to get things done," says Scott. Work demands have also meant he's been too busy to get back to England to see his beloved Liverpool play.
"My son James is 10 and he's playing football and I have promised to take him to a game, so it's on the list," he says.