BIG Awards 2022 Winner Q&A – Cleevely Motors Ltd

BIG Awards 2022 Winner Q&A – Cleevely Motors Ltd

Other, The BIG Awards

Over the coming months we will be shining a spotlight on our BIG Awards 2022 winners, hearing their stories, what makes them tick and their advice to other garages.

This month, the IGA chats with Matt Cleevely, Managing Director at Cleevely Motors Ltd in Cheltenham, who won three of our prestigious awards.

Tell us a little bit about you and your garage:

My grandfather started the business in 1962, joined by some of his brothers, wife and then children. My father and uncle ran the business after him, with their sister as secretary, then I joined after qualifying out of my apprenticeship via a different, family-run independent, in Dorset where I lived at the time. I moved back to Gloucestershire to join the family business in 1999 and have worked on growing it ever since. My father retired in 2016, and my wife and I have run it ever since.

Why did you choose to work in the industry?

Destiny! No, seriously, I had always been in and around the garage growing-up and was very proud of what the family had built-up. I went through school wanting to be a journalist, but once I started autocross racing at the age of 14, I found that I enjoyed maintaining my own racing car and that I got a buzz out of setting points, cleaning the carb, doing the ignition timing etc. I found that I was good at repairing things, which gave a me a sense of achievement writing didn’t.

What has surprised you the most about working the industry?

That once you understand how things work, you can apply that knowledge to able to fix most things. I love getting involved with broken things, not just cars, to make them work again. Our trade’s skills are transferrable to a lot of different trades and applicable in lots of situations, and I love it!

What do you find most challenging about working in the industry?

Managing people’s expectations. Whether that is staff, suppliers or customers, communication is key. But there is, and always has been, a lot of pressure for accurate estimating, cheap pricing, decent wages and availability. As we have scaled as a business, managing all those factors has been the hardest thing.

What’s the best thing to happen to you whilst working in the industry?

My career has now spanned 26 years. I count myself very fortunate to have started by settings points, plugs and carbs, moved through the early stages of fuel injection and high-pressure diesel and now onto working on the most modern of electric vehicles. We have had to invest in our business at each of these stages, which we haven’t always got exactly right, but right enough to get us to where we are now. A plan that we will continue with for years to come.

As winners of the Independent Garage of the Year – Overall award, what advice would you offer to other garages striving for success?

My advice is to aim as high as possible. Think ahead and plan ahead. It has only been in the last 5 years that I have had a business plan, but where it has taken us is beyond my best ideas of a plan! Also, most independent garages are run by technicians, that now find themselves running a business, that’s what happened to me. So I enrolled myself in a business management leadership course and it has done my business, and my confidence the world of good. I now understand more about the world of business and realise how much our trade under-value ourselves. We need to make that change, otherwise our trade will never get the appreciation it deserves.

As winners of the Innovation award and the Business Improvement award, we’d like to know more about why and how you’ve expanded into the EV sector:

I have always been environmentally aware. We put solar on our house 14 years ago, which lead me to consider other options for fuelling transport. Just over 5 years ago I got HV trained and bought a Nissan Leaf, as my wife was only doing 2 miles a day on school runs. My mechanical sympathy wouldn’t let that engine keep doing short trips! So I intended on just learning from our own car, but the buying experience with main dealers was so terrible that it gave me the idea to become an EV promotional business, as they were doing such a bad job. CleevelyEV was born, separate from Cleevely Motors, just in case my idea didn’t work. It has been a difficult road, it always is when you’re the first person to do something new, but the support of Pete Melville at Hevra has been invaluable. Between us we have found fixes for things that nobody else has, and now my goal is to help the whole aftermarket realise the massive opportunity we have with EV. The main dealers are largely still on the starting-blocks, so we can get ahead of them. 

What’s the best piece of advice you could offer to someone starting out as a technician?

Show your hunger and eagerness to want to achieve. If you want to be a good tech you will never lose that desire to continually learn and improve. There are so many resources now to be able to develop your own knowledge base. A good boss will encourage training and testing, wanting his staff to improve first-time fixes and repairs.

Where do you see your garage business in five years’ time?

Wow, that’s a tricky question. I would have got that answer wrong 5 years ago! After 5 years of building, we will have some time to improve and refine what we do, whilst still being at the cutting-edge of vehicle repairs. We will look to the latest technologies and equipment, and invest in training. I have a few ideas about future growth areas, but I’m keeping them to myself for now, it certainly is a very interesting time for the motor industry.

What would be your dream car and why?

I have a Performance Tesla Model Y on order, as a little treat to myself (a company car of course!). But I do have a passion still for retro. I’d love to have another Vauxhall Nova, just for old times sake. But there is also a plan forming to electrify my dad’s 1974 Mk1 Transit Camper van…..that is an interesting project.

What does winning a BIG Award mean to you?

I am extremely proud that the whole team is getting awarded for the hard work that they have, and continue, to put in. Not only have they bought into my vision, but they have worked together to make it a reality. Receiving recognition from the IGA is humbling. It is such a great network of professional businesses, that push each other to be the best. Being named the first ‘best-of-the-best’ is something that I will never forget.