BIG Awards 2022 Winner Q&A – Exminster Garage
The IGA is shining a spotlight on our BIG Awards 2022 winners, hearing their history, stories and advice to other garages and technicians.
This month, the IGA interviews Jo Strachan, Director of Exminster Garage near Exeter, who won our coveted Community Engagement Award.
Tell us a little bit about you and your garage, for example how the business started?
100 years ago, Exminster Garage emerged from a small building which had originally been used by the local horse farrier. As the mode of transport changed, so did the services, transitioning from shoeing horses to maintaining the motor car – a completely different kind of horse power!
Why did you choose to work in the industry?
Glen had always had a passion for all things car related. When leaving school this was the path he chose to follow, eventually becoming a right hand man at Exminster Garage whilst working for the previous owner. When the opportunity arose for us to go one step further and purchase the business 14 years ago it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and one we were only too willing to work extremely hard to achieve. If you don’t have a passion for what you do, whatever the business, you will fail. Glen’s passion to create a great customer experience for local drivers rubs off on all who work at the garage which makes it a great place to be for staff and customers alike.
What has surprised you the most about working the industry?
Personally for me (Jo), coming from a totally different career background, how much I enjoy it.
What do you find most challenging about working in the industry?
Early morning starts!! We like to have had at least one cup of coffee before the phones start ringing at 7.30am.
What’s the best thing to happen to you whilst working in the industry?
The best and most important thing for us is to know how much our business is valued locally. This loyalty is shown through return business, word of mouth referrals, testimonials and ratings across social media and of course by our loyal hardworking staff that make it all happen.
As winners of the Community Engagement Award, what advice do you have for other garages looking to give back to their local community?
Think outside of the box. Most businesses will sponsor a local football team or hold a charity event which is great, but, if there is a particular cause that you feel strongly about then maybe think about ways that you could support that also.
At Exminster Garage we have signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant Employer Recognition Scheme. Straight away this provided us with a platform to give our time and commitment to something that we felt strongly about. This did involve some fundraising for Rock 2 Recovery, a charity which concentrated on helping those that had left the military with PTSD through music, but more importantly we simply offered an open door. What we mean by this is that for any ex-military that were struggling to get back into the workplace, due to PTSD or for any other reason, they were welcome to come along and join in with the workshop team, even if it simply meant handing technicians a spanner.
The great thing about this environment is that people slowly open up and talk. A perfect example of this would be a young ex-soldier that came our way – he, along with his crew, had been in a tank which was hit whilst serving in Afghanistan. This young lad was extremely lucky to walk away from the wreckage, but sadly most of his colleagues did not. Understandably, he went on to have huge guilts about surviving whilst others had not. No one at Exminster Garage has any counsellor training, but, as this young lad got to know our technicians he was able to talk about his experiences and nightmares and, as they say, a problem shared became a problem halved. Today this amazing chap very rarely visits, thankfully he no longer needs us, but it is very special to think that in some way the boys here helped him fight his demons. He tells me that he still has the odd bad day, but thankfully these are now few and far between.
What’s the best piece of advice you could offer to someone starting out as a technician?
Firstly we would always say never give up. To be a fully trained motor vehicle technician today is no mean feat! With hybrids and full electric vehicles coming onto the scene thick and fast, as well as your standard petrol and diesels, the knowledge required is immense, especially in the independent sector where you will most probably have all makes and age coming through your workshop.
Where do you see your garage business in five years’ time?
With a lot of hard work and continuous evolvement, we would like to think that we would still be one of the top independent garages within Exeter and the surrounding area.
What would be your dream car and why?
A Gulf Ford GT40, the car speaks for itself!
What does winning a BIG Award mean to you?
We’re very honoured, but there’s always room for improvement.