New Wellingborough facility for Arriva Bus and Coach

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Continuing growth within all areas of the business has led Arriva Bus and Coach (ABC) to open a new depot in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, and in early April the dealership invited customers to an open day at the former Van Hool facility. .

Attractions included a cross-section of new and used stock vehicles plus a left-hand-drive Euro 6-engined Van Hool TX16 Astron that was available for test drives, while driving of a more prosaic nature could be found in the form of a model coach racing simulator.

Stock vehicles plus Euro 6-engined Van Hool TX16
Stock vehicles plus Euro 6-engined Van Hool TX16

The day-long event was geared to making operators aware of the range of facilities available and gauging reaction to what Managing Director Steve Hodkinson describes as “a mini Cleckheaton.”

Arriva Bus and Coach MD Steve Hodkinson
Arriva Bus and Coach MD Steve Hodkinson

This phrase reflects the fact that, from its long-established West Yorkshire base just off M62 junction 26, ABC has built itself a strong and proven reputation within the industry for the sale, rental, service and support of coaches and buses to customers throughout the UK and Ireland.

25-year connection

Explaining the reason for opening this new satellite operation, Steve told routeone: “The opening of this depot is an important step for ABC, bringing us physically closer to our customers in the Midlands and the South and enabling us to respond more quickly and more effectively to their needs. What it’s about is getting the organisation close to our customer base.”

Although Cleckheaton will remain the main business location for ABC, and will be known within the business as ABC-C, the more southerly location of the Wellingborough depot (ABC-W) gives customers located further south easier access to the company’s full range of new and used vehicles, short and long-term rental, parts and service support.

The Wellingborough site in Vaux Road has a 25-year connection with the UK coach sector, having started as premises used by the former Belgian coach builder LAG when it introduced the EOS 100 in 1989. LAG sold its coach-building activities to nearby Van Hool in 1990 and the expanded EOS range was discontinued 12 years later, leaving Wellingborough as a centre for Van Hool’s pre-delivery inspections.

However, the change to the common Europe-wide vehicle certification regime rendered the premises surplus to requirements, ironically at a time when Van Hool’s UK market share was increasing.

ABC has benefited from this growth, boosted by group orders from Stagecoach for its Oxford Tube (soon to receive the first Euro 6-engined Van Hools in the UK), Megabus and Megabus Gold operations – and, according to Steve Hodkinson, was prompted to accelerate plans to establish a satellite operation that was not only closer to its major customers, but also more convenient for operators in the Midlands and further south.

It was, therefore, a happy coincidence that Van Hool vacated its well-equipped Wellingborough premises with its four-bay workshop and large area of hard-standing at a time when ABC was searching for something similar.

Four-bay workshops
Four-bay workshops

Given that ABC already had a long-established relationship with Van Hool as one of its main UK dealers, a deal to rent the site from the Belgian company enabled the dealer to move in earlier this year.

In a further strengthening of its relationship with Van Hool, ABC is now the principal supplier of Van Hool coaches in the UK, following the manufacturer’s decision to only offer DAF as the engine option in its integral range of TX coaches.

Quality assured

The dealership, which recently achieved recognition under the International Quality Management Standard ISO 9001, also offers other brands, including Temsa, MCV, Wrightbus and VDL.

It’s now two years since Steve Hodkinson took over as MD. He says: “I know we’ve got good facilities and good products. And we’ve got a great team. But for me it’s been a focus on customer service because this is what will differentiate the company. This new depot is part of it.”

He says: “We set out on this journey (to achieve ISO 9001) to ensure that we could deliver outstanding customer service, consistently and reliably. By implementing a quality-led culture and a range of well-defined processes to support this, we are able to focus our efforts on achieving ever higher levels of customer satisfaction. Continuous improvement is a key part of the company’s ethos and the requirements of ISO 9001 for the management of quality throughout the business support this approach strongly.

“The task for me,” says Steve, “is to ensure the same level of service (at Wellingborough).”

Field support

ABC understands that time off the road for its customers is not an option and a professional response is needed when it matters the most. ABC has established a five-man team with a new fleet of fully-equipped field servicing and repair vans designed to support customers in an emergency situation.

Based at Cleckheaton, Wellingborough and around the country it is able to react to any issues you may have on your premises.

Its trained service technicians are available 24 hours a day, with extensive experience in repair and maintenance, MOT and brake testing, diagnostics and air conditioning repair.

Parts and service

Although ABC-W is all about location, location, location, with vehicle servicing and repair available on site, in operational terms it is very much a satellite of ABC-C, saving customers the longer drive north should they want to view and test drive stock vehicles or collect parts.

With over 10,000 body and chassis parts lines from genuine original equipment suppliers available from stock, 24/7 service support and out-of-hours emergency support, ABC-C is now enhanced by the new location.

Growth

As evidence of growth in what has been a tough two years of trading since he joined the company, Steve points to a doubling in registrations of DAF-powered Van Hool integrals, which now account for 10% of the full-size coach market, all achieved “without mortgaging our future,” he says.

Meanwhile the rental market is also strong, with the five, six or seven-year deals on new Temsa Safaris being so successful that Steve says: “We wish we’d brought in more Euro 5 stock.”

Reflecting on the overall growth, he says: “That’s why it is so important that we need service back up and support.

“It has also enabled us to increase the number of staff from 47 to 55 and we’re continuing to recruit.

“We have brought new people in and this is helping the business to evolve from a traditional business to a new one, with the customer at its centre.”