Jo Roberts has done the virtually impossible. She acquired the brand Gear Change Ltd in 2018. In just over a year, she has developed the business with great success – fully self-financed – in a traditional industry dominated by men. After the company’s relocation to East Brent, near Highbridge in Somerset, the customer base kept growing continuously. Many customers travel far to benefit from Gear Change Ltd’s services and expertise in the repair and remanufacture of transmissions, differentials and other transmission components. The company also sells spare parts. At the end of 2019, Jo Roberts received the award “Best Rural Start Up Winner” in the South West, clear proof of how well her investment in the future was received in the market.
Jo Roberts had not yet set her sights on the award when she made the decision to purchase the Gear Change Limited brand in 2018. The name has been around for over 40 years, offering the type of services that are currently offered under Jo Robert’s management. What Jo saw was an incredible potential for developing the business by adding more services, more employees and cutting-edge expertise. Today, the company has eight employees and a collective experience of more than 100 years in repairs and remanufacturing. For Jo, today’s business is the realisation of a journey in the industry that began many years ago. She entered the industry by driving a delivery van and taking charge of deliveries at Gear Change. She gradually advanced within the company, learning more about the business, with the owner at the time as an important mentor.
“When I joined Gear Change, I had three little kids and was looking for a part-time job with the primary aim to enter working life and expand my social life. At the time, I had no idea that I would be running my own business one day, and I certainly never thought that I would be successful enough to receive an award such as the Best Rural Start Up Winner in our region,” says Jo Roberts, displaying the diploma she was awarded a few months ago.
Proud to be appointed the “Best Rural Start Up Winner”
The Rural Business Awards (the “RBA”) was formed in 2014 on the initiative of Jemma Clifford and Anna Price, who ran their own businesses in the Leicestershire countryside. Their ambition was to create an award inspired by growth, thus drawing attention to companies and excellent entrepreneurs that are active in the country, beyond urban areas. The RBA has received increasing attention in the five years since its inception; one reason is that Amazon became an important partner three years ago. A total of 11 awards are bestowed, six of which are “Best Rural Start Up Winners,” which are appointed by an independent jury in six different regions. Jo Roberts and Gear Change Ltd were the winners in the South West, and at the end of February, Jo and her company will be a participant when one of six regional winners is appointed national champion at an event in Manchester.
“Naturally, my employees and I were incredibly happy and proud when we were informed about the award. For me, it’s proof that I made the right investment, and that we have been doing things right, from customer service to qualified services. I’m sure were many who wondered whether a woman would manage to run such a business and make it successful and profitable. The award we received shows that this works perfectly well, and I’m sure there has been a certain amount of astonishment that my company showed a profit already in the first year, and all investments have been fully self-financed,” says Jo Roberts.
Investments include technical equipment and diagnostic tools, allowing Gear Change to offer qualified services also for the most recent models of cars in the market. Thanks to the company’s services and expertise, there is a steady increase in the inflow of new customers, and the fact that the business operates in the country is not a problem – quite the contrary. The proximity to the motorway increases the company’s market, and the only competitors that offer similar services and have extensive experience are miles and miles away.
Success factors include customer focus, commitment and a clear vision
It’s easy to believe that the remanufacture and repair of transmissions, etc. is a traditional industry, where it’s difficult to distinguish your brand and create a customer offering that differs from what others are offering. Nothing can be more wrong, according to Jo Roberts. Technical developments in the car sector has resulted in increasingly advanced transmissions and transmission components, which require advanced technical equipment and significant skills. Jo Roberts has made fully self-financed investments in technology and skilled employees. She has also succeeded in creating a corporate culture where all employees have a strong customer focus in their work. The ambition is to do what is best for the individual customer at all times and identify good solutions in a close dialogue with the customer.
“I believe our strong customer focus is one of our most important success factors. We combine it with a free collection and delivery service within a radius of 100 miles, and we are also proud to offer a 12 month unlimited mileage warranty for our remanufactured transmissions. The fact that we have customers who travel all the way from Scotland to get our help is proper proof that the market values our services, and not least our service level,” Jo Robert says with a smile.
According to Jo Roberts, the commitment, cutting-edge expertise and extensive experience of the employees are key success factors. Gear Change currently has eight employees, and a handful of them have worked with Jo Roberts for many years. The company has a strong team spirit, and all new employees get to work closely with experienced colleagues who take pride in sharing their knowledge.
“Having highly qualified automotive technicians specialised in the powertrain sector is an incredible strength. All employees are capable of making a diagnosis, performing advanced remanufacturing and building new transmissions from scratch. The fact that several team members have chosen to specialise in certain automotive brands and models contribute to our high level of expertise, but we have no strict demarcations; all employees are free to move into the areas of expertise of other employees as and when needed”, Jo explains.
Jo Roberts also has a strong ambition to offer her employees a good working environment, to show clear leadership, to inspire commitment to set targets, to facilitate the work by introducing efficient processes and to build a corporate culture with strong team spirit. This is not obvious in such a traditional industry and has resulted in Jo Roberts giving the Gear Change brand new values and more strength than a few years ago.
Set to grow with additional employees and larger premises
Even if Gear Change Ltd has developed very well under Jo Roberts’ management, she believes conditions are good for continued expansion. This will require new investments, which is not a concern.
“We made significant investments in the first year using our own funds, which is how we plan to do it in the future, as well. Some of the investments we are about to make include recruiting additional employees, as we are met by such positive response from old and new customers alike. We are also considering a move to larger premises with space for additional car ramps, obtaining larger storage areas and possibly investing in online sales for our stock units. I'm also no stranger to establishing a subsidiary that has just started trading specialising in mounting, remanufacturing and supplying automatic transmissions”, Jo Roberts concludes.
In Jo Roberts’ calendar, Thursday 27 February is a date she's looking forward to with great excitement. That’s when the National Final of the Rural Business Awards is held at the Monastery in Manchester. Jo and Gear Change will meet heavy competition from the five other regional winners. She remains optimistic – regardless of the outcome, Jo and her employees are proud to have made it so far in the competition, only a year after Jo Roberts acquired the name Gear Change Ltd.