With a thriving three branch operation and plans for future expansion, European car parts specialist Otto is currently celebrating 20 year in business.The growth of the company has been very impressive and Autobiz spoke to MD Barry McDowell, to find out what has helped to build this success.
Barry arrived in the motor industry by an unconventional route after working in Germany for many years. He moved to London with his wife and happened to spot a job vacancy in a shopwindow for a German speaker. Barry says, “It was totally random. It could have been any type of business but happened to be a motor factor.”
The company in question was GSF. Barry recalls, “I spent eight years with GSF dealing mainly with German suppliers and building up a good knowledge of the parts supply business.”
Using this experience, when he moved back to Ireland, Barry felt there were opportunities to develop a specialist parts business in Dublin. “The focus of the big aftermarket distributors atthe time was very much on Japanese marques and the likes of Ford and Fiat. Although German carswere nothing like as popular as they are now, I thought there was a definite gap when it came to German parts supply.”
Otto started life in a standard high street shop unit in Ranelagh, but as Barry explains it was far from a fast take off. “When we opened for the first three days we did not see a single customer. Eventually a local mechanic took pity on us and after that the business grew through both word of mouth and good promotion.”
Over the years Barry has built the business with the help of Nigel Baguley and a growing team. Initially sales were based on mainly UK sourced product, but over time Barry developed more direct links with German suppliers and has now built a very impressive brand portfolio.
After 5 years of business growth, Otto opened its second branch in Galway, followed by a third in Finglas. By 2007 despite a tardis like storage area behind the shop, the company had out grown its Ranelagh premises and centralised its Dublin operations at the present base in Airton Road. Barry says, “The new premise gave us a huge increase in space and meant we could expand both our range and depth of stock. It means we can offer customers different price point alternatives on many parts. This is something that most appreciate and contrary to popular belief, it is generally not the cheapest option they choose.”
The most recent expansion has been opening new premises at Little Island in Cork which have proved very successful. Plans for the opening of a further outlet on the north side of Dublin are now also very advanced.
The company currently has 25 employees across 3 branches and a fleet of 12 delivery vehicles, which is a far cry from the early days when everything was delivered in a Mark I Golf.
Otto has also been a leader in the development of online business and has an impressive full catalogue e-commerce site. Barry says, “Garages who use the site for ordering find it very efficient and customers and staff also use it as an information resource, but it will be in years to come that we see the full benefits of our online development work.” 20 years on Barry has seen some massive changes in the Irish aftermarket. He says, “The unprecedented growth in German car popularity has been very welcome, but we have also seen the dealers become far more active in parts supply and the motor factor sector get a lot more competitive. It has meant we have had to constantly improve our level of service and product offer, but in terms of range, availability and delivery I am confident that we are geared up for a bright future.”
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