Padraic Deane spoke with Kevin O’Kane, MD of FG7 on the occasion of the 20th. anniversary of the foundation of the business.
Padraic – Q: First of all, congratulations on your recent appointment as Managing Director of FG7 Factors Group. You must be very happy to have received this deserved acknowledgement of your progress and the direction you are leading the company?
Kevin – A: Thank you Padraic, I am delighted and very grateful for the board putting their trust & faith in me to keep driving FG7 forward as they have themselves over the last 20 years. We have worked closely over the two years I have been with company building a strong relationship with mutual understanding of how we want the company to grow. It is no secret my desire to build upon the success of the group so far and I believe that the team here are capable of taking the group to another level. Equally important however is that we also work hard to sustain the quality of service and availability our group members have become accustomed too.
Padraic – Q: FG7 Ltd was formed as an independent buying group twenty years ago this month (October) in 2000. It was a new business and a new millennium. Who started the company back then?
Kevin – A: FG7 was formed by a consortium of motor factors who recognised the lack of stock availability on the ground here to them in the late nineties. From humble beginnings where they would meet in an evening with each other and also suppliers at a hotel in Cookstown, Mid Ulster. For most of the last twenty years this was after normal business hours when their own factors would close.
Colin Adams, Kevin McNeill, Michael McCarron, Raymond Goss and Tom Patrick are the brains behind the company, whilst some of these gentlemen are represented at board level by the next generation, all are still very active in their respective businesses and always on hand to offer advice (or constructive criticism) to the team.
Padraic – Q: There are now thirty-three group member branches in the group. How has it evolved and changed to meet the demands of a market which is constantly diversifying?
Kevin – A: In the early days when the directors of FG7 met at that hotel with suppliers, they would then split a pallet of stock between five vehicles to be distributed at each of their branches.
They built strong relationships with the suppliers which has been testament to the success of FG7. You would only need to sit in a room with some of these guys for a short time to realise that a lot of friendships have been forged whilst growing all aspects of the business.
We have constantly had new members become a part of the group over the last ten years. Mainly through business links or friendships it allows for open conversation with advice, opinion and guidance as everyone feels a part of the company as we grow it together.
It is because of this strong support through our group that we can stay ahead, ensure FG7 is at the forefront with stock availability, service and all of the latest offerings to the market.
As you are very aware the automotive aftermarket evolves quickly, more so on this island with such a fresh car parc, we are in constant communication with our members and suppliers to ensure our data and stock is on point.
It’s crucial our range is ahead of the rest, so we encourage interaction with members’ staff at the counter and our customer service team, this gives us in FG7 invaluable feedback and the branch staff confidence in our supply and availability.
With constant changes to the aftermarket, we have weekly discussions with suppliers to have the best offering available to the member base at all times.
Padraic – Q: You have many of the auto aftermarket industry’s leading suppliers. How has supplier loyalty contributed to your success to date?
Kevin – A: There are suppliers who have been on board with the group since the very start and remain as some of our key partners today – SKF, Mahle, Suplex and Ring were amongst the very first and soon followed by Comline, Federal Mogul, GT Exhausts and NGK to name a few.
We have built very strong friendships and supply partnerships with these companies and it because of this we can rely on them to work closely and support further growth of FG7.
Padraic – Q: in 2019, FG7 opened the first warehouse 30,000 sq. ft. in Cookstown but the expansion of member numbers and turnover, plus much greater stock levels, meant the purchase in 2015 of a 66,000 sq. ft. central distribution was essential. How is the warehouse coping with still higher stock levels these days, to service the requirements of 33 members?
Kevin – A: I can answer in confidence that we cope very well with the demand and should hope the members would back up my claim. Our stock floats at around 3 million and while we have the odd supply issue as any business has, we generally have strong availability with a fast and efficient system in our warehouse to keep our pick rate high. There is always room for improvement and we constantly assess our processes to be sure they are working efficiently.
Padraic – Q: How would you describe the philosophy and the aims of the business today?
Kevin – A: To grow consistently with the addition of new business and group members. This will be without compromising the quality of service or availability of stock but also to maintain the relationships that have been built over a decade with our group members – described recently by one member as personal and friendly atmosphere.
Padraic – Q: Have you plans to attract more members? And if so, how many members would you like to see in the group by the end of say 2021?
Kevin – A: Padraic in 2020 I had planned to display at the now postponed Auto Trade EXPO in Dublin with the sole intention of meeting potential members for FG7. I wanted to display and discuss how we do things a little differently from other distributors in the industry. I am always open to discussion and welcome anyone who cares to visit us. We can facilitate this even under the current restrictions in place.
Padraic – Q: Taking into account the lockdown period due to the pandemic, how are you getting on this year when compared to your original targets?
Kevin – A: It has been a testing year for us all and thankfully we have come thus far with a full healthy team and even added 10 new roles in the company. We began 2020 with a structured plan for the year that was all but scrapped at the end of March. I think fair to say most of us switched to survival mode for what felt like an eternity.
However, once we got through April with a disappointing result, May saw us hit over 70 per cent of our targeted figure through a very limited service to the members of the group.
At this point I think it would be fitting for me to thank the staff and members for helping us through a difficult period. Their combined support was amazing.
Thankfully, June, July, August and September have been record months and I am delighted to report that as of now, we expect to hit target for 2020, which is surreal given the position we found ourselves in April.
Padraic – Q: It must take a very good team to continually grow the business. What are the greatest strengths of your team?
Kevin – A: Indeed, it takes a first class team and we have just that. The people who work here in FG7 are committed and genuinely care about their role in the company. I can honestly say, that not only this year but in times where we have been tested, each and every one will stand up without question to ensure our quality of service is never compromised.
Padraic – Q: You’re a rugby man, having played at a good level. A very successful business man and friend of mine, told me that he builds a team for different projects in a similar way that a good coach picks a rugby team. He gets the best he can find to fill every position and gets them working together as a successful team. How is your team coach?
Kevin – A: Haha, I’m a rugby fan but there are many that will tell you I was only useful in the air because I could reach higher than the rest.
That probably sums up my general attitude as well. I won’t settle for normal, striving for the best and more than happy to reach high for it with no fear of putting in the hard yards to get there. I’m not the boss, I like to work with the team and will never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. That is the general rule in FG7 and you would find that my colleagues will cover multiple roles without request, as and when its necessary to get the job done.