The history of Manchetts as a family concern is quite unique and very successful in its own right, mention the name Manchetts in the village of Burwell, Cambridgeshire and most people in the extended community will know or will have dealt with them in one way or another. My meeting was with Sean Manchett at a site just outside the village of Burwell, which is home to the group.
Many of you reading this article will be familiar with Manchetts Recovery, but if you live in the village, you will probably have had your car serviced or repaired by them, recovered by them, bought your fuel from them or if you have done neither of the above, it is almost certain you will have bought a loaf of bread or a newspaper off them.
That is how well known the Manchett name is to this community. Since Sean’s Grandfather George Manchett set up shop in the village back in 1961 selling and repairing lawn mowers and agricultural equipment, the Manchett family have broadened their interests in line with their expansion and the changing of the times.
George had two sons; Peter and Ray and eventually handed on his business to them. The brothers decided that the garage business would not support both families and amicably decided to split. Sean’s parents Peter & Anne Manchett continued the business in Burwell and ran the fuel forecourt with a small fags and fan belts shop alongside a vehicle workshop.
Peter is now long retired and the business is now a total family affair, with his three sons, daughter and their respective partners now running the various business interests of the Manchett family. Eldest brother Glenn manages the export business in Zambia and assists in the operation of the commercial workshops along with his youngest brother Robert who also manages the body shop and overall business development. Sean oversees all financial aspects of the group as well as managing the recovery aspect of the business. Helen, a trained nurse stepped out of the health industry to manage the supermarket and is responsible for that loaf of bread and the daily newspapers. Helens husband, Chris is responsible for the Renault franchise and manages the Renault service centre in one of the surrounding villages.
There’s a story behind the supermarket side of the business. The petrol station site always had a shop element to it but some time ago a major supermarket were interested in developing the site. The family felt it was in the best interest of the village to develop it themselves, so a massive investment went into modernising the petrol station and the then car show room and converting it into a 2500 sq ft convenience store.
Sean’s wife Mandy looks after the marketing for the group, she has been responsible for the development of the livery seen on the recovery vehicles and all signage. She pays particular attention to the social media aspect. You only have to put their name into a search engine to be inundated with green and yellow results. Sean believes brand image is very important including the fleet, which is kept in first class condition.
Running a multi-million pound family business that employs over 130 staff, has the potential to be sensitive but Sean tells me that it works extremely well. Across the road from the convenience store and forecourt is the commercial workshop side to the business with a vast site catering for commercial repairs and a Renault commercial dealership.
The future development for Manchetts is to bring together the Renault truck and car service points. A two-acre site a few miles away in Newmarket, Suffolk is currently under construction. The new site will house the ATL for VOSA testing and this will continue to be an integral part of their operational strategy.
Sean Manchett isn’t what I would call a typical recovery operator. He is very astute and has a real handle on his business. Yes, he is very knowledgeable about every portion of the business but he, alongside his brothers and brother in law support their team by continuing to be hands on, attending recovery jobs when necessary.
I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful, but many operators I talk to are so engrossed in their business that they don’t always have time to develop structured business plans.
Sean doesn’t fit into this stereotype. He insists on financial management, by checking the figures almost daily across the group and knows exactly his vehicle costs and depreciation down to the last penny.
This attention to detail by the family has allowed the business to expand. They even export end of life vehicles to Zambia from their commercial premises by the container load.
When it comes to recovery, Manchetts work for most of the major clubs with the exception of Green Flag and RAC. They have just handed back their RAC contract but the Green Flag loss was forced on them four years ago.
“I don’t want to dwell on Green Flag because so many words have already been written about it,” said Sean. “But it was difficult to take at the time. However, moving forward we replaced the void with our hunger for work”.
Having a firm hand on the financial performance of the company has allowed Sean to invest in six Dyson 14-ton Midlum Crew Cabs recently but they still use Boniface for their heavies.
Why the investment in so many 14 toners?
“Quite simply, they give me greater flexibility with my operation,” said Sean. “If we have the chance of a return load I need to know that I have the weight capability to handle almost any type of load. For instance, two days ago I was able to take on a return load from Ipswich of four commercial lawn mowers. To allow for that flexibility of load I have an R Licence in place.”
Sean also sees intervention work as the way forward with modern day recoveries. As I walked round the commercial workshops I noticed a coach on the ramps.
“That was a recovery job a few days ago,” commented Sean. “It was a difficult one which needed some work before we could under lift it. The low loader wouldn’t have worked because of the height but we eventually managed to solve the problem and get it back to the yard. The coach operator asked us to give him a price to fix it and it has turned out to be a massive job for us. Without our facilities and without us being able to respond late at night to the initial recovery, we would have missed out on a major job.”
Manchetts run over fifty trucks from their Burwell base, with a satellite base in Bury St Edmunds. Both the Burwell and Bury St Edmunds depots have full police SOCO facilities to cater for the two police contracts, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
Manchetts have invested in the latest technology and are the first in the country to use the new TomTom tablets, which streamlines with their telematics integration. This not only gives Sean a live view of where the trucks are, but a real-time information on the way the trucks are driven, fuel consumption and overall running costs. Telematics is very important to his business and something that his eldest daughter, Gemma has been instrumental throughout the implementation of new software whilst working for the company. She is now taking on a Masters Degree in Management.
Sean says “Every recovery man has sat at his dinner table with their families and spoken about business”. He is proud that his daughter Gemma has grown to have a keen interest in the industry as well as the business. She even insisted on passing and achieving her Class 2 licence! This is indicative of the way the Manchett family have committed to the family business.
Sean is optimistic about the future, particularly about vehicle recovery. Sean strives to encourage professionalism in the industry.
“I am confident looking forward but it is most important in our industry to almost micromanage your business. Investment in modern equipment is vital but that can only happen when you are in full control of your operation. I strongly believe we should not undersell the service we deliver 24/7 365 days a year. We are professionals”.
The future is indeed very promising for the various elements of the Manchetts business. Recent investment highlights that and the company are a great example of developing other profit areas alongside the recovery side of the business.