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IN THE decade since Victorian VASA member Ray Kent acquired Bendigo Auto Air from his boss of 14 years, he has grown the business from one-man band to a nine-bay workshop and achieved a five-fold increase in annual turnover.

Ray has now worked in the business for a total of 26 years, having originally been employed to run the air-conditioning side as a mobile service and repair operation with a base at the owner’s workshop. Four years after he took control of the business, he was successful enough to move into his first workshop and outgrew that in just 18 months.

He then started offering auto-electrical services and upsized to another workshop that lasted three years before he needed even more space. He has been in his current nine-bay shed for three years.

About Ray

What encouraged you to begin working in the motor trade?

I was always a fiddler from a very young age, but my career began just before I turned 17 and had almost finished Year 10. My dad got me a job in the auto-electrical trade, so I did an apprenticeship with that business and went to the local technical trade school.

What do you enjoy most at work?

The satisfaction of fixing difficult jobs and particularly when the vehicle has been somewhere else that wasn’t able to fix it or find the fault. That is particularly pleasing. I think our success comes from trying not to turn anyone away and providing a service that we don’t send a car away without fixing it.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I like making things, and have woodworking and welding gear in the shed at home. I make whatever is required, including furniture, and when we built our house 15 years ago did all the outside work such as sheds, fences, verandas and paving.

Where do want to be in 10 years?

I’m 61 now but I don’t yet know when that retirement date will come up because my wife also works together in the business with me and is a couple of years younger. I think I will be working until almost 70 at this stage, and hopefully by then I will be able to sell business to an employee or someone else. When that happens we’d like to travel a bit more. We have been to several places but would like to do it slower than the usual week here and there.

About the Industry

How do feel the auto air-conditioning industry is faring at the moment?

There are a few issues with hydrocarbons that we’d prefer not to be around but other than that, a lot of workshops don’t know what they’re doing which is a shame. But we like the jobs that come from them as there’s not too much stuff we can’t sort out. 

Do you think it will get better or worse?

Hydrocarbons are the biggest bugbear for most of us guys doing the right thing and I believe ARC has their head in the sand. They can see what is going on and they should be going to their superiors and asking what could be done about it.

What is your view on the use of the new R1234yf refrigerant?

We’re not afraid to spend a bit of money on equipment and we are now set up to do R1234yf. We’ve just had a flyer printed for dealers and panel beaters in Bendigo, to take a load off the people who haven’t bought the equipment.

Do you attend any industry seminars?

We’ve been to at least four or five VASA conferences. With any training, it doesn’t matter whether I’ve seen or done it before because I always pick up something or have my memory refreshed. The auto-electrical classes VASA runs are always handy because you need to keep up with new ideas for testing and different electrical issues. We have five scan tools, and oscilloscopes but still they don’t do everything. 

Are you a member of an automotive body other than VASA?

I’m a member of TaT, we’re accredited for auto electrical with VACC, we use Autodata and I am often on VASA’s SightGlass Live site. 

Are there things you would like the industry to do as a whole that they not already doing?

In auto-electrical and even air-conditioning there isn’t enough customer awareness of the fact there is an option to use businesses specialising in that sort of thing. So they take it to their mechanic and their mechanic gets stuck, or they have a mechanic who can’t or won’t do it.

I’d also like to see a way of aggregating all the repair information so we can get it from two or three places.

About Ray’s VASA membership

How long have you been a member?

I’ve been a member for all 11 years we’ve had the business. As soon as we bought it in 2005 we joined.

Why did you join VASA?

It was the training and access to the help and information you are sending out to help keep us up to speed on what’s required. We’re now getting into SightGlass Live and helping each other out more.

How do you use VASA?

SightGlass Live and the training are most advantageous for us. I always keep an eye on SightGlass Live to see if anyone can help and that’s happened. I’ve put some help out there as well; it’s better than waiting for booklets to come every couple months,

Do you think VASA has a strong voice in the industry?

They are certainly trying to have a strong voice in the industry and I can see they are always trying their utmost to be as proactive and effective as they can. 

What more could VASA do for its members?

Just keep going, keep improving and don’t back off what you’re doing.

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