Stan’s wisdom on workshops!
Stan Stephens gives us his wisdom on how to set up a workshop: what you’ll need and how to do it.
This is the second in the series on how to set up a small specialist motorcycle based business. Firstly an apology for this being so long after part one, but it’s been actually hard to get suitable pictures (according to the esteemed editor!). Years ago when I started in business it was in a ramshackle unit on an ex-army base. What I wanted was a proper motorcycle shop. When I had saved enough money I leased a shop in the High Street. The problem with that was that semi-interested passers-by would drop in, which would stop me working. I had to employ people to run the shop so that I could get my work done. Years later we were one of the first motorcycle businesses to move to a trading estate; this was our best move and one that I would recommend to anyone making their first steps in the trade. I would advise you to get the biggest unit you can afford, you can then later expand your business without having to move again. Obviously try to get a unit on a smart estate, as nothing puts customers off more than broken down old cars and scrap lying around. Don’t be worried if there’s another bike business on the estate, if you are dealing with different aspects of the trade it is an advantage because it then becomes an attraction to bikers in the area. When looking for a unit think of your requirements. For example, if you are going to use a lathe or mill or dyno or large compressor which uses three phase electricity, make sure there is three phase already there as it is a prohibitive cost to have it put on. If you are going to run a dyno make sure there are no noise restrictions and that there is provision for an extractor fan. Although we all hate ’elf ’n’ safety, make sure there is a fire exit and if you employ people, that there are toilets. If you are going to sell parts or accessories as well, make sure retail selling is allowed. Naturally I got all these points wrong! When you have found the premises the nearest to your ideal, make sure you have a proper lease, ideally for at least three years so that you have security but also with a ‘get out’ clause in case things do go disastrously wrong. When you get the keys to your new venture give yourself time to get the set-up right before you start work because hopefully you won’t have time later. Appearance is important both for the customer and also for your own pride, remember you will be spending more time in your workshop than you will at home! Paint the entire workshop with white masonry paint, this will make it lighter as well as looking cleaner. You can never have too many strip lights and three pin wall sockets. Paint the floor with a rubberised floor paint and leave it to dry for a couple of days. When painting the floor make sure the doors are open and that there is plenty of
circulation because the fumes will make you sick (just ask my son). Depending on the size of your unit it is a good idea to partition off a small area as an office. Most important is to make a counter or area inside the doorway for customers. If there is room put in a small table and chairs with a few copies of CMM and put up a few posters. There is nothing worse that trying to work with customers just walking straight in. Also the insurance company will insist on it. Insurance; nobody likes insurance companies but it is a necessity especially in this claim culture age. Your landlord will insist on the premises being insured. You must also have insurance for your stock and equipment and customers’ bikes and parts. Most importantly you must have customer liability and faulty parts and faulty workmanship insurance. If you have staff you must have employers liability. Most insurance companies will provide a ‘trader’s combined insurance policy’ which will include all of these and will include the insurance on your van or car and will cover you road-testing customers bikes: not cheap but necessary! A few tips with insurance that I found out the hard way; don’t give the insurance company any loophole in case you may have to make a claim. An example: when we had a claim for a break-in, the assessor turned down a large part of it because the policy stipulated the door must have “three mortice locks and two Chubb locks” and we had two mortice locks and three Chubb locks. The fact that the thieves used a stolen lorry to ram-raid through the wall and left the door untouched did not matter to the insurance company, they were happy, they had found a loophole! If you employ anyone and you have a robbery and your employee‘s equipment or tools are stolen as well, the employee is not covered by your insurance. Make sure your employee has their own insurance for their tools. The insurance company insures you, the owner, against claims. This I suppose is common sense but when my wife injured herself at our works and she claimed for her injury, the insurance company looked into the claim and told me, “Yes Mr Stephens we will fight this claim on your behalf!” I had mistakenly assumed that the insurance company automatically covered my staff’s injuries but no, they covered me against claims and only paid out if I was at fault. So, if you have staff that they have their own personal injury insurance as well. All of the advice I have given so far is important but may seem off-putting but it is best to get everything in place first. On a positive side, remember, if you build and keep a good reputation and specialise in a part of the trade that isn’t covered in your area, you can’t fail. In the photos I have tried to show what can be done with a small workshop and how to use all the existing space. Next time I will post some pics of my home workshop, and you’ll see that although small there are plenty of benches and room for a large hydraulic press, two pillar drills, a washing off tank, rebores boring bar, bench grinder, vices, my porting equipment, an air compressor, tool chest and storage racking. In it I have adequate lighting and painted floors with rubber matting for standing at benches. It also has an office and toilet/washroom. In another workshop is the engineering side, large lathe and milling machine. Ideal for one or two people, mine is at home but it could be in a small unit on an industrial estate. Pictured opposite is Vince Cundle’s Fondseca workshop. Vince’s main line of business is TZ race spares so a lot of his smallish unit is occupied by racking for storing all his TZ goodies, but he still needed a workshop so alongside the stores sits this neat little workshop. Which shows how you can run two parts of a business under one roof. Other photos show HM Racing’s impressive workshops, with a high-tech dyno set-up and separate engine building room and a suspension building room, a machine shop with a sales area and office. HM is a more established business now but not so very long ago its premises were not as impressive, it shows what can be achieved, as your reputation grows your business grows and hopefully your bank account grows! In future articles I will cover some of the essential workshop and office equipment that a small business needs.
Fondseca – the TZ and Yamaha specialist has an amazing workshop layout.
Space around the bike on which you’re working is essential. Clean and clear benches give plenty of space. If you’re comfy, you’re happy! Looks cluttered, is actually clear. Everything in its place.