Ian Mott was an innovator and a visionary.

June 26, 2015

The theme for this issue of Collision Quarterly is innovation. It is highly appropriate then that this issue includes a tribute to Ian Mott, one of our industry’s pioneers and greatest innovators. Ian passed away on January 2, 2015, at the age of 80. Ian was the man behind United Used Auto & Truck Parts Ltd. There are very few people of my generation growing up in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland who were not aware of United Auto Parts. The company’s operations seemed to stretch for miles along Scott Road in Surrey. One could argue that they were Scott Road. But it didn’t all magically appear one day. This huge operation began with a man of vision, a man who was focused on what he needed to do for his business and, more importantly, on what he needed to do for his customers. “Mott started thinking he could make more money selling parts then repairing cars.” Ian was born in England and worked as a sales rep for an oil company until joining the British Army, here he served for 18 months in Egypt as a tank mechanic. After being discharged in 1954, Ian joined his older brother Victor in Mott Bros., a mechanical repair business run out of a small garage in the backyard of Victor’s house in Bognor Regis, on the south coast of England. Ian immigrated to Victoria, B.C., in 1957, and started out working as a mechanic at the Victoria English Car Centre. He later started his own repair business in a one-stall shop on Herald Street, between Government Street and the inner harbour in downtown Victoria. He specialized in repairing English cars, primarily Austins, Hillmans, and Morrises. One week, a person came in with a Morris or a Hillman that had a blown engine, and he asked Ian if he would take the car as salvage. Ian agreed and put it in the back of his shop. The next week, another customer came in with a car of the same make, painted the same colour. He wanted a tune-up, which was no problem, but Ian noticed that the car had a dented fender. So he offered to replace it. The happy customer left with a car that was not only tuned up but that was also sporting a “new” fender. Ian started thinking he could make more money selling parts then repairing cars. That is how it began. While it was okay to repair cars at Mott’s downtown location, dismantling them was another thing, so the city manager suggested Ian move to a two-block parcel of land on Bay Street. Ian started out specializing in what he knew best, English cars, and the company name reflected that, Victoria English Car Wrecking. Like many innovators, Ian was constantly focused on his business, even during his “off hours.” When he was taking the family out for Sunday drives, he always kept an eye out for a good piece of salvage or a potential customer.  According to brother Dick Mott, Ian was driving down Cook Street in Victoria one day and noticed a Vauxhall car parked at the side of the road. The car had bald tires, and Ian had just obtained a salvaged Vauxhall with a new set of tires. Ian stopped his car, knocked on the owner’s door, and asked if he would like a new set of tires. He made the sale. The result was a new, happy customer. “United was constantly trying to stay fresh, relevant, and ahead of the competition. “ In 1960, Ian persuaded his brother Dick to take a holiday from his job as a ready-mix cement truck driver at Evans Coleman, so he could take over at Victoria English Car Wrecking while Ian took a much needed action. When Ian returned, Dick had done so well, and was enjoying the business so much, that they decided to become partners. That year, they purchased their first North American salvage cars: two 1958 Chevys, and a Dodge Custom Royal, for $500 each. To reflect the company’s diversification into North American makes and its new partnership, a name change was in order. United Used Auto & Truck Parts was born. The company thrived, and so did the brothers. Dick Mott is still going strong today at 91 years old. Victoria was not a large market, and the availability of late model salvage, United’s specialty, was not as extensive there as on British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. As a result, a decision was made to expand operations. In 1962, United’s Surrey location was opened. As the years progressed, United grew to 14 divisions covering over 160 acres, with each specialized shop having sufficient inventory to accommodate every customer’s needs. From the beginning, United took a different approach than its competitors. “Junk yards” of the day sold auto parts but also had, well, junk. Their lots were clogged with all sorts of scrap metal, but United wanted to stick strictly to recycled auto parts. United’s employees took the hundreds of extra wheels on hand and welded them together to make stands on which they could mount the cars while they dismantled them. When United lined vehicles up, the cars were kept four feet apart in order to allow for  dismantling—unlike United’s competitors, who simply dumped them in whatever space they had. The Mott brothers mandated that no part could be sold before it was cleaned, which was far from the standard of the day. United paid tow companies to wash salvage vehicles before they were towed in to the divisions, so the inventory personnel could inventory the parts as accurately as possible. “Many of his practices are now ingrained in our business.” Ian believed in buying newer cars with low mileage and good, clean parts, unless the vehicle was something unique. He understood how critical it was to have a good mix of inventory and to effectively manage parts. Advertising, marketing, and promotion were an integral part of the business. United’s marketing efforts included an extensive Christmas light display; matches; pens; jackets; hats; calendars; newspaper, radio, and television ads; flyers; a plane flying a banner; helicopter rides; and a raffle for a new Pontiac Fiero in 1984. (The winner was a man who had never purchased a used part before — but maybe he did after!) Employee motivation was also key. Ian believed in treating his staff with respect and paying them well. There were interdivisional sales contests and large baskets of goodies for employees at Christmas, with the latest motivational book included. United was constantly trying to stay fresh, relevant, and ahead of the competition. United was also the first recycler to have a display at the Vancouver Auto Show. United’s display, which was located right at the entrance, showed the benefits of recycled parts and how they could save money and be good for the environment at the same time. According to Dick, the company used the tag line, “Saving money and the environment” — a connection not generally recognized in the 1960s. Long before websites, Ian created a company newspaper. This was not only a sales tool but also a source of information for the consumer on safety, repair, and maintenance tips. This approach, almost unheard of back then, has now been adopted by many companies. Before the days of computers, Ian developed his own network of telephone numbers with specific prefixes for each type of vehicle. He did this by buying up certain series of phone numbers so the last four digits would indicate the make and type of vehicle. For instance, the number 81 meant a GM product, and the next two numbers indicated if it was a late model, etc. The company calendar supplied to customers had the exchange grid on it, so they knew that if they were looking for a late model GM part, they should call the number ending in 8110. It has been said that United had the largest series of private phone numbers in the province. At one point, each United division had its own colour, green for Ford, red for GM, and so forth. Each colour was used for the employee uniforms, signage, parts racking, and even the delivery truck. Ian insisted that his staff welcome female customers with respect and that his locations look attractive. He understood that the approach used by many in the industry left most women feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome. It may not seem like such an innovation, to value women as customers, in today’s business world, but Ian got it long before many other business owners. Ian also saw value in specialized divisions for different makes and models. As more and more brands hit the market, it became impossible for any one person to be an expert on every make and model. By specializing, Ian’s staff could have superior knowledge and offer a greater inventory than their competitors—and therefore, be better able to serve the customer. Fifty years ago, long before it was popular, United supported the community in which it was located. Ian believed in giving back and donated thousands of dollars to the Surrey Community Centre, as well as many other projects. This support also extended to the Automotive Retailers Association. Ian was a strong supporter as far back as when secretary manager Lloyd Kinneard was the leader of the association. Ian contributed both financial support and his time because of his firm belief in improving the industry. Friends, former employees, and family members all testify about the great influence Ian Mott had on many people in our industry. Certainly, many of our team at Quality Recycled Parts BC (QRPBC) have benefitted from experiencing “Mott University.” Ian’s impact as an innovator can be seen throughout our industry, as many of his practices are now ingrained in our businesses. Innovators all have one thing in common: they have a strong desire to succeed, but an even greater desire to set the benchmark — to not only meet customers’ demands but to exceed their expectations. The innovator does not look at the way things are but rather at how things could be better. Continuous  improvement is the cornerstone of the innovator.

 

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