With his love of cars and motorbikes, there was only one option for Leo Dack’s career. Starting in the working world at the age of 15 straight after his GCSEs, he made the motor industry his life. So much so that he started his own business when he was 24 with nothing but his savings and an overdraft. Now Vauxalist is a thriving business with the 29-year-old director at the wheel.
Living a quiet life with his girlfriend Harriet and his two Labradoodles, Doodle and Deefor, Leo wasn’t always sure how his career would go. “At school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew that I always wanted to run my own business. My late dad used to have his own business. I grew up around it, but when I left school, I just wanted to get a job.
“I got work experience at a Vauxhall dealer and worked Saturdays and on half term in the parts department, the service department and eventually I worked in the workshop for a few years.”
Leo fought to build his knowledge within the profession by taking courses and training himself up. “I am quite good at teaching myself. Some of the guys were a bit funny about me picking stuff up quite quickly, so they withheld information from me a little bit. I went on all of the courses which helped a lot, as well as researching a lot of it by myself too.”
It wasn’t too long before he came up with his own business idea after another MOT garage opened up near where Leo used to work and he noticed a drop in business.
“My previous employer had another garage which was used for MOTs and bigger vans. I had an idea that we could open that up as a different name. People associated a dealer name as being expensive, so a different name would combat the new garage that had opened up.
“Everyone thought that it was a really good idea. I was so convinced that it would work, I had even gone to the boss saying ‘Look, we need to do this’ but he didn’t so I thought ‘Right, I will do it myself then!'”
Starting from scratch
Leo started saving as much as possbile so that he could put his idea into practice, but it was not easy to start a business in the middle of a recession. He put a business plan together to show the banks, but was refused a loan because he was not a home owner at the time and hadn’t been in business for a minimum of three years.
He looked to other sources of finance for help. “I only had about £10,000 when I first started. I tried the Prince’s Trust but you had to be out of employment for a certain amount of time before you can apply. The bank would only give us a £1,500 overdraft.
Leo took the plunge and opened his business in March 2010. “Luckily, within the first month, we turned over about £10,000. Because I had an account over at a part suppliers, I could use that bit of credit that I had for the parts where I had 60 days to pay them. Each month the turnover climbed which meant even greater finances.”
Setting up a business is never easy. There are always challenges and issues that get in the way of having a smooth run. He started the company on his own, as a one-man-band and slowly added to it. “It was just me for the first few months but I used to have a friend who did freelance work for me every now and then. Employing that first person was quite a big step. I was thinking, ‘Have I got enough to actually employ a full time person? Will I be able to afford it?’ but I found that, because we have always been busy, whenever we have employed somebody, it has given me more time to focus on advertising ideas and trying to get more business through the door.”
However trying to find the right person for the job is not as easy as it seems. “I just thought that if you needed a member of staff then you would advertise and you would get someone through the door, but no. Trying to find good people has been hard, but we have a good team now.”
Despite his age, Leo climbed to success very fast. He is conscious that people perceive him as being young, but has a lot of confidence in his business and skills. “You need to be confident in what you are doing. I was confident that any Vauxhall that came through the door, I would be able to fix and I was confident that I could deal with all of the paperwork side of things and look after the customers.”
It was’t long before the company had grown so much that they had to start looking for a bigger premises. “Three years in, we were working at full capacity in our old unit and we were struggling for space. I was looking for another unit for a while but then our current unit became available.”
Moving a business from one location to another is no simple task. “A friend of mine who is an accountant, told us about Lincoln Growth Fund, which is something that we applied for and we got £20,000 towards the project. As soon as we did move, again our turnover went up massively.”
It has been a case of learning as he went to progress the company and build it up from the ground. Now Leo employs 11 people to help keep up with the increased demand for business, including his girlfriend and older brother, Jez. He is now starting to look at his future prospects.
The young entrepreneur couldn’t be prouder of what he has achieved, but he has no intention of stopping there. He has much bigger plans in mind. “I would like to get a new site in a different city like Nottingham. That is the goal that I am trying to reach now. Once I get this place running without me having to be here, that is when I can move on.”
When it comes to setting up his next site, Leo is ahead of the game, having already successfully completed the first instalment of what he is planning on making a chain. “I know what we would need to do to make the profit; to start with it was a case of just getting customers through the door and making sure that we do a good job.”
Currently the garage processes between 20 and 25 cars a day, of which 45% of cars are not Vauxhall, so Leo is looking at rebranding the company to better reflect the expanding services that they now offer.
“This is why we are looking at doing some branding changes for later on this year hopefully. We want to try and put everything under one name and try and rebrand, but it means that we will have to lose the Vauxalist name, which I started with, so there is a bit of nostalgia with that. As our brand has grown, we need to keep up with the times.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 17 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.