COPY body panels suppliers Saltofix, Veng and Pop-On Body Spares conspired to drive new rival Imperial Motor Components out of business, the Office of Fair Trading declared last week.

The three companies – whose assets have since been acquired by Saltofix Group and operate under the SVG banner – were referred to the Restrictive Practices Court. The court can only order them to abandon their cartel, but Imperial founder and managing director Kevin Shipton said civil action will follow for “a considerable amount of money. We’re talking six figures.”All four companies import and distribute copy or pattern body panels to the UK trade, but Imperial, which joined the market in 1992, broke the mould by selling directly to garages and bodyshops. According to Shipton, he was underselling his three established rivals by 30 per cent by cutting out the middleman. “I don’t think they liked what we were trying to achieve in the marketplace,” he said.
According to the director general of Fair Trading John Bridgeman, Saltofix, Veng parent Marrs Property & Investments, and Pop-On parent Bryans Skeldon, entered their restrictive agreement in about April 1994. It is not clear how long the agreement was in effect but, he said: “It appears that the purpose of the agreement was to prevent increased competition in an attempt to maintain prices at a higher level than would otherwise have been possible with true competition.”
Saltofix Group managing director David Gray told Motor Trader that between 15 and 18 months ago his company cooperated with the OFT’s investigators but has heard nothing since. “We’re rather bemused,” he said, and “surprised that they’ve made this announcement out of the blue,” he said.
Shipton said he went into business buying panels from Taiwan, where there are many suppliers, and had no trouble getting stock. But in 1994 he tried to buy pattern parts for European cars from the handful of Italian and Spanish manufacturers who would have been key suppliers for Saltofix, Veng and Pop-On and was turned away until 1996.
“It’s cost us a lot of money. We nearly went bankrupt in the first couple years,” said Shipton. But, he added, Imperial was named in December by the Sunday Times as one of the fastest growing companies in the motor business. “We’ve beaten these people despite themselves,” he said. Im-perial now turns over £6m annually, selling to 9,000 trade customers.
Salftofix Group consists of the market leading SVG panels distribution business and Grayman, the Powys manufacturer which supplies some of SVG’s panels as well as original equipment manafacturers.

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