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Paul’s son Taylor is now a valuable member of the team. ADRIAN MORTON

Adrian Morton speaks to Paul Clark, founder of mobile maintenance provider Paul Clark Services, about the growth and expansion of the business

After a relaxing early May Bank Holiday Monday, I set off early the following day from my Cheshire home; the destination, Royal Wootton Bassett. My objective, to meet Paul Clark and his team from industry engineering support specialists Paul Clark Services.

The town of Royal Wootton Bassett has always had close links with the nearby Royal Air Force base at Lyneham. In 2001 it was granted the ‘Royal’ prefix in recognition of the role the town and its people have played in the repatriation of UK service men and women killed as a result of war.

Established in 1997 by Managing Director Paul Clark, fellow Director Michael Kerslake was persuaded to join him 18 months later as Paul could no longer single handedly cope with the volume of work he was receiving. Their long-term relationship had begun some years prior at Athelstan Coaches in Malmesbury, where they both served four-year apprenticeships. Towards the end of their apprenticeships, Athelstan Coaches changed ownership and became Overland & County.

After gaining his qualification Paul decided to leave and join the nearby municipal operator in Swindon, Thamesdown Transport. Here he became its youngest skilled mechanic at just 21 years of age. Michael followed Paul to Thamesdown Transport two years later and their strong working relationship continued to flourish. It didn’t take long for Paul to become Assistant Engineering Manager, and when he did he his asked Michael to become his Day Shift Supervisor.

Brave decision

In 1996 with the opportunity for promotion likely to be some years away and still by this time only 30 years of age Paul decided to have a go at going it alone as a self-employed mobile engineer to the bus and coach sector. His first job was a Gardner engine change in a former London Transport Leyland Titan for Dick Bennett of Bennetts Coaches of Newbury. Coincidently, growing up near Newbury and my father working in the town, I had always admired the smart fleet of Bennetts. In later years I got to know Dick and his wife Mary well. Paul completed the task in just two days, earning what it would have taken him a week to achieve at Thamesdown.


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Paul travelled all over the country; wherever he was needed he would go. That work included visits to both small independent operators and some of the large groups that still exist today. The demand for his services was growing, so when Michael joined it was a huge relief in that the workload could be shared. Very rapidly though both soon became a victim of their own success and they soon found themselves back in the same predicament.

An additional engineer was recruited in the form of Paul Du-Rose, another former Thamesdown man. Paul is still with the company to this day albeit in a management role. Later Peter Castle joined and again is still with business working as an engineer supporting local NHS workshops. Paul and Michael knew Peter from their days at Athelstan Coaches and Thamesdown, so he was no stranger to the fold.

The business continued to grow, and a big part of that success was Paul and Michael realising that they had to step away from the main day to day work of being hands-on fixing customers’ vehicles, often some way from home.

Paul said: “I continually found myself underneath a bus but stuck on the phone dealing with enquiries which just wasn’t productive, nor indeed fair to the client. Doing this was one of the best decisions we ever made. It gave us the opportunity to concentrate fully on running and growing the business. We easily settled into roles where our strengths and weaknesses were best suited, Michael looking after the finances and myself the operations.”


The company’s vans are a familiar sight at depots nationwide. ADRIAN MORTON

Difficult years

It wasn’t all plain sailing though. When TransBus went into liquidation Paul and Michael lost £40,000 and the work for 10 men literally overnight, and this resulted in some redundancies. The same then happened in 2009 when, due to the fear of recession, rising fuel and accommodation costs and many of the big group companies stopped spending, so their services were less in demand. This prompted the duo to look more closely at their business and realise change was needed if they were to survive.

It heralded a huge change in the structure of the company. Back then, 80-90% of the workforce were employed with just the odd sub-contractor. Today it’s the other way around, with 95% of the engineers self-employed.

This approach effectively saved the company, Paul says, and continues to be used as its business model some 14 years later. The directors have quarterly meetings with their accountant to see how the business is performing, this effectively adding a layer of defence. Talking to Paul we both agreed that we’ve seen many a company fall by the wayside simply because directors only ever had annual meetings with their accountants. If things were going wrong, 12 months down the line it was likely to be too late to instigate any form of recovery plan.

One-stop shop

The aim of Paul Clark Services is to provide both short and long-term skilled mechanical, electrical and body support to both bus and coach operators when they find themselves short of manpower or have an increased workload. To give you an idea of scale, the company now has over 120 mobile engineers and turnover a staggering £12 million a year, with further growth predicted. It works with many of the large groups including Arriva, Go-Ahead and ComfortDelGro as well as manufacturers and suppliers such as Yutong, Wrightbus and Cummins. In addition, it also works with the NHS supporting ambulance workshops in various locations throughout England and Wales and is a service partner to ZF, BYD and, more recently, Eminox, one of the UK’s major manufacturers of high performance stainless steel and emission control systems for bus, truck and rail

Paul, centre, with Jamie Tolson and Michael Kerslake, quickly built the business quickly from a one-man-band to a major player. ADRIAN MORTON

Quality and service

I asked Paul why he believes his business stands head and shoulders above rest and what he currently doesn’t like about the industry. Paul said: “It’s matching our quality and productivity that others find a challenge.”

One word I found Paul used consistently was ‘engagement.’ He believes regular engagement with clients is critical as is ensuring they meet their customers needs, even if that sometimes means taking a step back if the purchaser currently has sufficient resource of their own.

Paul prides himself of honouring agreements and if things go wrong – and inevitably they occasionally will – he will ensure that it’s put right as a matter of urgency. This bought us onto Paul’s pet hate, recruitment agencies. Paul said: “I fully appreciate there will always be competition but there is a reason why these agencies can often offer a similar service cheaper than ourselves. We like to think we do things properly. Our engineers are fully vetted before starting with us and all are professionally attired in logoed workwear so they are immediately identifiable as a contractor when on site at a customer’s premises.

“We’ve heard some horror stories of late where supposed qualified engineers have created a catastrophe by doing things wrongly as they don’t have the correct credentials or capabilities to do the work, and instead of the agency offering to put things right, they simply walk away leaving the client in somewhat of a quandary. I was recently told of one not even having a driving licence for the van he was using, simply because no background checks were carried out.

“Our work is warrantied and we pride ourselves on that. It’s about trying to educate people that there is a reason why they may be cheaper and why they should trust our services, which may well be a little more expensive but will pay dividends in the longer-term. Our engineers have the potential to earn up to a £100k a year which means we are an attractive proposition for having some of the most talented individuals the industry has to offer at our disposal.

“We pay £2 per hour more for those who have their vans liveried up permanently, as opposed to just using magnetic slip boards. It’s a great incentive for them to portray the company image of which we are so proud and also helps them towards the cost of another vehicle for their other work. We ensure all of our self-employed subcontractors work under a robust contract for services agreement. If you are happy to agree our terms, we are always on the look out for further talented engineers to go on our books,” Paul enthused.

The company has invested in its own workshop facility, enabling it to carry out work in house as well as at companies’ premises. ADRIAN MORTON

Highly recommended?

From my own perspective with a background in the industry, if someone approached me and asked if I know of a nationwide company that offers mobile mechanics with a proven track record for quality and reliability, the answer would likely be ‘Paul Clark Services.’ Of late, I can’t recall walking into one of the big group depots and not seeing a Paul Clark Services vehicle on the premises. Putting my operator’s hat on, I think the company’s current hourly rate is highly competitive, in fact somewhat of a bargain if compared against the costs of many other contractors and main dealer pricing.

Most of the work carried out is of course mobile but Paul and Michael have invested in their premises, which are now owned outright, and that includes a well-equipped fully-functioning workshop where principally local operators can bring their vehicles for work to be carried out. Several, such as Faresaver Buses in nearby Chippenham, have a long affiliation with the company and regularly have vehicles on-site for routine servicing and maintenance. Indeed, on the morning of my visit there were two such vehicles apparent, an Optare Solo and a Volvo B9TL Wright Gemini. Other operators vehicles were most notably from Stagecoach, with one having been brought all the way from South Wales. This was an Alexander Dennis-bodied Scania saloon which had been stored for the last two years but has been bought to Paul Clark Services to be resurrected and prepared for MOT.

One of the mechanics I met on-site was Taylor Clark, one of Paul’s twin sons who, after initially showing no interest in the business, is now fully invested and completing his apprenticeship, just like his father before him nearly 40 years later.

New opportunities

Now the day to day management of the business is undertaken by Operations Manager and former Arriva man Jamie Tolson, who Paul has nothing but praise for. Jamie’s capabilities have released Paul to concentrate on such things as exploring new business opportunities and ensuring the name Paul Clark Services continues to be the go-to company for road transport industry engineering support. Paul Clark Services struck me as a people business, one that cared about its employees, sub-contractors and of course its clients, if I were still an operator today I would be instantly reassured that a fully trained and competent technician would be working on my vehicle but just as important they would be supported by a management team who I knew would always be on hand if needed, and have my best interests at heart.