MATT Birney is a man with a new lease of life, just like the business he now runs.As general manager of Covs, the former Liberal Party leader has returned to the industry he operated in as a young man.Rather than running his own business in Kalgoorlie, however, Mr Birney is now running a historic Western Australian business under the ownership of Automotive Holdings Group.AHG paid $29 million last year for Covs, which started trading in 1929 as Coventry Motor Replacements and since 1966 had been the core business of listed company Coventry Group.The new ownership seems to have given the business a big fillip, with underlying earnings more than doubling last financial year to $6.3 million.One reason for the improvement is that Covs is now part of AHG’s much larger automotive logistics division, which includes the Amcap parts business, led by general manager Rod Williams.The two businesses now operate side-by-side in Welshpool, with massive warehouses that stock a combined 2.5 million different items.Covs accounts for half that number, and last month logistics manager Neil Sturrock had just four days to oversee the transfer of all those parts from the Coventry Group warehouse in Redcliffe to then new home.Mr Birney is clearly very proud of the new facility.“It’s one of the premier distribution centres in Australia,” he said.“That has allowed us to achieve a lot of synergies and to share resources.”Mr Sturrock said the key to the warehouse efficiency was its IT system and its interface with the conveyor system, which quietly and efficiently transported crates around the warehouse.With features like an automated invoice printing system, the warehouse offers enormous potential to lift efficiency.Rather than the traditional batching system, Mr Sturrock said the new warehouse afforded more flexibility, with potential to complete new orders in a matter of seconds.“It’s all about getting orders out the door quickly,” he said.Mr Williams said another positive for the business was that Covs and Amcap were now working together, rather than competing.“We’ve got the best people in the industry and we’ve now got all these people working together,” he said.As well as the new distribution centre, Covs is refining its product lines and making some big changes to its branch network.The company will shortly open a retail branch at the back of the distribution centre, something it has never done before.“We think that will attract a lot of people,” Mr Birney said. “If people come here, they know they will always be able to get the parts they need. We think this will be our' number one branch.”Another initiative was the opening last month of its first open-plan retail store, at Malaga.“This is arguably the greatest change we have seen in the business in 80 years, in terms of branch layout,” Mr Birney said.He said that, traditionally, 95 per cent of the stock was behind a counter, or behind a wall.
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