Pierre Legarth laid the foundation 30 years ago for Europe’s largest auto painting chain, based in Kolding
Saturday 8 August marks precisely 30 years since 19-year-old Pierre Legarth established himself as a self-employed auto painter in a 100-square-metre garage in Østermarksvej in Vamdrup.
The company – pierre.dk Autolakering A/S – has since grown into Europe’s largest auto painting chain, with over 450 employees and 30 branches in Denmark, Sweden and Germany.
The story of Pierre Legarth and pierre.dk Autolakering A/S is a story of determination and courage. And about believing in your opportunity and having your heart in your work.
“I was an apprentice auto painter at Vamdrup Autolakering, one of the leading auto painting centres in Denmark at the time. But I dreamed of becoming self-employed. I believed in it, and I liked creating something and seeing it grow,” explains Pierre Legarth.
FROM GARAGE TO CORPORATION
Pierre Legarth serves today as Executive Chairman at pierre.dk’s attractive head office at Trianglen 12 in Kolding, which also houses the largest and most modern auto painting centre on the continent. He assumed this role after former Finance Director, Bo Jacobsen, was appointed CEO just before summer.
With a network of modern auto painting centres spread across three countries – and plans for further expansion – his role is quite different to what it was when the adventure began in 1985.
“From a young age I was fascinated by mopeds, and when I was 14 or 15 I developed a passion for decorating and spray painting at home in my garage. I was getting this organised at the same time as I had to manage my school work. But there were always friends who wanted the tank on their moped painted, so I had to make use of the early morning hours,” explains Pierre Legarth.
GOOD AT HIS TRADE
After being self-employed for around one year, things began to steadily move in the direction of expansion. Customers were streaming in and the company was growing rapidly.
“As well as being good at your trade, two other qualities in particular are necessary in order to be a perfect auto painter. Firstly, you have to be able to plan and structure your work, as it is vitally important that tasks are done in the correct order. Otherwise things get out of hand,” explains Pierre Legarth.
“Secondly, it’s important to take pride in your work. It has to be done properly, and it’s not as easy as you might think. Being an auto painter is actually one of the most difficult trades there is. In the pierre.dk group, our auto painting business model is based on offering the best quality on the market, on time and at competitive prices,” notes the founder.
Pierre Legarth rarely holds the spray gun himself any more, as his role today is to manage and structure the large auto painting group. To take care of the big picture, and to maintain his focus.
“The company has grown very rapidly for the last many years, but always with a focus on controlled growth. The group has had an international focus since 2010. Its sister chain, Billackering AB, was established in 2011, after which the largest auto painting centre in Sweden was acquired,” explains Pierre Legarth.
pierre Billackering AB now operates eight modern auto painting centres in Sweden, and in 2014 the sister chain, pierre Autolackierung GmbH, was also established in Germany.
“We have established our German base in Hamburg, where we also have a branch. Earlier this year we also acquired two auto painting centres in Hanover and Soltau,” notes Pierre Legarth.
VALUE FOR CUSTOMERS
The business model that has made pierre.dk the largest equity auto painting company in Europe centres on offering unique value creation that is highly profitable for the company’s customers.
“But it’s also about good business acumen and being faithful to the company’s strategy. And you should never promise anything you can’t deliver. I have always believed that if you have your heart in the job, and do your utmost, things will move in your direction,” notes Pierre Legarth, who has always practised a transparent and authentic leadership style.
Five years ago, the Maj Invest private equity fund acquired a 75 per cent stake in the group.
CARING FOR EMPLOYEES
“It has always been vitally important to me to focus on employee well-being and the working environment. The company’s success is directly due to our dedicated and motivated employees, who also deserve praise for their impressive contribution over the years. The employees are the company’s greatest asset, and have helped create incredible growth,” explains Pierre Legarth, who has seen his staff grow from one employee to over 450 in 30 years.
Making room for employee well-being on the agenda has always been one of the founding pillars of the company.
“In reality, it is our employees and strong organisation which must take credit for our leading position. A position we of course intend to maintain and develop. We must make sure we retain the yellow jersey,” explains Pierre Legarth, who is very pleased that the company has managed to grow even as the market has seen a general decline.
ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS
The company’s organisation has been streamlined, and effort has been made to keep costs down through process optimisation. This applies to the IT system, as well as the warehouse and order management and the company’s logistics.
“We also have a very tight administration, while being extremely flexible in terms of capacity. For example, we have our own car carriers which can move vehicles around in response to peak loads. If one of our auto painting centres is fully booked, cars are moved to one of the other centres. This is a very interesting competition parameter, as it allows us to fulfil our delivery guarantee of 24-48 hours,” explains Pierre Legarth, who expects the auto painting group to perform over 150,000 paint repair jobs next year.
The innovative founder also has three pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs:
“It is important to stick to your strategy, and to be quick at making decisions. You also have to be willing to take risks,” advises Pierre Legarth.