Published on 15/11/2020
Tommy Sandhu, founder and director of Smart Learning
  • Smart Learner driving school now has four-week waiting list of learner drivers
  • Company adapted to pandemic by developing use of driving simulator and increasing theory lessons
  • Aston Business School expert’s advice “be focused, listen to your customer and look beyond the crisis”

A West Midlands driving school has continued to grow its revenues despite a second national coronavirus lockdown.

The Smart Learner driving school in Coventry not only survived the first lockdown but has increased the number of its franchise driving instructors, resulting in a four-week waiting list for students wanting to start lessons.

Tommy Sandhu, founder and director of Smart Learner, has praised Aston Business School's Small Business Growth Programme for helping him to come out the other side of the pandemic crisis.

He talks about his experiences in a podcast series called ‘Aston means business: SMEs building resilience to COVID-19 challenges’, presented by journalist Steve Dyson.

Tommy, who worked in retail before launching his driving school in 2014, admitted there was an initial “panic” when lockdown began, but that fortunately he was already on the Aston programme.

He said: “It couldn't have come at a better time for me. It opened up a brand new avenue, gave us a lot of opportunities, a lot of thinking time. The mentors from the course supported us massively to get a strategic plan together, to understand how we could get out the other side of Covid.”

Tommy, who now has 50 driving instructors working for him after taking on several more during the pandemic, said Aston Business School had supported him in areas such as online instructor training and finance planning.

At the same time, the company adapted to the crisis by using social media to engage with students, providing one-to-one lessons on driving theory, and extending the use of their simulator which, pre-pandemic, had been used in schools and colleges to warn about drink-driving.

Tommy said they were also allowed to provide driving lessons to key workers such as doctors and nurses, “kind of becoming critical workers ourselves”.

He said: “We had to put a strong plan in place to make sure we could survive Covid. We grew our business and now have a waiting list of people where you can’t book in with us for at least four weeks.

“We also grew our driving instructor base by four or five, so we now have 50 who work for us directly, and we have 10 people training to become instructors.”

Tommy said their success seemed to be growing despite the threat of the new lockdown. He said: “It's very similar to our last lockdown where we have made changes and adapted to get us through this as quickly as we can.”

Dr Geoff Parkes, senior lecturer at Aston Business School, said Smart Learner had taken on board many of the recommendations they had made.

He said measuring performance by regularly calling customers was “absolutely key” to understanding how the business was doing, while removing barriers such as supporting instructors with a spare car if needed was also vital to Smart Learner’s success.

Dr Parkes added that his advice to businesses during the current pandemic restrictions was: “Be focused, listen to your customer, and look beyond the crisis.”

▪ Episode 1 of ‘Aston means business: SMEs building resilience to COVID-19 challenges’ can be found at https://www2.aston.ac.uk/aston-business-school/podcast.

ENDS

Notes to editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long-established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive.

For media enquiries in relation to this release, contact Rebecca Hume, Press and PR Officer, on 07557 745416 or email r.hume@aston.ac.uk

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