The boss of the UK’s first Suzuki car dealership has told how the company’s family values have helped it through the struggles of the pandemic.
Robin Appleyard, the managing director of Colin Appleyard, said: ‘It’s really the ethics that my dad, Colin, put into play in the early days of the company which have been so ingrained into our culture that they’ve guided us through challenging times.
‘It’s always been about looking after customers and staff first, while always investing back into the business to save for a rainy day, both of which have been invaluable in recent months.
‘It’s short-term thinking to get rid of people at the first sign of trouble. For us, the priority has been to protect jobs, just like we did back in the recession of 2009.
‘We know it’s the people who make a business successful, and many of our 140 staff members have worked for the company for many years, with over 10 per cent working with us for over 15.’
Colin Appleyard set up as a one-man business in 1970, opening his first premises in Keighley in 1971. He began his association with Suzuki in 1979, and over the years the company has grown to comprise six car and bike dealerships across Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, adding Subaru as a franchise.
Robin said: ‘During lockdown, we had 90 per cent of staff furloughed so we made sure everyone felt supported and connected during this time.
‘We set up WhatsApp groups for each branch and kept the teams updated daily with what was happening in the business, whilst asking how everyone was doing. We had hundreds of messages of support back and forth and I was proud to see those family values playing out, even when we weren’t all together.’
He emphasised that running a business wasn’t always about bottom-line profit.
‘Yes, you won’t make as much money during these periods, but in the long run it’s having staff who are invested in your company that generate your wealth, so keeping staff together has always been an important strategy for us.’
Looking ahead, he said: ‘The customer experience has certainly seen an impact. There’s a lot more decision-making done online now through watching video walkthroughs of vehicles, even through to online payment.
‘However, people still want to come down and see the vehicle at some point during the buying process before they make that final decision, so I don’t think we’ll see a complete move to fully online sales.
‘That’s where dealerships need to make the experience as safe as possible, even if that means going the extra mile for customers through extensive cleaning, screens up and unaccompanied test drives.
‘As for us, we’ve seen a positive uptake in sales, with many familiar faces back in the dealerships, as running a business around family values means you tend to attract generations of customers.
‘This uptake includes our motorcycle business as people are now looking at different ways to commute to avoid using public transport, or car-sharing options, so there’s plenty to be positive about.’
Pictured are the Bradford team of Colin Appleyard
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