Crewe Seat head of business Andy Barnes is saying goodbye to the motor industry as he retires at the end of March after a 54-year career.
He started in the sector washing cars at a local used car dealership as a schoolboy and went into automotive after his passion for playing rugby meant he didn’t get the grades for his original ambition of working in architecture.
Moving into automotive, he provided holiday cover for a used car sales executive and says he soon realised what a good living he could make selling cars.
One standout day early in his career came in 1974, he said, when he received more than £200 in his ‘little brown envelope’ as his weekly wage after selling an E-Type Jaguar and Daimler Dart.
Keen to learn from those experienced in the trade, he later joined a Ford franchise that specialised in fleet vehicles in the Ellesmere Port area, then moved to London where, by 1977, he was selling Datsuns in Clapham.
He also oversaw the petrol station attached to the dealership, which he said gave him more opportunities to build up those all-important relationships with customers.
Promotions and advancements followed, including working as group sales manager in a family business representing Fiat, Mazda and Austin Rover and a general manager position with Rover.
Barnes, 67, returned to the north-west of England in the mid-1980 and met Michael Smyth, who is now Swansway Group chairman, which owns Crewe Seat, and worked for him as a sales manager for RRG in Bury.
He also met John Smyth, who was a trainee sales executive, David Smyth, who was managing all the petrol stations, and Peter Smyth, who was at the helm at Toyota Bolton – the three are now Swansway Group directors.
Barnes’ path then diverged from the Smyth family for a while but in 2010 a friend told him Swansway’s Crewe Seat dealership was recruiting for a sales manager.
‘I went to the interview in the boardroom with all the Smyth brothers and we had a lovely time reminiscing about the old days and catching up together.
‘I left that interview thinking I’ve no idea whether I have got that job or not. But as I drove away I got a phone call and the answer was a yes! And so my fantastic time at Crewe Seat began!’
He made a big impact on Crewe Seat over the years, said Swansway, thanks to his passion and enthusiasm for the brand.
For the launch of the Seat Ibiza, for example, he had six tonnes of sand delivered to the dealership to create its own beach and had all the staff dressed in lifeguard outfits.
He has also organised face-painting events and golden ticket extravaganzas among the other activities to entice customers into the showroom.
‘Seat make really impressive, accessible vehicle,’ he said.
‘Over the 11 years I have been at Crewe Seat we have gone from selling 200 cars a year to over 1,100 cars per year without ever expanding our footprint,’ he said.
‘The Seat UK team are brilliant to work with too. I can pick up the phone to the head of Seat and have a real conversation. And this warm attitude ripples right down through all the senior team members.’
Accolades received during his time at Crewe Seat include it being named Dealership of the Year in 2015.
He said: ‘I will miss the people tremendously. They are more than colleagues. When you work with people for such a long time, it has to be fun.
‘And I run a very open dealership where you do get to know the teams and share a part of their lives.
Getting a Labrador puppy and visiting Italy with lifelong friends of Italian descent are among his retirement plans, but he said he also had a few business irons in the fire so ‘watch this space’.
He added: ‘I’ll remain a huge fan of the brand and will avidly keep pace with all their developments. Seat and Swansway Group have been really good to me.’
John Smyth said: ‘We have very much enjoyed our long-standing working relationship with Andy that has brought such success for us all.
‘Andy’s personal brand of ambition and dedication, combined with his warmth and enthusiasm, will be very much missed by all those who had the pleasure of working with him.
‘We would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of all the Swansway family, to congratulate him on an extremely impressive 54 years in the motor trade, and for all his innumerable accomplishments, and of course to wish him all the very best for a happy and enjoyable retirement.’
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