Hendy Group’s managing director Paul Hendy has a lot to be happy about. Not only is the group 112 years old this year, but 2010 marks the centenary of Hendy Ford. 100 years ago Percy Hendy signed a contract with Ford Motor Company to become Britain’s first official Ford dealer. Five generations on, the family silver now consists of over 20 sites across the South coast, and franchises with Kia, Mazda, Honda and Iveco.
How has 2010 been for Hendy?
Okay; our business is holding up. I think this is mainly due to the fact that we are a long established business and that is holding us up in good stead. People are more cautious with whom they spend their money; they want to spend it with businesses they think are going to be around in the future.
Other car dealers have said that business in 2010 has been more buoyant than they were expecting. Has this been the case with you?
I think that was due to a hang-over from 2009 – the same comment could be said throughout that year; the scrappage scheme running out helped.
Are you concerned with the VAT rise in January?
There will be the usual early tactics to negate the VAT increase, but things will settle down after this. The issue for Hendy Group will be the squeeze on our margin on used cars – it is where the cost of the increase is absorbed, whether the customer pays more or the dealer earns less.
Does the latter part of 2010 worry you?
It is going to be hard work. But that is the job and we will toughen it out. 2011 is going to be equally as hard but, as time goes on, things will get better.
How did you perform under the Government’s scrappage scheme?
We did fantastically well – everyone was a winner. Kia and Ford performed the best under the scheme, surprisingly Mazda and Honda benefited more than we thought they would with those franchises, Kia in particular; this was evident in their national market share increases. Overall the scheme was good for the trade – good for the environment, good for the manufacturers, good for the dealers and good for the customers. It stimulated the market and that is a good thing.
Do you think the new Government can help the market?
Reintroduce scrappage! The big issue at the moment is consumer confidence in general – customers are being more prudent.
What will you be concentrating on for the rest of the year?
We will be concentrating on all of it. The car business is a thin-margin business, we must focus on all areas all of the time. I don’t think you ever get the opportunity to be complacent in one area or the other, what you must do is look after your customers and your staff.
Where do see growth for the market this year in Hendy?
For us, Ford, as a brand, is in a good place. Kia is moving forward as an emerging brand and continues to surprise and delight, and Mazda is a business we’re consolidating and goes about its work quietly. Last year we picked three Honda dealerships in Hampshire which are going from strength to strength as we do a better job than the previous incumbents – without wanting to sound rude – and Honda and Hampshire can get onto the back of Hendy and Hampshire. From our point of view, it is a bit more of the same and doing a better job with what business we can do.
Is there any brand that you would like to represent but you don’t at the moment?
There’s a big question! I don’t think there is a bad brand anymore – it’s not like years ago when it was a three or four car race, there are lots of good brands these days. Look at the performance and the resurgence of Hyundai last year, and Nissan have some good products too.
Talking of Nissan, if you look at the way the market is moving towards green products, what are you thoughts on electric and hybrid technologies, like the Leaf?
It doesn’t worry me, it excites me. It tells me that the manufactures are having to, and wanting to, invest in greener technologies to keep the motor car part of our everyday lives. I think we are now so used to having the independence of the motor car and the freedom and the flexibility it gives us, the motor car is here to stay – but the investment and the technology in making sure that we look after the planet. From my point of view, if they can develop these other technologies which everyone is happy with to purchase from an environmental perspective, then the motor car is here to stay.
Some dealers are concerned about the after sales and servicing of electric cars as the business model can be very different. Is this something that concerns you?
Yes, the level of content of a repair, repairing times and intervals is a challenge that we have been facing as an industry for the last ten years. That will increase in terms of the problem coming at us quicker as some of these new technologies get introduced. And again, like any business that is evolving with the times, get involved with it and work it out.
Are you a car fan yourself? What made you get into the industry?
Well, having a family business in the industry meant that I couldn’t escape it. But am I car fan? Yes, I love cars and driving cars – without sounding too stereotypical – and the fact that when you are growing up, and you’ve got a family business that is in the car business, you can’t help but be interested in cars.
So you remember hanging around dealerships as a kid?
Oh yes, you’d go in on a Saturday morning with your father, and start off working in different departments in the school holidays to keep out of trouble and you get a taste for it.
Would you like to see your children getting involved in the car industry?
I’ve got three children and I think that naturally, in a long-standing family business, there is a draw towards it. But equally I would never force them into it because it is a tough business – you’ve got to really love it and want to do it. It is not the old days of family business where you could use it as an employment shelter, so if they want to do it and they’re good at it, then that’s great. If they don’t want to do it and they have dreams to do other things, then that is fantastic too.
How important is the internet to your business?
The web is hugely important to us and to ignore the internet would be naïve. Interestingly though, we were looking at some statistics in our business and we have to be careful we don’t just see the internet as the only way to market. If you make the assumption that 100 per cent of your customers are going to talk to you over the web, you are wrong. 40% of customers don’t have access to the internet or use it, and that depends on the age of the person and, quite rightly when someone is spending £20-30,000 on a motor car, they want to speak about it face-to-face, see it, touch it, smell it, drive it and feel comfortable with it. I think a lot of customers’ research is done online, and those customers come into the showroom more informed – which is a good thing. Will this change over the next 20-30 years? Probably. But will it ever become our only way to market? I doubt it.
2010 is Hendy’s centenary year – what are you doing to celebrate?
We have got on-going marketing activities through our local Hendy Ford dealerships, and we also have a celebratory lunch at Goodwood House where, hopefully, some very senior people of Ford Motor Company will be attending from America. Our sponsorship of Hampshire Cricket Club at The Rose Bowl this year is also dedicated to Hendy Ford. It is great for us to achieve that milestone professionally and personally, but clearly you don’t want to be seen going way over the top because I don’t think that this anywhere, or in any walk of life, at the moment, is appropriate.
100 years with one brand is very impressive. With the ups and downs Hendy has seen you could write a book about it!
We have written a book and it’s in its fifth edition as it happens! We’re Britain’s first Ford dealer, our company history is something that we’re extremely proud of; it’s something which we like to think customers acknowledge. Our business has proved to be pretty resilient during the recession as it has been during two world wars and several other recessions before that. I believe people think that Hendy is going to be here, so I will buy my car and they will support me for the next three, four, five years while I own it.
by JAMES BAGGOTT and JAMES BATCHELOR