He’s been involved with the firm – the 13th biggest dealer group in the UK – since 1988 when he joined the team, aged 24, as general manager of the company’s Leeds Porsche dealership.
In 2003 he moved to the head office as chief executive and has been leading from the top ever since. ‘No two days are the same,’ he says. ‘There’s a huge amount of variety and I meet lots of interesting people.’
Here, he takes time out of his busy schedule to chat to Car Dealer.
What are your thoughts on the market after scrappage?
I think it will have an impact, but I think it is difficult to say how much. As a group we don’t have any of the brands that have really benfitted from scrappage – the Hyundais and Kias – so we’ve not massively benfitted from it. Having said that we’ve done more than 1,000 scrappage orders across the group and our biggest success here has been Volkswagen.
How are you planning for life after scrappage?
I think demand will fall off to a degree, but because we haven’t done a dispropportinately high volume of scrappage deals we probably will feel less impact. I think we’re better placed than some other groups. If we had five Hyundai dealerships then I’d be worried, but we don’t. If we were made up of all those brands I’d be pretty nervous right now…
What are your thoughts on the market overall for 2010? Well, we keep using the phrase ‘cautious optimism.’ We came into the year using that and we’re still using it now. We’ve just had nine weeks on the trot of sales over and above our targets and apart from the first two weeks of the year, when we were under two foot of snow, we’re having a pretty buoyant time of it.
We ran a story on our website about JCT600 selling 600 cars in a week recently. Is that unusual?
No. We did that again the week after. There’s no secret to it. It’s a combination of a lot of processes that have come together at the right time.
Do you think we’re out of the recession yet in the car industry? I don’t think so, not by a long stretch. When we get our general managers in we’re almost getting to the point of being anal about not becoming complacent. The war is not over.
It’s still bloody tough out there and there are still businesses struggling and going bankrupt every day. We are having to manage our cash position and costs very tightly. And I say to staff that just because we appear to be having a reasonably buoyant time at the
moment they shouldn’t assume everyone else is.
Do you think the general election will have an impact?
Yes I do, but it’s difficult to say exactly what impact or how much. All that will happen in the short term is everyone will put their head up their asses. They’ll be sick of putting the news on and reading the papers because of all the politicians and that will mean there will be a lot of doom and gloom in the short term. There’s also the threat of a hung Parliament. I think irrespective of who wins the election one thing is for sure – taxes will have to go up to pay for the mess the economy is in at the moment. So it’s almost an irrelevance who bloody wins it.
What do you think of the showroom tax?
Well I think anything that puts the price of new cars up is not a good thing for the industry. We hold a few franchises for the higher end of the market so it will affect us a little more, but if you can afford a car at that end of the market the showroom tax isn’t going to put you off!
What are your thoughts on electric cars – are they the way forward?
I think there is going to be a big swing towards electric and greener cars – that is inevitable. When that change comes we’ll embrace it. These cars may need less servicing, but they will still need tyres, brakes and an MOT. On the one hand I wish every car was a big V8 monster that needed an annual service of 20 hours, but we realise that that’s the past and the future is electric, so we just have to adjust our businesses to suit.
We wanted to take the Audi franchise for a fair number of years now. We were partners with them back in the 80s, but when Audi changed its market areas we lost our Wakefield franchise. We left on good terms with the promise that when market share came along again we could take the franchise back, and that opportunity came up last summer with York and Hull. They were a great
fit for us as we have VW there. I thought our acquisition days were over to be honest but then we had a phone call at the back end of last year asking if we’d be interested in the Bramall and Jones sites. These chances don’t come round very often so you have to take them when you can.
Have you got plans for any more?
Not at the moment, but we never say never. Despite the money we’ve spent on new dealerships we’ve got a healthy-looking balance sheet, so we’re ready if something comes up.
What are your plans for this year?
We’ve had a big emphasis recently on customer and employee satisfaction. We want to keep staff motivated and staff turnover as low as it is at the moment. We worry about the things we can control, not the things we can’t. We need to keep everyone’s chins up. We have a programme called ‘lasting impressions’ about keeping
customer expectations high. When you know what customers expect you know how to deliver it. There’s no magic formula!
What’s your favourite brand that JCT600 represents?
Porsche probably. It’s a favourite personally, and for the family. We have had Porsche since 1967 – we’re the second oldest Porsche dealers in the UK. I’ve got lots of childhood memories of going to Newquay in the back of a 911 for family holidays. My dad used to rally one when I was younger. We’ve had a fantastic relationship with Porsche and long may that continue with our three dealerships.
What are your thoughts on the internet – how important is it to you?
Very. We’ve just totally relaunched our website and our old one wasn’t even that old. We place such a huge importance on it these days and wanted a state-of-the-art site. It’s our shop window to the world now and has to be good. I don’t think we’ll ever be selling cars purely online as cars are a very emotive purchase – we never say never as it might happen one day, but not now. People want to touch it, feel it, see it, drive it.
We do more advertising online now and have cut our print advertising dramatically. And all print and radio ads we do now push customers to the website.
How are JCT600 performing as group?
Last year was a very satisfactory result and we’ll be releasing our year-end figures at the end of April or beginning of May. We’re cautiously optimistic that this year will be even better. We made a significant profit last year that was massively ahead of expectations even in that tough year. So we’re hopeful for this year in the same way.
by JAMES BAGGOTT