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John O’Hanlon: In knowing your business, you’ve got to know the numbers

Sponsored: Symco Training’s Simon Bowkett interviews Waylands Automotive boss John O’Hanlon about how he scaled and grew two successful motor retail groups

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Time 10:14 am, June 29, 2023

Waylands boss John O’Hanlon featured on the latest edition of the Selling in the Motor Trade podcast, where Simon Bowkett of Symco Training dug into the decisions he made early in his career and early on in Waylands to make them a success. 

From the early days of Ridgeway Garages to setting up Waylands Automotive, O’Hanlon shares invaluable lessons he learnt that other dealers can apply to their own businesses. 

He set up Ridgeway with David Newman and grew it from a small group to 30 dealerships before selling it to Marshalls in 2016. Two years later he launched Waylands Automotive as one site, which has since grown to 10 showrooms. 


You can listen to the interview in full by clicking here now

Before moving into the motor trade, O’Hanlon was an accountant and explains that he is still proud to be accredited today. 

Bowkett talks about the lessons he learned in his early days in the motor trade and asks O’Hanlon what he picked up in his accounting career that helped him in when he made the switch to car retailing. 


O’Hanlon said: ‘Unashamedly, I still talk about the numbers and actually knowing your business, you’ve got to know your numbers. 

‘Whether that’s for a sales executive knowing how to stack his deal, because if you don’t know how much money you’re making in a car then how do you know how much commission you’re earning?

‘It’s the same in terms of the workshop or parts who don’t control the margins and then become busy fools.’

‘Then it’s having that capability of not only knowing where you are but beginning to do the forecasting,’ he explained. ‘That’s where it becomes much more exciting as a manager in the business. 

He added: ‘These are disciplines that I was able to bring and enhance because we did have some good tools at Ridgeway, a lot of the guys were ex-Hartwell which had some really good PLC disciplines. 

‘If we can take some of those PLC disciplines and enhance them so the culture is just a little bit softer with much quicker decision making then you begin to get to a winning place. 

‘If you know your numbers and you can see what you’ve got to do, then you can see where your efforts, your focus, your priorities have got to be. And that will make every part of what you do everyday that little bit easier.’

In the wide-ranging interview, Bowkett asks him about his mentors and influencers, also covering the wise words of previous Selling in the Motor Trade guest Dale Wyatt

When asked what it was like going from Ridgeway to a one site dealership with Waylands Automotive, O’Hanlon explained that he knew what it would take to grow from that past experience but it gave him the opportunity to focus on what was important. 

‘It allowed me to think about what was really important, what we did need and what we didn’t need. I knew I could do the general manager role and I needed a fantastic sales manager and aftersales manager to help me with that,’ he said.

‘But, I think it would surprise people that my first employee was April to help me with marketing because that’s an area of weakness I have.’

He adds that April is still with the business today, now as head of marketing.

O’Hanlon goes on to explain that he knew the business needed to grow fast, and that was their plan from the start. 

He said: ‘We had a clear plan. We had to grow quickly. We set out for £100m in the first year and we achieved that within three years. 

‘Then it was ‘what do we need to do next?’ and it was £250m. That is where we want to push to but in fairness we’ll need to revise that again. Without wanting to talk about agency sales, we should get to a £250m turnover business by volume. 

‘I’m super keen to say on record that you do need a scaled business in motor retail. There will be fewer and fewer one dealer groups. 

‘Maybe with the Chinese coming in there could be another level as they look for opportunities, but generally it’ll be more scaled groups looking to invest.’

Find out more about the Selling in the Motor Trade podcast at symcotraining.co.uk.

Rebecca Chaplin's avatar

Rebecca has been a motoring and business journalist since 2014, previously writing and presenting for titles such as the Press Association, Auto Express and Car Buyer. She has worked in many roles for Car Dealer Magazine’s publisher Blackball Media including head of editorial.

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