Bullied, suffering from Asperger’s and failing his exams. That was the life of teenager Adam Bignall.
The young schoolboy was told by his teachers that he’d never amount to anything. But he went on to prove them wrong after spotting a gap in the automotive market.
Now aged 27, Adam runs two dealerships in the West Country and plans to open a third.
The dealership boss specialises in selling cars specifically to first-time buyers by helping them find the best deals and cheapest insurance.
It’s a policy that has brought rapid growth, with the Cheltenham native taking on his second showroom less than a year after opening his first.
He is the sole owner of Tewkesbury Motor Sales, having opened the site in April 2021, and he now owns Gloucester Motor Sales with business partner Sam Steel.
It’s all a far cry from his first job in the industry as a used car merchandiser at an Evans Halshaw dealership – a role he took on in the vague hope of one day getting a company car.
Despite enjoying the job, he was desperate to get into sales, and a stroke of luck came his way one weekend when, with sales staff away, he stepped on to the shop floor and found he had a knack for selling cars.
He sold three on his first day and was offered a sales jobs within weeks – which included that much-coveted company car.
From there, he went on to work at Baylis Vauxhall and Bristol Hyundai before leaving to sell mobile phones because of the strains of a long commute.
When he lost that job courtesy of the pandemic, he decided that he wanted to return to his first love of selling cars.
He remembered how he’d struggled to buy his first car aged 17 and how his only option had been to find a job with a company car.
It set off a lightbulb in Adam’s head and he made the decision to specialise in catering for younger, first-time buyers.
‘Because I struggled to find a car for an affordable price when I started driving all those years ago, I thought that could be a good gap in the market,’ he told Car Dealer.
‘I remember how difficult it was for me and my parents to find me a car that was both affordable and reliable.
‘We were taking mechanics to look at private sellers’ cars and just that whole stress seemed unnecessary.
‘If you buy a car privately for say £1,500, if that engine then blows up there might not be another £1,500 to buy another car. There certainly wouldn’t have been for me when I was that age.
‘I thought there was a gap in the market there, because I couldn’t think of many garages that you could go to to buy a reliable car for £1,500 to £2,000.
‘Granted, I haven’t got too many at that price at the moment because the market has gone a bit crazy, but I wanted to be that go-to place for first-time drivers.
‘If you’re looking for a car, we can speak to you about insurance, I can recommend the best companies and our cars come with a warranty, which gives peace of mind and makes things hassle-free.’
He added: ‘At the start, we may not have been making massive margins but we did become that go-to place for first-time buyers.
‘We have seen a massive increase in those drivers coming to us. We’ve probably had more than 20 customers who are just learning to drive or have just passed their test.
‘I think we’ve been a bit of a game-changer.’
Asperger’s syndrome affects day-to-day running of business
Adam wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until after he left school, where his teachers thought he just wasn’t concentrating.
He was also badly bullied and says receiving his diagnosis helped him understand why he struggled with focusing and written exams.
In his current line of work, he says he has to constantly keep sticky notes plastered around his office for fear of forgetting to do essential tasks.
His condition also means he struggles to complete paperwork, but that is one area he feels he is improving now he’s the boss.
‘I failed school. Teachers told me I was going to make nothing of myself and I was really badly bullied.
‘I’ve come out of that and given two fingers to the haters really and that’s something that’s really satisfying.’
He added: ‘There have been various different things like VAT returns and paperwork that have been a challenge.
‘I think the biggest thing for me is having previously worked in just one department, sales, to now doing the whole thing from buying to prepping to selling.
‘I have to write literally everything down. Every time someone gives me something, it can’t be a case of “I’ll do that in 10 minutes”, because if I leave it I will forget.
‘I rely heavily on my reminders app on my phone and I have Post-it notes all over the place – my concentration span isn’t really there.’
Business will continue to grow
Since opening his first dealership just over a year ago, Adam has seen his business enjoy rapid growth.
He now has around 30 cars listed for sale and has three permanent employees across the two sites, as well as friends and family willing to be roped in to help for free.
Tewkesbury Motor Sales is even an official partner of Gloucester Rugby, which has helped to raise the company’s profile and bring in new customers.
Adam says he will soon be looking to take on another business partner as he looks to expand even further.
‘My five-year plan is to open another dealership in Cheltenham so I would have the three of them.
‘We’re going well at the moment with two members of staff here (Tewkesbury) and one in Gloucester.
‘Ultimately, I think I’ll be looking for another business partner to go into the Cheltenham one with me.’