Concentrating your business on one type of car, or even a single, often niche, brand might seem a brave move – your fortunes are very much tied to the success or otherwise of your chosen model or manufacturer. But across the UK a host of dealers have found great success as specialists. They got into the business in different ways but all follow the same basic premise – know your product inside out.
Richard Williams, founder of Aston Martin specialist RSW – pictured above – would have no difficulties on that one. Based at Cobham in Surrey, RSW is an Aston Martin Heritage Centre, recognised as selling and servicing all Aston Martins once they depart the dealer network.
Aston-tinted blood certainly runs through Richard’s veins – he started his career as an apprentice with the marque, before running a race team for none other than comedian Peter Sellers. An Aston dealership followed, and then much motorsport during the 1980s including taking Aston Martins to world championships in Group C2 sports car racing.
Today, while still very much involved in motorsport, Richard’s day job is running RSW, and offering a wide-ranging service for all Astons from the earliest Feltham cars to latest models such as the DB7. According to Richard the secret of success as a specialist is attention to detail: ‘For example when you’ve completed work on a car extensive road-testing before returning it to a customer is essential,’ he says.
‘Such efforts such as road testing the car like this help build the relationships with our customers that are so valuable.’
Surely being tied to the varying fortunes of a single marque can be challenging though? Richard thinks not. ‘We’ve never once considered expanding beyond Aston Martin.
Specialist knowledge is something our customers appreciate – if a car comes in with a strange noise there’s a 99.9 per cent chance someone in the business will know what it is because they are so familiar with the cars.
‘We are very busy doing what we are doing – trying to provide the same level of service for two or three marques would be a nightmare.’
He also believes it would be hard to match the quality of Aston Martin’s parts service. ‘I can’t remember the last time we told a customer we couldn’t do their car because we couldn’t get the part. The parts are all available from the factory whether it’s for a current car or a DBR2 or a DB4.’
Changing economies do not seem to affect the business either, despite Aston Martins being very much motoring royalty. ‘Our customer base stretches from those who can just afford their car to those who simply add another to their collection. But they are all a certain type of owner, one who appreciates the unique driving experience offered by an Aston Martin.’
Richard is confident of continuing future success for the RSW specialist approach, though he admits to one major challenge. ‘Selling our cars is never difficult. Finding high quality stock with potential is a different matter – it’s out there, finding it is the hard bit.’
Top555: supercar sellers
You might find the odd Aston Martin in the showrooms of Top555, but you will also find a lot more to drool over. While Top555 is not a single-marque outlet, it is very much a specialist, in the kind of automotive exotica many of us only dream of driving.
The company showroom, at Oakham on the side of Rutland Water, is packed with the products of Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce – prestige motors one and all. And despite the tales of economic gloom dominating the daily media, sales director Charles Freimuth says the year so far has been very busy.
Charles has always dealt in prestige cars – the family business was set up seven years ago and has grown very quickly. He says the secret to being a good specialist is to know the market very closely indeed: what’s good, what’s bad and who’s doing what.
And while one might think that such a business would be greatly affected by any economic downturn, Charles believes that’s not so much the case.
‘You can’t be so naive to think none of your customers will be affected, but we do have a very wide customer base. Our customers work hard to make their money, and they want the rewards which include driving a prestige car.’
Repeat and referral business is essential to the success of Top555. ‘We have customers who first came to us for a Boxster or a 911, and are now driving around in Ferrari F430s or Lamborghini Gallardos. People like to change their cars, and of course we work very hard to ensure we get that repeat business.’
And while the company admits to selling more Porsc
hes than anything else, currently there is a big demand for a range of cars around the £70-£80,000 mark, suggesting not everyone out there is feeling the pinch right now.
While Top555 is purely concerned with sales, the business maintains an excellent relationship with prestige brand franchised dealers, and all its cars are serviced at such sites.
Charles contends that being able to offer such a full service to the customer is essential to the success of the business, and a prime reason why he can proudly claim that for anyone in the UK looking for a prestige car, Top 555 is one of the top three phone calls customers will make.
Dandycars: AZDA BE MAZDA
Specialising in a brand or type of car is all very well, but what about a specific car? Surely this is a huge gamble? That’s just what DandyCars.com, based in Essex, does. Its showroom is filled with examples of that much-loved convertible the Mazda MX-5.
Bill Lone is joint-owner with Gary Notta of the company which had its beginnings in the earliest days of the MX-5 when the Mk1 cars coming into Britain were rather less well-equipped than their Japanese counterparts. Personally importing a Japanese car demonstrated to Bill how difficult a process this was, but also alerted him to a possible hole in the market.
Of course today’s Mazda MX-5 is a bit different to the first cars of the early 1990s and while import still forms an important part of the business, Dandycars has grown to become one of the biggest MX-5 showrooms in the country with plenty of UK-sourced cars in stock. At this time of year, moving into the peak sales period, some 40 to 50 examples are always on show varying from Mk1s to the latest Mk3s. The phrase ‘peak sales’ gives a clue to one of the biggest challenges to Bill’s business – the MX-5 is a convertible, and as a result the business is highly seasonal.
‘Around now, spring into summer, it gets manic, but the winter months are a different matter,’ he explains.
Keeping the company busy in the winter has seen some diversification, but still centred around the MX-5, and particularly involving aftersales and servicing. Dandycars offers owners a complete package for looking after their car, and in the winter one of the most frequent jobs is hood replacement, the company even manufactures its own replacements.
The enthusiasm of MX-5 owners has also contributed to the success of Dandycars. The MX-5 community is very good at passing on information and publicising the good dealers, and it’s no surprise that Dandycars appears many times on MX-5 forums.
Bill also admits to allowing some cars that are not MX-5s into the premises, with the appearance of a quartet of sporty Honda Integra Type-Rs, but he won’t be expanding further – ‘To stock other cars would simply dilute what people know us for.’
Our highlighted trio are three very different companies but in many ways they share a similar ethos. These specialists prove that what some would regard too narrow a focus can be widely successful if you get it right.