ESP Cars in Long Eaton is proud proof of the maxim ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’.
It started life in 1975 trading from a small village location, with its first sale a car that came in for an MOT but failed.
Sales director Wayne Ball told Car Dealer: ‘The customer decided it wasn’t worth the repair so paid with the car instead.
‘The repairs were carried out, the car sold pretty quickly and then all of a sudden it was a case of ‘‘Well, that seemed a little bit easy!’’ so we moved on to the next one and moved on to the next one and here we are today!
‘A lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into it to get us to the point where we are now, and to be recognised – after last year more than ever – is just fantastic.’
ESP Cars has become so successful in fact that it made number 94 in our inaugural Top 100 list of the most profitable dealers with an EBITDA profit of £1.33m versus a turnover of £27.06m, and 4.7 per cent return on sales from the most recent figures available.
‘I’m more than happy with that, especially the ROS,’ said Ball.
‘It’s a big thing for us. We just looked to maximise every opportunity, so we’ll certainly carry on doing that.’
A case of onward and upward? ‘Without a doubt! Positivity is a great thing. We’ve got a sales manager who’s exceptionally positive – he’s got ESP running through his blood and that resonates through the sales staff on the shop floor.’
For this category, our judges wanted to see dealers continue to focus on the customers’ needs as they faced the conflicting pressures on their time that come with running such a large outfit.
That meant good feedback from other customers as well as a great service when we mystery shopped, and ESP Cars – which was also highly commended in the Used Car Sales Team category – certainly came up with the goods.
Ball said that one of the things that set ESP Cars apart from others was the transparency it offered customers.
‘There’s no point advertising a one-former-keeper car and for the log book to land on the customer’s doorstep and it’s had four owners. Everything has got to be transparent.’
He added: ‘If you can make yourself that little bit different just by selling the peace of mind and backing up your reviews and basically giving the customer the confidence then it’s the key to success.’
Looking back on 2020 and the pandemic, he said: ‘It was all a case of being proactive as opposed to reactive. 2019 was a record year, and for January and February 2020 we were actually behind on 2019’s figures.
‘Then obviously March came along, and once we realised what would be happening the MD and I got all the department heads together and said “Right, we’ve got to get through it. What are we going to do to slimline our processes to become more efficient so when the time comes that we can reopen we’re ready to go?”
‘Some of the systems we put in place carried us through to what was a very, very successful year and we actually ended up in October in front of 2019’s figures.
‘So we had a fantastic year, and that’s all testament to that first week in Lockdown 1.0 – we rallied together.
‘For example, we reduced average days in stock from around 84 days to 46 by the end of 2020. Again, it was about being more proactive and looking at systems, looking at adverts, looking at videos, looking at photos, looking at content that was going in adverts.
‘We’ve been in the industry a long time and one of the things that we’ve always been good at is adapting to change.’
Another example he gave was ESP Cars dropping newspaper advertising in 2000 to focus more on the internet.
He believed the pandemic had undoubtedly sharpened the company.
‘Becoming more efficient massively paid off. We’ve all learnt to be able to cope and deal with the situation that is thrown at us, and then know that when we come out of lockdown that we’re ready and raring to go again. So positivity is key for this year.’
He added: ‘To be recognised in two categories, especially with the challenges that we’ve faced over the last year, is just fantastic.
‘We’re all really over the moon that you can look at the end of the year and think “Yeah, every change we made, every positive impact we had, every deal we did, it was all worth it in the end.”’
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Find out who else has been recognised in the Car Dealer Used Car Awards 2020 here.