‘We are going to be in a recession for sure, but I think everyone should stop worrying about the motor trade.’
Alexanders Prestige co-founder and managing director Andrew North was clear about the future when he appeared on Car Dealer on June 1 – the day dealerships reopened in England – but he was equally confident that it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
North told Car Dealer founder James Baggott he was ‘amazingly happy’ to be back at work and seeing the gates open again, although it didn’t feel a lot different to before, since the Boroughbridge business had been trading online a few weeks after lockdown, and delivering cars.
He said the showroom and workshop were large enough to ensure social distancing wasn’t a problem, a lot of staff had their own offices, and the company had been getting all the correct sanitisation and gloves as well as sorting out anti-Covid training for the staff.
‘I think a lot of people talk about it like it’s something really difficult, but if you follow the guidelines it’s not that difficult,’ said, North, who founded Alexanders Prestige in 2005 with childhood friend Alex Brimelow, the pair of them branching out in Ripon in 2013 with Harvey Cooper Cars, offering more attainable vehicles.
And business has been good.
‘We predicted that in the first three months we weren’t actually going to trade much at all, so worst-case scenario was we weren’t going to do anything and then three months after that we would maybe do half and then after that we would be back to full business again, but within three weeks we started getting inquiries.
‘Last week we were up to similar sort of inquiry levels that we were at pre-Covid – over 150 inquiries. Since lockdown up until 31st May we’ve sold nearly 200 cars.’
Premium BMWs and Mercedes were still selling at Harvey Cooper, and although things were slow at the top end at Alexanders, anything from £40,000 to £100,000 was selling OK, said North. ‘So we’re actually finding that it hasn’t been too bad.’
Alexanders didn’t have a full online platform on its website before the pandemic, although it’s currently sorting that, but it was certainly no stranger to online trading before the lockdown, said North, who pointed out that they probably never saw 50 to 60 per cent of their customers anyway. Reputation and repeat custom means that it sends cars all over the country ‘so this doesn’t feel abnormal to us – the only thing that’s different is there’s no one actually walking into the showroom’.
How did North see his company versus the competition? ‘We all sell the same cars but do it slightly differently.’ He said theirs was a small business but staff were trained like a plc.
‘I would much rather people be trained in such a way and developed in such a way that they’re not thinking about that one sale, they’re thinking that customer is there for life and they’re an investment.’
Turning to the topic of prices and stock, he noted the volatility of supercar prices because there were quite a lot of people desperate to sell so it was bringing the prices down a bit, but he warned against generally selling cheaply, saying he’d been fighting to get stock last week.
And he agreed with Baggott that dealers needed to hold their nerve on prices because stock was going to dry up, which would only send prices one way, so it was a case of the whole trade acting together.
He did comment, though, that £20k-£30k premium cars were rising in value.
North started his career in the industry as a parts apprentice and worked his way up, establishing Alexanders after just over a decade working at a BMW dealer in Stockton-on-Tees.
What would he say to people who were in a similar situation working in a dealership doing what he’d been doing and were thinking of setting up in business themselves, asked Baggott.
‘I would say before you do anything, think about what you really want at the end of it, what the end goal is, because a lot of people see successful people in all walks of life and think I want to be like that person, but what they don’t understand is what you’ve had to do in order to be that person.
‘I would honestly say to someone if you are prepared to commit everything, your financial situation, your family situation, your life, your health, if you are prepared to put all of that on the line in order to get your goal then you need to do that, because you’re that type of person that deserves it and you will be successful.
‘If you’re not that type of person, you will probably not enjoy the experience, because a lot of it is not a pleasurable experience.’
And although he was glad that he’d done what he’d done, he admitted that if he knew back when he started what he knew now, he’d probably aim to be a smaller outfit ‘and have a really nice life out of it without stress’.
How was the company dealing with solo test drives, viewer Matthew Hawkes wanted to know. The answer was somewhat surprising because, in fact, they were nothing new: their test drives had always been unaccompanied.
North said he hadn’t wanted to be a stereotypical dealer, adding that it was difficult for a customer to go on a test drive with a salesperson next to them asking questions – and he made the point that the high value of the cars meant that hardly anyone wanted to drive them anyway because they knew what they were getting.
Looking ahead, he said had no ambitions for three or four other sites or a manufacturer’s badge above the door. ‘I just want to keep doing what we do as best as we can do it. I want to keep developing the staff, I want to keep developing the company, I want to keep developing the brand.’
The brand had been same for 15 years, he told Baggott. ‘It’s OK, but if I stay the same as what I’ve done, other people will catch me up and overtake me.’
And as far as UK business as a whole was concerned, he said: ‘We are going to be in a recession for sure, but I think everyone should stop worrying about the motor trade.
‘If I just look at our style of business, it’ll be a little bit smaller for a little bit of time but it will be fine. Stock will be hard to get. What we do get we’ll be able to sell, we’ll be able to sell it at a margin and it will be fine. Everyone needs to stop worrying.’
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