Huddersfield’s football team has just reached the hallowed ground of the Premier League for the first time.
But while Aston Martin, Porsche, Tesla and soon Rolls-Royce – courtesy of Pendragon’s planned Stratstone operation – dealerships can all be found on the streets of neighbouring Leeds, the university town feels a world away from any big city glamour and is a surprise addition to one of world sport’s most prestigious competitions.
It is not just the football team aiming to raise the town’s profile, though.
Nestled beside Pentagon’s Abarth and Nissan dealerships near to the heart of the town is Shak’s Specialist Cars, a business which aimed to bring a slice of supercar glamour to this corner of West Yorkshire long before “The Terriers” reached the top flight.
“I’ve literally worked day and night to build this business and I’m determined to carry on building something that really puts Huddersfield on the map,” ambitious SSC owner Shakeel Shah told Independent Dealer. “I don’t sleep.”
Minutes after our interview gets under way, Shah, who has positioned himself behind a desktop computer, a laptop and a giant flat screen television displaying CCTV coverage of his showroom and outside car compound, displays his terrier-like commitment to the cause when he stands and issues an apology.
“I’m sorry, I’m about to swear,” he said, before dialling a number on his phone. He is dialling the adjacent office, it transpires.
“Husband and wife, four minutes in the showroom and nobody’s gone to greet them... Where the f**k is everybody?”
Shah leaves the office and greets the couple himself in a calm, professional manner before returning to the glass-fronted office which overlooks a showroom filled with supercars, luxury vehicles and premium sports cars.
In the meantime, the business’ new general manager, Urfi Hossain, formerly of Alan Day Volkswagen, Sytner BMW and Ferrari and latterly Bristol Street Motors, admits “This business is his life. It’s like a drug to him.”
From the ground up
Shah started Shak’s Specialist Cars while working as a salesman at Perrys Mazda in Huddersfield in 2003.
After proving a successful salesman at the franchise, meeting targets and “doing five people’s jobs” Shah, who hails from Bradford and is still just 36 years old, agreed to take on a management role for an independent dealer who had operated next to the Perrys franchise before expanding into a larger site a mile away on Birkby Hall Road, Birkby.
Shah had already begun importing Japanese cars as a sideline and would dash between Perrys and the independent operation to deal with customers for his imports.
His experience with importing and exporting vehicles in his early career has continued to be a source of revenue for the company as SSC provides these services for prospective clients to this day.
Recalling his time working a day job while holding a share in the nearby independent business, Shah said: “My manager at Perrys was really supportive. It wasn’t an issue. I was actually offered a lot of guidance and support.”
Shak’s Specialist Cars was officially formed in October 2004 and just over a year later, in January 2006, the then 24-year-old pooled savings gathered during his successful spell as a franchised car salesman to acquire the Birkby operation.
“I flooded the market with Japanese imports,” said Shah. “But I had a vision, an ambition to gradually increase the prestige of the vehicles I was selling and I soon started setting myself targets of what I wanted to see in the showroom. That was my goal.”
Shah claims that he did not take a wage from the business for four years, after which point he also took on his first member of sales staff.
“I knew I needed to move things on and build a brand if I was going start selling the kind of cars I wanted to sell,” said Shah.
An ageing showroom with stained, curling carpets on the floor and parking issues after the local authority painted double yellow lines outside was not fit for purpose. “We were embarrassed to be selling the cars we were trading in from there,” admitted Shah.
When his landlord told him that the showroom would be razed to make way for a Sainsbury’s store in July 2014, Shah had no choice but to move on.
In December of that year he completed the £700,000 purchase of his current site, a location that had been for sale for four years at the time.
“It was ten times the size of the site I was in at the time and, honestly, I couldn’t afford the stock to fill it – but the potential was there.
“We completely gutted it and moved in on May 10, 2015.”
Shah’s current site has indoor space for around 60 vehicles, across two storeys – less premium stock including a £6,995 MGB is situated in an underground showroom – and a further outdoor space.
Kirklees Council ultimately declined planning permission for the Sainsbury’s store on Shah’s former site. He now operates that as Apex Performance
Cars, stocking vehicles which don’t fit the SSC brand, from a £7,995 Renaultsport Clio Cup to a £59,995 Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG Edition 1.
Among the vehicles displayed in the SSC showroom is a £169,995 Lamborghini Huracan, a brace of Ferrari 458s, two Rolls-Royce Phantoms and a selection of Aston Martins.
Online, SSC displays vehicles including a £4m La Ferrari and £1m Ferrari Dino on its own website and has no fewer than 100 vehicles listed with Auto Trader.
Shah claims that the business has £4m invested in vehicle stock with around 20% of turnover derived from sales of vehicles held on a sale-or-return basis.
He said that SSC spends in excess of £140,000 a year with Auto Trader and chooses to leave many sold vehicles as live listings to attract enquiries to the business, claiming that cars can be sourced for customers if requested.
Shah insisted that the entire operation has remained self-funded since he invested those savings to acquire the sales operation on Birkby Hall Road in 2006.
The business’ self-funded nature is about to change, however.
The addition of Hossain to the team of 17 staff in January this year has ushered in an approach influenced by the practices of franchised dealers, with staff training and external funding now both high on the agenda.
It is Hossain’s second stint at the business. He initially joined SSC in May 2015 but took a job at Vertu Motors’ Bristol Street Motors operation in Bradford before returning in January this year.
He said: “We’d met through family and it was clear that Shak was on to something, attracting business from all over the country and exporting overseas, but I didn’t think he was ready for the next step when I started in 2015 and I didn’t want to be a drain on the business at the time.
“Now he’s ready to accept that external funding is required to move the business forward to the next level and I’m here to help with that along with PR, staff training and a strategy to grow SSC into new areas.”
Hossain has secured a £1m stocking facility from Alphera in a bid to free up capital which he and Shah hope will allow the business to set up a second SSC location, which could see a shift in the stock held in Huddersfield.
Targeting areas populated by a larger proportion of high net worth individuals, including Cheshire and Surrey, the pair have set their sights on further expansion and Hossain revealed: “The new site is likely to stock vehicles above £80,000, with this site stocking vehicles up to that point.
“It’s no different to Alexanders Prestige, which has Harvey Cooper for their lower value vehicles. We’re following that same model.
“If we get part-exchanges into the business we will sell them and it’s helpful to be able to accommodate that with Apex business as well. We’ll never auction our way out of a car.”
Hossain said that SSC operates a 90-day stocking policy with most vehicles – trading out of vehicles through contacts in the trade after that period – but specialist cars such as Ferrari and Lamborghini are an exception. He said: “Some of those vehicles can accrue in value, so you have to use your knowledge of the market to weigh up those decisions very carefully.”
Sites have been viewed with an eye to the business’ next move, but Hossain also has ambitious short-term plans to grow turnover and profits in his first year within the business.
He suggests that the business should achieve a turnover of between £28m and £30m for 2017, up on last year’s £17.2m, with a return of 6.7%, up on 2016’s 5.6%.
To the end of July, turnover was over £14.2m with gross profit “a tad under” £900,000, according to Hossain, who has longer-term plans to grow turnover to £60m.
He said: “Our volume isn’t necessarily up this year but turnover certainly is. The average invoice value has increased from £50,000 last year to £75,000 so far in 2017.”
SSC’s profit is purely from its sales operations, employing just one technician to assist in the preparation of its cars and offering no aftersales service to its customers.
Extended warranties provided by Autoprotect – a partner of the business for the past eight years – offer some peace of mind, according to Hossain, along with customers’ direct access to him and Shah should any issues occur.
A five-star Auto Trader rating, 4.4 stars on Google and 4.8 on Facebook suggest the business receives little negative feedback.
Stocking the best
Hossain leads weekly training sessions with SSC’s 17-strong team and is proud to be bringing in some of the CSI-led practices of the franchised dealer network into the business.
Shah said that he rarely has an issue recruiting staff, the desirability of the product and a £60,000 annual salary made possible by sales executives’ ability to earn up to £15,000 profit for the business with a single transaction proving a strong lure.
“That’s all the motivation you should need to chase a sale,” he said.
But increased profit in the business has been attributed not to sales technique, but a flow of rarer, harder-to-value specialist vehicles into the business.
This has been made possible by the recruitment of a specialist buyer, Shak Khan, who Hossain said has been an asset to the business after forging contacts as part of the team at Afzal Khan’s Bradford-based prestige Khan Design business.
“He joined in January 2016 and his sole responsibility is buying stock,” said Hossain. “He’s a huge asset to the business and I think Shak did a very good sales job to get him through the door.
He has a fantastic book of contacts.”
Shah said that the business never goes to the auction for stock.
But he was yet to delve into his £1m Alphera stocking plan when ID visited.
He said: “The main problem I’ve always had has been being an Asian businessman in this industry and succeeding. People always questioned where the money came from, but I’ve never borrowed from a bank or had a stocking plan. It’s something that needs to change in order to expand.
“I just don’t want to be one of those traders dictated to by a bank or a finance company.”
The next step
Shah and Hossain have ambitions to grow the SSC name in more than just a geographical sense.
The business is driving forward with plans to raise its status by courting magazines such as Independent Dealer to gain more traction in the automotive industry’s mainstream.
Hossain is targeting GC Motors’ tenth place in the ID50 as a future scale for the business.
The customer-facing side of the business has just benefited from the design of a new website and the start of an ongoing relationship with Camberley-based automotive website design and content specialists at Starkwood Media.
Despite his recent appearances in the press in relation to stories with which he might rather not have been associated, Shah once again takes centre stage in a recent video created to introduce the business to potential new customers.
It is the first sample of a range of content which will be added to the SSC website.
Shah said: “Urfi was brought in to take a lot of pressure off me and it’s good to know that I can close my eyes and the business will keep running with someone at the helm who has my best interests at heart, but he’s also here to grow us in every direction, and that includes our brand image.”
SSC’s new website includes links to its export business as well at SSC Leasing, a new brokerage business offering contract hire deals on a variety of mainstream vehicles.
It seems the business is in a hurry to exploit all potential revenue streams to meet Hossain’s growth targets.
Hossain said: “Shak’s a self-made man. He’s built this business himself, from the ground up, but there’s huge potential for growth. Now’s the time to realise it.”
Trials and tribulations
Building a prestige car business in an unassuming Yorkshire town has brought Shah his fair share of drama and conflict in recent years.
In December 2011 he made the local press after he was confronted by a shotgun-wielding raider in his former showroom on Birkby Hall Road, Birkby, and survived to tell the tale after telling one: “If you’ve got the b**** shoot me!”
In March this year he made national headlines after unwittingly buying a stolen Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe in a £27,000 deal also involving the part-exchange of a BMW 5 Series and a Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
It later transpired that the man who traded in the Rolls-Royce, 25-year-old Mohammed Humza, of Hertfordshire, had fraudulently filed a V62 form to the DVLA claiming to own the £97,000 luxury coupe, which was later stolen from Saudi Prince Sheikh Mohammed Alibrahim, who kept the vehicle in a Mayfair car park for use when he was in the UK.
Shah later told the Huddersfield Examiner newspaper: “I’ve been in this business for 15-20 years and it’s disturbing and embarrassing to have been involved with this case.
“We did all the relevant checks and could not have been more thorough. Everything was in his name.
“He was with me for seven hours on the day the deal was done and he even transferred the money to his own bank account, which a fraudster would never have asked us to do.
“I am the person who brought charges against Humza, not the Saudi prince. I helped the police and I got nothing whatsoever in return, apart from bad publicity and damage to my reputation.”
Hossain told ID: “Shak had done all the checks, it was HPI clear and had been registered to this man for four months. There’s not much more you can do.
“The business is still out of pocket. For someone who has built their own business from the ground up, it’s still a sore point that he was caught out like that and almost named as an accomplice in the newspapers.”