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‘Don’t get caught out by the banks’

The boss of a dealer group that crashed last year when its bank called in receivers is urging other car retailers to check their businesses are safeguarded.

Bill Robson, who was managing director of the £60m turnover South Cleveland Garages, has launched a new business and is taking steps to avoid a second collapse.

“I’ve also alerted other car dealers that a bank can terminate an overdraft facility that has been in place for many years,” says Robson. “I now know there are ways to protect a business, and I want my colleagues in the motor trade to ensure they are not vulnerable in the way I was.

“I lost a substantial amount of my own money when South Cleveland Garages went down, just as the group was heading for a £75m turnover. I have never been one to save money and I had belief in the future of the business. I also trusted the bank to stay with me, although I know I was probably paying too much interest each month.”

Now Robson has founded Tees Valley Mitsubishi by acquiring the lease of South Cleveland’s former dealership in Darlington, with the importer keeping faith in him.

He is in partnership with Neil Gibson, who was general manager of the outlet when it was part of the former group.

“It’s ironic that I’m starting again with a leasehold dealership because I have always believed in the value of freehold.We hope to take on other dealerships but I do not expect again to have a business the size of South Cleveland Garages,” he says.

Robson’s old group also operated Citroen, Suzuki, MG Rover, Hyundai and Peugeot dealerships in Middlesbrough, plus a fast-fit garage in Hartlepool, an express factor business with 12 delivery vans and a bodyshop in Middlesbrough.

In October Ian Green, a joint administrative receiver at receivers PowerhouseCooper, said of South Cleveland Garages: “The company has been experiencing financial difficulties, in particular with issues relating to working capital.”

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