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Whitehouse Group in negotiations to sell

Family-owned Kent-based retailer the Whitehouse Group is in negotiations to sell all except one of its franchises.

Brian Whitehouse, chairman and majority shareholder of Kent-based Whitehouse Group, died last July at the age of 68. Whitehouse spent 50 years in the motor industry, taking charge of the group in 1957 after the death of his father and founder Bill in a motoring accident. He was responsible for building the group from a one-site operation to a business that peaked at 34 sites and almost £400m turnover in 2004.

Peter Reynolds, now chairman of the Whitehouse Group, tells AM: “Since the death of Brian Whitehouse, the family has been considering its options. They have decided they no longer wish to be involved in the operation and as a result have been looking at prospective buyers.”

The Whitehouse Group currently has 19 franchises representing Audi, BMW, ChryslerJeep, MG Rover, Mini, Nissan and Renault. It also has a Honda motorcycle dealership and Volkswagen passenger car authorized repair facility alongside its VW van centre in Tonbridge. Whitehouse lost its VW car franchise in June 2004.

The family will retain the ChryslerJeep operation, with showrooms in Bexleyheath, Tonbridge and Maidstone. All other sites are in negotiation, although no contracts have been signed.

Whitehouse was among the first to operate the ChryslerJeep franchise following the introduction of the brand to the UK back in 1993. In February this year, Whitehouse ChryslerJeep’s aftersales centre in Crayford was awarded the BSI Kitemark for service excellence and, in March, Whitehouse of Bexleyheath was named as the best UK ChryslerJeep dealership.

The group has enjoyed long standing relationships with all of the franchises it represents. It has represented both Renault and BMW for more than 20 years and Audi for more than 30 years. It has also held its Nissan franchise for over a decade.

In December 2004, Dutton-Forshaw agreed to acquire Whitehouse’s Kent-based Mercedes-Benz and Smart operations for an undisclosed sum. The transfer, which comprised four dealerships in Maidstone, Tonbridge, Ashford and Canterbury plus an aftersales centre in Gillingham, took effect on January 4, 2005.

The outlets effectively made up the official Mercedes-Benz and Smart sales territory for Kent, outside the M25.

Earlier that year, the business was named Kent’s largest private company in a survey by the media business Kent Messenger Group. Whitehouse was named the 2003 AM retailer of the year and was also the 29th fastest growing business in the country with 62.7% growth over the period 2000-2003.

That followed a two-year buying spree, which saw turnover rise from £188m in 2000 to £306m in 2003, and outlets from 24 to 41.

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