“We have a strong balance sheet, and are making money, which means we should be buying other businesses – the most recent was two years ago,” says Williams. “We’re also interested in acquiring new franchises.
“But we have developed strict financial criteria for purchasing other dealerships and will stick to them – we won’t be seduced by our wish to expand.
“People running businesses that are losing money sit down to negotiate a price and expect us to pay goodwill. They’re asking us to pay them to allow us to use our expertise to turn their businesses around – that’s when we walk away.”
Bristol Street, No16 in the AM100 on turnover of £600m, has been close to three or four purchases over the past two years but backed off “because of the greed of the owners.”
Williams last month took command of the group following the retirement of John Tustain, the joint chief executive, who has been in ill health for 12 months. He and Tustain lead the MBO in the Nineties from BSG which wanted to focus on making car accessories and aircraft interiors.
Two of the group’s executives have been promoted to joint managing director, both reporting to Williams. Mark Hamer, a former Ford Motor Company manager, is responsible for Bristol Street’s Ford and Renault interests.
He continues to run the company’s Ford outlet in central Birmingham, which is one of the largest UK dealerships holding the market leader’s franchise.
The other managing director is Nick Plevey, who previously ran Bristol Street’s truck and Ford car operation at Gloucester – he is replaced by Gordon Mills, a general manager from Marshall Motor Holdings. Plevey is responsible for Bristol Street’s Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall outlets.
Williams says rising costs are a big concern for all dealers operating in major cities, especially London and Manchester. He believes manufacturers now recognize this, and Bristol Street is talking to some of them about spreading the cost of retailing, especially by sharing rising rents.