Bill Ward has become the head of his own dealer group, 30 years after joining motor retail. He has just led a £7 million management buyout of five Volvo dealerships in the north-east of England, which trade as Mill Garages and account for around 7% of Volvo’s UK registrations.
Backed by the Co-operative Bank, Ward acquired the sites in Newcastle, Hexham, Sunderland, Stockton and Harrogate from Inchcape Retail. Inchcape had gained them in its takeover of European Motor Holdings (EMH) in early 2007. But, the Volvo franchise was not core to its UK operation and it had publicly stated an intention to sell them.
They are businesses which Ward knows intimately – he ran them as dedicated brand manager while at EMH and Inchcape.
They also benefit from his local profile – for years, Ward has featured in their regional TV adverts with the slogan “There’s never been a better time to buy Volvo”, and he has become the recognised face of the business.
“Volvo north-east has been very successful and in the past two years has increased its share of the market. Even at the end of this year we expect to have sold more than 2,000 new cars, which is a rise year-on-year,” he said.
Used car sales are predicted to top 1,100 units. He is confident of boosting turnover by £10 million to £70 million in five years.
Much of this growth will be from building on Mill Garages’s strong sales and aftersales processes, but it will also be helped by Volvo’s expanding product range.
He added: “It’s one of the few franchises which has improved its market share this year. It’s got great products – probably the best range we’ve had in my 27 years with Volvo.”
Joining him as chairman is Bob Nicholson, formerly finance director of Minories Group, the company where Ward began his career in 1978. Other directors are Mark Askew (aftersales), Jeff Tabb (sales) and director Jim Anderson (finance).