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Insight: Sinclair makes most of Welsh regeneration

The long-term decline in heavy industry, which culminated in the virtual disappearance of coal-mining in the 1980s, hit the Welsh economy harder than most.

Although unemployment has declined in recent years, rates in west Wales and the valleys still tend to be higher than the national average.

It has seen economic output shrink compared to other parts of the UK.

However, south Wales has been through something of a regeneration in recent years.

Cardiff, Newport and Swansea along the M4 corridor have seen a flood of inward investment, particularly from service sectors, such as retail, hotels, restaurants and financial.

Car retailers are eagerly tapping into this spurt in prosperity, with those companies holding premium franchises enjoying a good start to the year after a strong 2007.

Small regional dealers dominate much of rural Wales, with the larger groups and UK plcs tussling for business in the larger cities in the south like Cardiff, Swansea, Bridgend and Newport.

Among them is the Sinclair Group, a 14-site business that is one of just three Welsh groups to feature in the AM100.

Its reputation for quality and customer service has made Sinclair a household name – so much so that the launch of its flagship three-acre Audi showroom in Swansea packed in 1,300 customers and prospects.

The opening of that dealership three years ago, on reclaimed land in the newly redeveloped SA1 waterfront, marked the beginning of an ongoing investment programme for the business.

More recently, it has moved its Newport and Cardiff Mercedes-Benz franchises under one roof at a 2.76-acre new build close to the M4 north of Cardiff, which opened in April 2007.

Next on the list is the redevelopment of Sinclair’s VW/Audi site in south-west Wales.

The group’s new premises across south Wales are a world away from its beginnings in 1945 as an independent repairer and used car operation called Dan-y-bryn Garage in Port Talbot, east of Swansea.

Founder Bill Sinclair set out to create an environment that would encourage retention of both customers and staff, and the values have remained at the core of the business ever since.

His mission statement – “to consistently delight our customers and provide our staff with first-class employment in a challenging and rewarding environment” – is still displayed on the group’s website.

It’s as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.

Bill’s son, Gerald Sinclair, took over the business in 1971, a year before Bill died. At that point it was still a single-site retailer.

Gerald Sinclair built the company into today’s 14-site group by taking on its first franchise, Audi, in 1971, adding Volkswagen in 1974 and Mercedes-Benz in 1991.

He also renamed it Sinclair Group.

“We were already supplying used cars to professional people even when we didn’t have a franchise,” he says.

“We saw the opportunity to apply for franchises and took on Audi first in 1971.”

Since 2006 he has been chairman with his two sons, Jonathan and Andrew, running the Audi and Mercedes-Benz franchises respectively, and Clive Williams heading the Volkswagen operation.

Mercedes-Benz sparked the biggest expansion for the group. As the carmaker moved towards creating market areas in 2001, Sinclair had just one site, in Newport.

But its application for the south Wales market area was successful, which meant buying two-site Continental Group with dealerships in Cardiff and Bridgend.

It completed the coverage by acquiring the Swansea and Bridgend Mercedes franchises shortly afterwards...

  • Read this story in full in the April 4 issue of AM. To subscribe to AM magazine click here or call 01733 468659.
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