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Independence paid dividends

When Park Road Garage (PRG) dropped its Vauxhall franchise to become an independent used Vauxhall specialist in 1996, Robert Perkins, owner and managing director, didn’t expect to reap such financial rewards from the move.

“We make four times as much profit as when it was a Vauxhall dealership,” says Perkins. “I don’t want another franchise.”

The Luton-based car-maker requested that PRG move its site 25 miles to Milton Keynes.

Perkins refused and the dealership remained as an independent on a 0.4-acre site in a built-up area of Kempston, near Bedford.

Following an approach from a property developer, Perkins has now sold the site, which has been its sole car sales facility since the beginning, and will move to new premises next year.

The new 1.6-acre site is on the outskirts of Bedford, opposite a retail park. It is best described as a mini car supermarket with a bigger workshop and smaller showroom, says Perkins.

“It will be a smaller showroom because I don’t like paying rates,” he adds.

Currently, the company has 80-100 cars in stock. This number will grow at the new site, though Perkins is not sure how much.

Workshop bays will double from three to six.

PRG sold 500 units in 2007, turning over £3m. So far this year, it is selling 35 cars a month, putting it slightly behind 2007.

Perkins says there is no problem regarding units, but profit is “just about holding its own”.

PRG sources most of its car from BCA – Vauxhall’s “used car people” – as well as other dealers. “We kept a very good relationship with Vauxhall’s closed sales following our decision to go independent,” says Perkins.

He prides himself on running the showroom as a family business, giving clients what they want and keeping staff who do their job well.

“It’s the old story – if you pay peanuts, you’re going to employ monkeys.

“If someone is good at the job then I will do what I can to keep them.”

A key strength, says Perkins, is consideration for customers: “It’s doing to others as you want doing to yourself. I’m a great believer in that.

“I’d rather a customer go away happy and I’ve lost money than vice versa. One person can do more damage than a year’s advertising can do good.”

Perkins’ dad Eric started the business in 1964, although the site previously existed as a car showroom.

When Eric died in 1970, he left PRG to Robert and his brother and sister, both of whom he bought out by the late ’90s.

PRG held the Vauxhall franchise for 30 years until becoming independent.

Its change in status meant staff numbers went from 50 to 15, while a workshop nearby, bought in 1984, also closed. However, Perkins still owns the property.

Now, he has three salesmen and three mechanics as well as an accounts team, valeters and drivers.

While cars are advertised in local papers and Auto Trader, Perkins says PRG has “always sold on reputation and price”.

“We’re fastidious about preparing cars. I don’t expect them to be 100% as they are used, but as near as,” he adds.

Perkins believes the dealership’s biggest weakness is limited space – a situation soon to be rectified.

His principal concern for the used car market is overproduction of new cars.

“Prices are dropping so fast mainly due to there being so many of them. It’s a matter of supply and demand.

“Last year, I scrapped an R-reg Vectra. We’re scrapping them younger and younger because it’s uneconomic to repair them.”

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