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Insight: Opportunity knocked for Richard Sanders

Richard Sanders Group is a motor retailer which was borne of an opportunity. Other opportunities have allowed it to grow into a strong regional brand with multiple franchises.

The head of the business is an enthusiastic, intelligent and proud managing director. It is his name on the front of the showrooms. Running the business with him are his two sons, Mark and Nick, and wife Jenny.

The business began in 2002 when Sanders led a management buyout of the Renault and Rover dealership in Kettering which he ran for the Corby Motor Group. Once the business was his, Sanders dropped Rover and replaced it with a Nissan franchise.

The strength of the revitalised operation mean that the borrowings needed for the MBO were paid back quickly, and today the group has no debt. It is a position that meant Richard Sanders Group got through the recent recession with no redundancies and without having to go begging to the bank.

It also meant that when Corby Motor Group went to the wall last year and left Kettering without a dealer representing Peugeot or Honda, it became an opportunity which Sanders was keen to take. He bought the Honda dealership and property and won a full franchise from Peugeot to slot in at his main property. A temporary showroom went up beside his Renault and Nissan business until the new-build Peugeot ‘Blue Box’ received its final touches in June and started trading.

Local hero

As Honda and Peugeot owners recovered from Corby Motor Group’s demise, they saw Richard Sanders Group as a local hero.

The business now has four of the town’s eight franchised outlets, and is a well-known regional brand further afield in Northamptonshire.

Sanders, who spent five years on the Renault national dealer council until last year, believes those motor retailers which suffered most during the recession did so because of not enough focus on financial controls and managing every department well.

“With our franchises we look to new car, used car, service and parts opportunities. All represent profit opportunities for us. You cannot afford to take your eye off any of them,” he said.

“In 1974 I was running a Mann Egerton dealership with Austin Morris, Rover and Triumph when the recession hit and nobody came through the door for 10 consecutive days. You didn’t have contact trackers or the internet then. I was more relaxed through this last recession because 1974 was the toughest time ever experienced in the motor trade. With this latest one it has not been difficult to reposition our business and keep trading through it without financial losses.”

“We’ve never had a loss-making year since we started. We’re very fortunate to have four very strong franchises and fortunate to have first class staff.”

Funds to invest

Will he expand further? He admits to “informal talks” with all his manufacturer partners on how he could expand with them. “It’s a question of opportunity and viability. If the right one appears we will take that on and the same goes for considering other franchises. We have the funds.”

Sanders believes the initial impression on arrival at his businesses carries a lot of weight. Enter Brunel Close and before you appear modern, clean, welcoming separate showrooms for each franchise, each with its own workshop.

“Each franchise benefits by having its separate identity and providing a comprehensive service within one building,” he said. “We need to show the customer all the different services we can provide if we are to be successful in selling those services.”

Step change

Nevertheless, looking to the future of motor retail and the automotive sector generally, Sanders feels there is significant change coming. The franchised dealers’ business model will have to change in order to compete profitably.

 

“Manufacturers need to have a hard think about where they are going with corporate identity because the changes that have been made in franchise costs have got it to the level where it is barely viable. And you don’t need a 10-car showroom when no manufacturer has more than three core models in their range.

“We also have to get aftersales to the stage where we provide the right level of service without overcharging customers to cover these excessive levels of investment,” said Sanders.

Keep Sunday a fun day for staff

Drive through Kettering on a Sunday or Bank Holiday and you’ll not see a Richard Sanders Group dealership with its doors open.

It’s a practice which the group’s management believes leads to its success in recruiting and retaining more mature, experienced sales executives who either can’t or won’t give up their whole weekend any longer.

Sanders insists he has no fear of missed sales.

“We’ve been closing on Sundays for seven years – it’s not reinventing the wheel.”
The business recognises staff loyalty.

Service awards are presented to employees passing five, 10, 15 and 20 years with the group.

 

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