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Dealer profile: Stephen James Group

Ben Collins has clear views on three important aspects of managing an AM100 business.

In his case that’s Stephen James Group, which holds BMW and Mini franchises at three locations in Greater London and one in north Kent.

First, the managing director insists who is boss in discussions with the group chairman (who agrees).

That’s essential, because the chairman is his father Duncan who used to sit in the MD hot seat.

Most of their discussions about business prospects are during a fortnightly game of golf.

Second, Ben Collins has no aspirations to grow the family business for the sake of it.

“Six years ago I wanted 10 sites by the time I was 40,” said the 34-year-old.

“Now I want our four sites to have the best people offering the best service – our focus is on quality.”

But if BMW should ever put a proposal on his desk to add an adjoining territory, it would be considered.

Third, Ben Collins runs the business according to the Christian values of honesty and integrity he shares with his father. Their dealerships do not open on Sundays.

Five core values are the backbone of a 126-page booklet, which all members of staff are expected to respect. Living the values’ applies whether they have a different faith, or none.

Collins is a hands-on manager with the final say on every staff appointment, from car valeter to a dealer principal.

“This means I can never tell anyone in the business ‘I wouldn’t have taken on him or her’”, he acknowledges.

“I ask people applying for a job what they know about Stephen James and form an impression of them.”

His business reacted swiftly to the financial crash in the spring of 2008.

Like most dealer groups Stephen James went through the pain of cutting jobs – 60 full-time posts were cut from around 363 in the April of that year.

The total is now 291 and has not climbed back.

“The way BMW UK helped the network with stocking support in 2008 and 2009 made a tremendous difference and got us through the crisis,” said Collins.

“We broke even in 2008 and were back in profit in 2009.”

In 2008 Stephen James’ total new and used car sales slumped to fewer than 4,000, but by 2011 bounced back to 4,818.

This year they are budgeted to rise to 5,075.

Collins said competition was intense for sales of new German premium cars in 2012. “BMW is holding the line,” he said.

“It has provided support, but not to the same extent as Mercedes-Benz and Audi, which was forcing the market in the first few months of the year.”

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  • Vincent mcDonnell - 23/05/2013 13:08

    Why are Stephen James not informing there customers about the cloning of car keys that enables thieves to steal cars. Even when cars are being serviced its not being brought to there attention that keys can be upgraded. Why is its the customers responsibility to ask?

    • Jeff Dixon - 14/07/2013 14:54

      @Vincent mcDonnell - The owner shouldn't rely on the dealership to think of everything for you. Take some responsibity yourself and get in the real world. Next you will be asking the dealership to tell you when your road tax or insurance is about to expire!!

  • Karen Burgess - 13/11/2013 19:44

    I have purchased three new cars over the past 7years fron Stephen James unfortunatley this company is so busy selling cars that they no longer need my business I have had calls not returned , my husband has been contacted when it is me who was trying to by a new car. I have been made to feel that i am a mear woman . I would like to surggest that the sales team attended customer service courses. It has been over a week and still just excuses why no one has spoken to me Expected so much more from this company.