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Face to face: Relationships key to Vantage’s growth plans

Block exemption rules have not hindered growth plans

Robinson has been involved with the working group to develop Toyota’s new dealer contracts and how those might change under a general block exemption. 

Toyota has involved the network with a “strong consultation” with dealers on the changes to the new centre agreements and standards.

He said: “Dual franchising is never going to be a preference, but Toyota is open to it provided certain conditions are met. 

"Brand separation floor to ceiling is required, but there’s nothing under a general block exemption which worries us as a group.

“If anything, I think the new rules have made things a lot clearer on what we can and can’t do which helps us plan for the future.”

There has been much commentary about how new general block exemption rules will hand more power to manufacturers to control business relationships and group expansion by having the power to veto any changes of ownership or acquisitions, but Robinson believes this has been blown out of proportion.

White agrees: “The manufacturers have always had a lot of power and if you fell out with them before you wouldn’t have much of a business left really. It’s the same with Lookers. 

"You have to understand what your stakeholders really want from you and that hasn’t changed.”

Preparing a business for growth

White believes that while the business has now reached 10 years it is still in its infancy. 

As the business takes steps to grow, these plans have certainly not been rushed through. 

Focusing on making sure the funds and infrastructure is in place is essential before acquiring more sites.

White said: “We have a reasonably strong balance sheet. 

"It could be stronger, but we’re a private business so we have to rely on our own internally-generated funds to make our growth plans happen.

“We don’t have a rich parent like some of our competition so we have to rely on ourselves and our relationships with our manufacturers, suppliers and banking partners.”

The group is ambitious, but increasing its portfolio of brands and sites must be controlled.

White said: “We have a strong board, which is not only Mark and myself but we have two strong executive directors who specialise in finance and operations. 

"We could all probably be working for much larger companies, but we’re focused on developing something which is our own and developing that over time rather than exposing ourselves to risks we can’t manage.

“One thing I have learned about business and our business in particular is that you have to expand in a very controlled way. The quality of service you offer must be maintained because if you grow you can quickly lose that.”

Vantage currently has businesses it can easily touch and feel every day and it wants to make sure any growth won’t impact heavily upon that way of working.

White said: “We have spent a lot of time planning this so we can make sure we can get the right sort of deals for the right prices in the right locations where we can still physically manage them.

“You never know what the optimum size is until you go beyond it and by then it’s too late. 

"We’re not afraid of size or growth and provided we have the right team I wouldn’t be afraid of doubling the size of the business in the next 10 years to a group of 20 sites.”

Robinson is also confident that now is the right time to push forwards with leaders in each dealership which drive, love and own their business.

He said: “Knowing we have the right people in place enables us to go to bed at night and sleep.

“We want to remain privately owned and keep the management structure as flat as possible.

"I think the danger you have when you grow is you end up putting too many tiers of management in place and you lose control of what’s going on.”

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