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

According to White, it can be all too easy for a business to grow by acquisition before it is ready and lose the family-owned focus to customer service.

He said: “It’s very easy to grow a business through acquisition, but when you look at infrastructure within the business like systems, those areas grow much slower so you have to make sure you are built to be able to handle it. 

"If you don’t do it that way, that’s when you start running into problems with the way the business is run.”

Vantage has reached heads of agreement on a major acquisition in the Midlands which will be announced shortly.

Robinson said: “It’s the easiest thing in the world to buy a business, but integrating it within a group is the real challenge.”

White added: “It’s not the price you pay, it’s what you do with that business afterwards that really matters.”

The geographical challenge

Robinson and White admit that expanding out to the Midlands is right on the boundary of how far it will be willing to expand beyond its Yorkshire base.

Robinson said: “We always said we would only have businesses that were less than one-and-a-half hours drive time from the hub. 

"If there’s something wrong, we can reach that business very quickly. These acquisitions do push that boundary to about two hours.

“The M42 corridor is probably the border of where we can push to and make it work going south and the Scottish border would probably be the maximum distance north.

“If you think of all the major conurbations within that geographical area it’s a huge opportunity.”

By the end of the summer, Vantage will represent five manufacturers, including Toyota and Lexus. Robinson has also exchanged terms of agreement on some land to build a new Hyundai showroom in Stockport.

Robinson said: “We have an awful lot of work to do to integrate what we already have before we start looking to pick up more beyond what we have planned.”

White said: “I think we’ve needed this 10-year time scale to prove that we can deliver before taking this next step. 

"We’re not just a short-term player.”

Retaining customers with service plans and PCPs

Vantage was an early adopter of service plans, first offering the product in 2004, and the business now has a pool of 7,000 customers active with service plans.
The group used Emac until 2012 before switching to eDynamics which was a new entrant in the market.
Mark Robinson said: “eDynamics is run by someone I knew and it was a product which we felt was more advanced and flexible so we switched.
“Our service plan business has paid dividends. 
"The whole objective with that product is to retain customers and eventually renew them into new cars.”
Vantage’s customer retention strategy also relies heavily on PCP (personal contract purchase) with 80% of new car sales at the group purchased with the product.
Robinson believes the product is so popular with the group’s customers because it makes sense.
“If I was buying a new car I would use a PCP too,” he said. 
“Toyota in particular woke up to the PCP opportunity a number of years ago and has built upon it really well.
“We’re not reliant on self-registrations for the business to perform. 
"We’re over-achieving new car sales objectives and we’ve improved customer satisfaction dramatically in the time we have owned the business.
“There’s still a lot more to do with it.”

Corporate social responsibility

Mark Robinson stresses the point that while a lot of businesses will talk about corporate social responsibility, very rarely is it followed through.
He said: “We want to become locally leading in each of our markets with
"Corporate citizenship is important to us because we take quite a bit out of the local communities and we’d like to put something back again.
“We are inundated with people approaching us for sponsorship for this and that.
"I took a step back from that a couple of years ago and became quite tired of it because we could never get properly involved.
“It would be far better for us to embrace one worthy cause and create something special within the business.”
The group has been supporting St Michael’s Hospice in Harrogate for a number of years and signed up to become one of the charity’s Guild of Patrons. 
There is a financial commitment involved but it enabled Vantage to focus its efforts in an area it believes it can really make a big difference.
Robinson said: “Unfortunately we have lost members within our team to cancer over the past couple of years so we have positioned this very carefully within the business. 
"Even though it’s a Harrogate-based charity, the teams feel like they are supporting something worthwhile.”
Robinson was appointed to the board of trustees 18 months ago. 
There have been other worthy causes in each of Vantage’s other markets too, so the group developed a community drive programme.
It puts a fixed pot of money in each dealership for worthy causes and local charities can apply for part of the fund. 
It’s voted for by the local community to decide which causes are awarded the money. 
It gets local people in the community involved with making a decision on how Vantage can help.

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