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Face to face: Milcars puts used car sales first

The Mazda brand has been struggling in the UK with a lack of product to compete with mainstream rivals in recent years, but it didn’t stop specialist Milcars Mazda from walking away with two AM Awards this year.

The single site operation in Watford is one of the largest for Mazda in Europe and beat top dealerships in the UK to win Excellence in Aftersales and Best Used Car Performance at the AM Awards 2013. The awards are the result of its tight focus on retaining long-term customers.

The family-owned business is led by Chris Ward, who trained on a BMW management programme in the business his father owned. An MBA with an automotive bias at Cardiff Business School under Professor Garel Rhys provided a further underpinning for what was to come.

Ward worked within the family business before breaking out on his own in 2005 to open his own site with Mazda.

Tony Thomas has worked for the family business for more than 30 years and until very recently was general manager at Milcars Mazda. He is now retired but comes in on an ad hoc basis to work with Ward to assist with managing the business.

Like the majority of UK dealerships, Milcars reacted to the financial downturn in 2008 and restructured the business. This coincided with Mazda’s gradual downturn in volumes. Ward said: “I looked at the business and believed we needed to shift our reliance on new car sales. We were already very strong with aftersales.”

And it was used cars which provided the biggest opportunity. This focus led to the doubling of its used car sales figures without sacrificing margin.

Ward removed the role of sales manager and employed new and used car managers to make sure each area of the business had dedicated focus.

He said: “Used car manager Phil Marks understands the profiling of the local market. He doesn’t chase to get stock; he’ll get it well priced.”

The business has an average stock holding of 45 used cars with a typical turnover within 35 days, achieving strong profit and ensuring cash is ready to buy replacements.

Milcars’s ratio of used to new sales was already strong in 2011, but improved in the second half of 2012 to 2.2 used to every one new.

Finding stock has been challenging. It is sourced through a variety of channels. A primary source is customers’ own cars which Milcars will pay a premium for. It offers cash purchases to customers towards the end of their finance agreements.

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