Yorkshire-based Meridian Motor Group went through an intense burst of activity last year, making seven acquisitions in one six-week period alone.
Those acquisitions boosted turnover to more than £150 million from just over £100m, sent the group, which trades as Vantage, into the AM100 for the first time and took annual car sales to more than 10,000.
As if the sheer increase in size wasn’t enough to cause sleepless nights, the expansion also saw three new marques added to the business – Honda, Kia and Lexus – joining main brand partner Toyota, Citroën and Hyundai.
Meridian Motor Group trades as Vantage out of its Harrogate base. It has 19 sales points – 10 Toyota, four Hyundai, two Citroën and one each of Kia, Honda and Lexus – at 17 locations
The 2014 buying activity was called a transitional phase by the group and included the purchase of Barnsley Honda, Sytner’s four West Midlands Lexus and Toyota dealerships and Batemans Toyota in the Lake District. It also developed a new Kia site in Scarborough.
The business was started in 2003 by Mark Robinson, who has worked for Sandicliffe, Pendragon and Lookers. Turnover has risen from £14m in 2003 to £105m in 10 years, profit before tax £102,000 to £811,000, return on sale is now at 0.8% and return on capital employed at 9.8%.
Understandably, such a buying spree is being followed by a settling-in period of consolidation, integration and a determination to see attractive returns on a considerable investment.
Mark Robinson, Meridian’s founder and managing director, spoke to AM to put the growth into context and explain how he and his staff will unite the business under the Vantage brand.
He is keen to emphasise that it is not all about growth.
“Our number one priority is not to be the biggest; we want to be the best. This is an easy thing to say, but we can be very specific about its meaning – to be upper quartile in everything we do, measured against our peers.”
Robinson acknowledges this is a work in progress and the company has “a long way to go”.
The second priority, he said, is to maintain the company’s status as a privately owned, medium-sized regional group representing a “sensible-sized” number of brands that themselves have a UK growth plan.
The self-imposed limitation on growth reflects the management ethos Robinson wants.
“We would stop being a medium-sized group if I had to put in another tier of management. I’m a hands-on retailer and I don’t think I’d be able to maintain the same level of control, with the same level of strategic direction,” he said.
Vantage’s board comprises four directors: Robinson is MD; Phil White, who previously ran the National Express Group and is Lookers’ chairman, is non-executive chairman (the pair are also joint owners on a 70:30 split); Tim Swindin is financial director; and Andrew Mallory is operations director.
The acquisition activity has seen the addition below the board of a franchise director, Jon Banner, responsible for the Toyota and Lexus businesses. He was previously general manager of network development at Toyota GB.
Andy McGevor has overall responsibility for Hyundai in the group, the second-largest brand represented after Toyota.