Prior to expansion, Robinson and Mallory had managed the business between them, with White a sounding board, an experienced business leader sitting in a sort of Dragon’s Den, who kept everyone on their toes.
“But buying businesses is the easy bit,” Robinson emphasised. “Integrating them and injecting your DNA into a business is a lot more difficult.”
Vantage’s Birmingham businesses are a case in point. Robinson’s initial goal when establishing Vantage was “10 dealerships in 10 years”. All had to be within a maximum 90-minute drive from Harrogate, Vantage’s headquarters and where White and Robinson live.
“It’s a great, central hub for Vantage, with our borders drawn between Scotland, south Yorkshire and Manchester and Derbyshire,” said Robinson.
The three Toyota businesses in the Birmingham area clearly fall outside this 90-minute ‘inclusion zone’.
“We broke our rule because as the UK’s second city, it provides a massive opportunity with a brand that has the potential to be in the top five for market share. The cost of entry for those businesses was sensible – it didn’t stretch the group financially,” said Robinson.
Integration was even more critical because of the geographic ‘stretch’. To cope, in this case – and more broadly in an expanding business – a central services team was created. It consists of the four directors, centralised accounts and marketing teams, a group aftersales manager, group used car buyer and a sales development manager, responsible for ensuring financial regulatory compliance, acknowledging the importance of PCP deals to the business and FCA regulation on the sector as a whole.
This central services team has enabled Vantage to integrate businesses effectively, particularly Birmingham, and manage the group efficiently.
Vantage’s ‘three pillars’ for acquiring motor businesses
The first challenge of integrating a business, Robinson said, has been building a relationship with the newly acquired leadership team, typically inherited under TUPE – Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) – regulations.
“We talk to everyone in the new business to establish whether, primarily, are they like us? Are they flexible, adaptable and willing to embrace change? We don’t buy a business to do nothing with it – so are these people prepared for an evolution in the way they work?”
This is one of ‘three pillars’ Robinson looks for in each acquired business. The other two are identifying specialists, whether sales staff, all-rounders in sales process, communication and marketing, or technicians skilled in diagnostics, and encouraging them to share their skills with the less able. The third is being inspirational, whatever you do in the business.
So what is an example of something that epitomises the ‘Vantage way’?