THE region's largest independent motor dealer says it is “upbeat” about its performance, despite battling against some tough headwinds in the consumer retail market.
Newcastle-based Benfield Motors said it had seen a decline in profits for the year ending December 31, 2011 as a result of rising costs and consumers reacting to the downward economic trend.
Despite this, its turnover was up by £35m over the year, and the car dealer continued its investment in growth with the acquisition of a £5m Ford dealership in Sunderland and a multimillion-pound buy-out of Audi dealership Colebrook and Burgess.
Benfield Motor Group chief executive Mark Squires said: “The middle half of last year was a difficult period for the industry overall, but if you look at the results across our sector we’re outperforming our peers. I’m actually quite upbeat about our results. We’re focused on delivering the best customer experience we can and, in 2010, we launched a new programme called Be Benfield, which has further strengthened the relationship we have with our customers.
“Customers are shifting increasingly to do their research online, so we have made significant investments in our website and, last year, launched our new revamped internet offering. We’ve also embraced social media as it has come of age and we’re therefore taking our customer feedback very seriously.
“The visitors to our website are up 53% this year, whereas they were pretty much flat last year. That speaks volumes about the investment we have made.
“Our corporate van division continues to grow – this year we’re up 23.5% against a market that is down nationally. Our positive results have been down to an enhanced customer experience, digital investment and a strong corporate division.”
The company saw turnover rise from £380m in 2010 to £415.5m in 2011. Pre-tax profit was down from £6m to £3.6m.
Squires said: “Our operating profits are down 31% from the year before, but if you compare that with our competitors, we’re actually in a very strong position.
“The previous two years have provided us with a tail wind, carrying us along with the scrappage scheme, low interest rates and none of the tax hikes we have now. All this, coupled with the rise in inflation, resulted in the pinch we started to feel last year.
“Turnover grew substantially due to the acquisition of the Jennings Ford franchise in Sunderland and an Audi dealership last year. We wouldn’t have made such significant investments if we didn’t have faith in the market going forward.
“If planning is approved we will start work on a brand new showroom at Jennings Ford at the beginning of next year which will cost us in the region of £5m.”
The acquisitions also boosted the number of employees in the group, which has dealerships in the North East, Cumbria, Yorkshire and South West Scotland. The 2011 period saw it increase its workforce from 1,181 to 1,500. Squires said the company will be creating more jobs in Sunderland once the Ford dealership is operating at full throttle.
He said: “As that business beds in we will undoubtedly begin to grow our workforce. We’ll be looking to grow our sales team and add further technicians to our books.”
The independent family-owned motor dealership was established in 1957 and is now one of the best-known motor retailers in the North East.
It has also grown to encompass dealerships across Yorkshire and recently opened the UK’s first stand-alone Maserati showroom.