Growing consumer confidence has driven up sales at North East motor group Benfield which has posted turnover of £622.4m for 2013 – a rise of 15% year on year.
UK demand for both new and used cars began rising in 2012 and never hit the brakes last year, helping to boost turnover at Newcastle-headquartered Benfield from the £541m recorded in 2012.
Operating profit at the firm, which employs 1,500 people across 38 dealerships in the North East, Yorkshire, Cumbria and South West Scotland, also soared by 93%, from £4.7m to £9.1m, while pre-tax profits more than doubled in the period, jumping from £3.1m to £7.3m.
As well as taking advantage of a bumper time for customer confidence, chief executive Mark Squires said the firm’s successful year has also been driven by heavy investments into customer-focused strategies, as well as a £20m capital expenditure programme. The investments are also expected to raise sales again this year.
Squires said: “Sales have now returned to the levels we were enjoying back in 2005 before the recession, a time of prosperity.
“On the back of a strengthening rate the UK will continue to be an attractive market – it’s a good time for the customer and the market is also being buoyed by some great finance-led offers.
“We’re predicting 2014 to be a better year still. Figures from the first half of the year has given us cause to have great confidence in our business. During the first six months new retail sales are 18% up and used car retail sales are 6% and total sales are up 11% year to date.”
While it’s evident that consumer confidence is on the up, with sales of new and used cars up nationally – 10.77% within the new car market across the UK – customers are becoming increasingly savvy, thanks to mobile phone, laptop and tablet technology, creating a competitive market where delivering a good, all-round customer experience is key.
“I think the group has continued to go from strength to strength within the market, which is strengthening all the time,” said Squires, “And we are making the most of opportunities presented with customer-centric strategies. We have put a lot into training and development around our culture, to give our customers the best experience we can.
“Customers are increasingly doing research online before they come to us, and we are very proud of our digital capability. For instance, we were voted best desktop website in the motor industry Autotrader Awards, which is voted for by the customers.
“We have also put a great deal of investment and indeed a new organisational structure to further advance the corporate division and we are seeing sales growth in that area too.”
As well as beefing up consumer-led strategies, the firm has made heavy investments into its growing dealership portfolio, which has been bolstered this year by the opening of a £5.8m Ford dealership in Sunderland and a £7m Audi dealership on Newcastle’s Scotswood Road.
The capital expenditure programme is set to continue over the next two years, which will also lead to the creation of jobs, although Squires couldn’t disclose numbers as yet.
He added: “We have a big capital expenditure programme and that’s continuing. We’re going to be building and updating many of our facilities and also make investments in our systems, as well as our management development and people development, so we are making significant investments.
“We employ 1,500 people at the moment but with organic growth we need to employ more people, so we will be taking on more technicians and admin staff.”