Driving ambition to expand

ONE of the North-East’s best known motor dealerships is set to expand after turning down a tempting takeover offer.

ONE of the North-East’s best known motor dealerships is set to expand after turning down a tempting takeover offer.

The Washington-based Springfield Motor Group, which has six dealerships and a body shop in the region, has unveiled an ambitious 50% growth target over the next five years.

This follows a prolonged period of uncertainty earlier this year when Springfield chairman Ron Price mulled over a tempting offer to buy the business.

Mr Price said that when the books were being examined during the takeover approach a number of areas were identified for improvement.

He said: "Despite all the uncertainty and disruption that goes with takeover talk, we lost only one of our 210 people during that period.

"Once the deal was called off, I got so many messages of support from the staff that convinced me I was making the right decision.

"We have now put together an ambitious growth plan – a 50% increase in turnover over the next five years – and an absolute minimum 2% return on that turnover."

Finance director Mario Fantin helped persuade Mr Price to maintain Springfield’s independence by identifying several areas where the business could improve productivity and profitability without the need for costly capital investment.

Mr Fantin said: "The focus in a business like this has to be about sales, but unless you analyse and understand the value of those sales thoroughly, you really don’t know exactly how the company is performing.

"The new controls we put in place also showed us that there was far more potential in the used vehicles and after sales sides of the business and we’ve really got to grips with these areas now too.

"The net result is that we’ve dramatically improved our profit margins and cash flow, freeing up additional money for investment which will further strengthen the business."

With a new board in place, Springfield says it has returned its best ever first quarter results this year and at the half year the figures remained impressive.

Sales of £80m are expected this year, with a five-year plan to take that to £120m.

Springfield has several new projects in the pipeline, with work under way on a new showroom for the company’s Fiat franchise in Gateshead, to operate alongside Citroen and Suzuki outlets on the same site.

And the company’s relationship with Honda continues to expand, with Springfield having enjoyed sole dealer status with the Japanese company in Durham and Tyne & Wear since 2003.

Four dealerships are now operational, and a fifth is planned for the east side of Newcastle, but Springfield won’t yet reveal where this will be.

The executive team is also planning to invest in a commercial vehicle centre in Washington, close to the A1 and A19.

Mr Price said: "I know we can do it. We have the foundation on which to build and above all we have the people to deliver."

Peter Vardy Ltd, the car dealing business set up by Sir Peter Vardy’s son – also called Peter – were believed to have shown an interest in taking over Springfield.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer