Vic Young, owner of Vic Young in South Shields

Despite huge changes in the motor industry, Vic Young has stood firm as one of the UK's most successful independent Nissan dealerships. He tells Francesca Craggs about 40 years in the business and giving back to the community that's close to his heart

Vic Young, owner of Vic Young motor dealership in South Shields
Vic Young, owner of Vic Young motor dealership in South Shields

Would you rather buy a car from a complete stranger, or from someone that you know and like?

After 40 years in the motor trade, Vic Young knows only too well the answer to the question he poses.

Luckily he’s both well known (and well liked) and his 84.9% customer retention rate is no doubt testament to this.

South Shields born and bred, Vic launched the Nissan dealership in his home town almost four decades ago. His honest, straight-talking approach to the trade has seen the business grow to be one of the most successful independent car dealerships in the UK.

Vic said: “I was working for Vauxhall motors down in Luton as dealer management training manager for the whole of the UK and Europe. It got to the stage where I was spending more time away from home, than I was at home.

“I also saw how things were being done and thought, ‘I can do it better than that’.”

Young and ambitious, Vic decided to return to the North East and launch his very first dealership, specialising in vehicle repairs and used vehicle sales. Following a successful start, and relocation to Tudor Road, Vic was approached by Nissan to start selling their vehicles.

And when the Japanese car manufacturer set up its manufacturing plant in Washington in the early 1980’s, Vic was approached for his input both professionally and personally.

“I was asked to assist the Japanese community who came over to live and work here.

“You had a lot of people who were coming from Japan and the rest of the UK who had no contact here.

“I was asked to help so I advised people where to live and where to send their kids to school.

“We also set up a class in conjunction with Durham university where the Japanese ladies could learn English, as well as lessons for the children at Washington old hall.

“We also used to take the families out every fortnight on day trips. We are still in touch with many of the Japanese families, 30 years on.”

According to Vic, Nissan was, and still is, a great asset to the North East.

He said: “Nissan is very important for the region.

“When the Washington plant opened it sent a good message out to the rest of industry, in that we are a very flexible, proactive area, who have a huge source of labour that are willing and able to learn, and to adapt.”

Vic’s career in the motor trade began at the age of 15. Raised in a working-class part of the town, he was the youngest of seven children. He had hopes to continue his education, but was expected to find work, and landed his first job as an apprentice motor mechanic.

He said: “I didn’t go to college as I had to go out and get a job. I was the last one at home and my mother needed the money.

“I wanted to be an electronics engineer. However my mother said I can’t afford for you to go to college, you need to get a job.

“At that age I didn’t really want to know what I wanted to do. You have no real vision and you lived for the day. Then I thought I don’t want to do this, I want to further my education.”

And following a number of part-time courses, Vic did just that. He has a DMS from Durham University, and he is also a fellow of the Institute of Road Transport Engineers and the British Institute of Management. He has also taught part-time at Gateshead college in motorvehicle engineering, and done consultancy work for “motor industry guru” Ron Sewell.

“I always want to learn. The more you learn, the more you realise how little you know.”

Vic diversified the business to include Vic Young Motability and Northern Truck Bodies. Vic Young/NTB is the preferred supplier for body work with Nissan and does 99% of conversions across the UK.

Vic Young is one of only eight companies within Western Europe that have full Renault-Tec conversion approval, along with Nissan fully European type approval and VCA fully type approval.

Vic Young also worked with Gateshead college to design the very first course on the safe handling of electric vehicles.

The business has scooped a number of accolades including being crowned twice finalist in the prestigious national Motor Trader Industry Awards 2013, sponsored by the Sunday Times. It was also recently crowned winner of the Extra Mile Dealership Award at the prestigious national Disabled Motoring UK Awards 2013 in Warwickshire. The award recognised a dealership who delivers exemplary customer service to disabled people.

Vic impressed the judges with his level of service, care and support to customers with mobility requirements from adapting the access and facilities of his dealership and being part of the Motability sales training to supporting local charities and organisations.

He said: “I’m very honoured to have received this award.

“It is a fantastic achievement and a testament to our dedicated team who work hard to build long-standing relationships with our customers across the North East and UK.”

North Tyneside is close to Vic’s heart and he’s passionate about giving back to his local community. He has supported a number of charities, care homes and organisations for over 30 years, through raising money and donating specialist vehicles to help a wide range of people lead a fuller life.

Vic said: “We currently support Claire’s Hospice in Hebburn, as well as children’s hospice Grace House. I think local businesses have a moral obligation to support charities in your area. I’ve been very fortunate in that the people in the North East have been very supportive of me, and you should be prepared to give something back. “

Over the past four decades, Vic has seen dramatic changes in the industry. However a family ethos has always been at the heart of his business.

“Unfortunately there’s been a decline in the family business I’m sad to say. It’s a bit like the private shop and the supermarkets.

“But having said that, the motor trade is a very diverse industry, and instead of having a business that may have around two or three hundred customers, my database is over 15,000 people.

“We know quite a lot of them. Buying a car is a very personal thing. I’m now selling cars to the grandchildren of my original customers.”

And it’s not just his customers that Vic values. He prides himself on his low turnover of staff, many of whom are related to each other.

“My sales manager is a new starter – he’s only been with us for 20 years! I have three brothers working for me, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, brothers and brothers-in-laws. They all know each other.

“The staff turnover is very very small, and nobody is just a number.”

At the age of 67, retirement isn’t even on the horizon for Vic.

“I haven’t thought about retirement quite yet. I employ a lot of local people and I’m responsible for 50 families. That’s the difference.”

So what drives Vic both in life and in business? I get the satisfaction of the job and the golden rule is you always treat people the way you’d like to be treat yourself. We are informal in terms of our relationship with people, but a very professional operation. People love to come in as everyone is so friendly.

“I go into some dealerships and it’s nipping clean and they have their corporate tie on, and it’s dead. There’s no atmosphere. They forget the shortest distance between two people is a smile.”

Vic still lives in South Shields in the house he bought when I was 24. He’s been married to wife Alecia for 47 years, and their son and daughter currently work in the business. His passions outside work are rugby and skiing.

“I used to play rugby and I often sponsor Westoe rugby team. I now love skiing and the best holiday I’ve ever had recently was when I taught my granddaughter and goddaughters to ski. I love to spend time with the family and my ethos in life is to take every day as it comes.”

What car do you drive?
Nissan Qashqai.

What’s your favourite restaurant?
Romano’s, Front Street, Cleadon.

Who or what makes you laugh?
Ronnie Barker.

What’s your favourite book?

Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

What was the last album you bought?

Andrea Bocelli – Concerto, One Night in Central Park.

What’s your ideal job, other than the one you’ve got?

Ski Instructor.

If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say?

Put the kettle on.

What’s your greatest fear?
Don’t have one.

What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Treat people the way you would wish to be treat yourself. Proper planning prevents poor performance.

And the worst?
It cannot be done.

What’s your poison?
Beer.

What newspapers do you read, other than The Journal?
Financial Times, The Times, Telegraph.

How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
£2.50 as apprentice motor mechanic.

How do you keep fit?
Walking, skiing, exercise bike.

What’s your most irritating habit?
Not tolerating fools.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Looking after family and friends.

Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with or admire?

None.

Which famous people would you most like to dine with?

Jonny Wilkinson, as a keen rugby supporter and past player myself. Dr Christiaan Barnard, for performing the first heart transplant surgery. Dr Louis Pasteur who developed vaccine’s for cholera, TB, smallpox and rabies.

How would you like to be remembered?
For my social obligation to help people.

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