60th celebration for Randles
O NE of the city's longest established dealerships celebrates its 60th anniversary this month with a history that has seen it go through many twists and turns, but which is today a thriving, multi-site business.
Randles was started on December 3, 1952 by keen racing driver and businessman, Jos Randles, with two garages, one in Campbell Road, Stoke, and another in Wharf Street with the franchise for Vauxhall, Hillman, Singer and Lotus but when the Wharf Street site was compulsorily purchased in 1974 to make way for the A500 Jos stepped back to allow his son and daughter, Tim and Zoe, to take over the reins.
That was when current day Randles Group managing director, Phil Wade, joined the company as a buyer and two years later, on June 1, he became sales director and Zoe the managing director as Tim embarked on another career. Phil says: "Tim was a very keen guitarist and went to join Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. A couple of years later Zoe left to spend more time with her family and I'm happy to say that she remains as company secretary and we still get on well together.''
During 1970s the business added to its sportscar portfolio by taking on TVR, Maserati and Reliant and in 1979 it began a long term relationship with Suzuki when Phil signed to take on the franchise at the Motor Show in November.
By the early 1980s Randles was doing well with Lotus and was being pushed to develop bigger premises so it bought and developed a site at Pool Dam, Newcastle, but was then terminated as a dealer.
Phil says: "We built this new showroom to accommodate Lotus and Suzuki but then Lotus dumped us, because the new sales director decided that Stoke-on-Trent was not the right place for the brand. At the time we were the second biggest Lotus dealer in the UK!''
The company then bought the Higherland Garages' Vauxhall business and in just four years grew it from £3 million to £15 million – "that was a huge turnaround'' – but in July 1999 was forced to sell it to Hanley-based Greenhous. Phil says: "That was when manufacturers were developing a hub-and-spoke system and we happened to be three miles from the biggest Vauxhall dealer in the UK so had no choice but to sell it to them.''
Never one to take defeat lying down Phil then masterminded a move to buy three Suzuki dealerships from ex-bike racer Percy Tait in Alcester, Worcester and Kidderminster. "After the Vauxhall sale I needed a new challenge and so we bought these three sites and with those and Newcastle we accounted for five per cent of all Suzuki UK's sales.''
However Phil saw the gathering economic storm and in 2005 he sold the three dealerships to generate a hefty cash reserve. He says: "We anticipated the recession in 2005. We had a choice of either developing the Suzuki site with a brand new showroom or battening down the hatches. We didn't think there was enough profit to spend £4 million or so on a new showroom so we stepped back and sold the three sites which gave us a war chest to go into and survive the recession.''
As others failed Randles survived and on December 23, 2008, took over the Peugeot dealership at Stafford. "It was marvellous to stand there and tell the 40 staff their jobs were safe. I treasure that memory.''
The next stage of the Randles story is slightly ironic because on the back of its success at Stafford Peugeot asked it to take over the loss making Greenhous Peugeot site at Etruria. Phil says: "I really pushed to get the deal tied up by July 1, 2009 because that would have been 10 years to the day since we had to sell Vauxhall to them but it did not quite work out but at least it is now making money.''
Coming up to the present day Randles bought the former VW/Audi dealership opposite the Festival Park flyover last October and re-opened it as the new premises for Suzuki this February and it also took on the Chinese brand, Great Wall. Next year Randles will open a used car supermarket and Phil says he has eyes on taking over another car business.
Today Randles employs 118 people and has a turnover approaching £40 million. In his time with the company Phil has seen many changes, not least of which is the return – "In 1980 we made an average profit of £1,180 per unit, but today it is around half that, sometimes less, so we have to work twice as hard!
"But what gets me out of bed is training the staff, Randles-ising them if you like, to make them so customer focused that they instinctively treat customers as they would like their family to be treated.''
He adds: "This industry is never still, it's always changing and what worked yesterday might not be any good tomorrow so you always have to look ahead. There are always new challenges and I like that. We would just like to thank everyone who has supported out business over the last 60 years and here's to the next."