Driven to survive slowdown at SERE
Stanley Edgar tells Rebecca Kincade what SERE is doing to counter internet competition and a recession which seen sales in the car industry fall by 15-20%
A qualified pilot, an ultra-marathon runner and the unintentional owner of a highly successful business, Stanley Edgar, managing director of SERE is a man of great drive and many talents. His company is one of the most recognisable names on the “Motor Mile” of Boucher Road, employing more than 170 staff with two sites and a body shop to their name.
When Mr Edgar completed training for his pilot’s licence in 1990 he faced the first recession of his career. Airlines were going out of business and making cutbacks, which left few job opportunities for the newly qualified. Keen to forge a career for himself, Mr Edgar admits that he fell into selling cars “by accident”.
“I didn’t actually know what a recession was at the time so I guess you could say that I didn’t know any better than to get involved in the car industry. I had no experience with cars but began to sell a couple from our house and realised it was an easy way to make money. At the time I didn’t have any aspirations or great intentions for where I saw the company going.”
It turned out Mr Edgar was right not to get too worried about the recession as in 1993 he purchased his first site in Lisburn. The partnership between himself and his wife, Rosemary Edgar, proved to be a powerful combination. While he claims that he is always the first to take risks, his wife provides a level-headed balance and together they have guided the business through good and tough times.
“In the first six years after we opened, the company grew from £0 to £40m turnover. We became the first Northern Irish business to be recognised by the Sunday Times Fast Track award, which was a great achievement for us.”
While obviously possessing the ability and drive to grow the company, Mr Edgar is wary of allowing the media spotlight to fall on him as an individual, believing that pride often comes before a fall.
This is an unsurprising attitude for someone who openly admits to having been burned by the tough lessons of the business world in the past.
“At one point we had seven sites around Northern Ireland and eight or nine franchises. The skill set required to operate a company of this size was completely different and that, combined with some external factors, meant that we learned our lessons the hard way. We consolidated our management team, reduced site numbers and managed to survive through that difficult time.”
Several factors are changing the face of the car industry at the moment.
The first is that people used to shop around and visit several showrooms before making a decision on what car they wanted to buy. Now, with the internet, people can quickly search for want they want and only visit one specific dealer to get it. “While our footfall is down, our conversion into sales is up and this new generation of informed customers has actually worked in our favour. We do a price check three times a week on well-known websites because if we aren’t dropping our prices then people won’t come to our showrooms.”
This recession is proving to be an incredibly difficult time for the car industry with sales on new cars dropping between 15-20%. Those selling cars are also dealing with a change of mind set from their customers.
“People are buying cars because they have to, not because they want to. They only want to spend what they can afford and there isn’t as much fun involved in selling a car now. Cars are bought for practical purposes not for fun anymore. As we deal in mainly used cars we have been able to fit the changing needs of our customers.”
Mr Edgar says that as a company they have had to make changes to survive through the recession. If an action is viewed as not essential then it is simply not done.
“We would have historically been focused on chasing sales to maintain profits but now we work on ways to cut costs. While we still progressively market our business we are very careful to monitor what works and what doesn’t. If it isn’t going to bring a customer into our showrooms then we just don’t do it.”
With two new Chevrolet cars destined for SERE over the next few months, one hybrid and one luxury, Mr Edgar is ensuring that his company are ready to meet the needs of all his customers. SERE is standing strong through the recession while other dealers are being forced to shut up shop and this is without doubt in part down to the determination and drive of their managing director. After all, we are talking about someone who considers it a “fun challenge” to run a 250km endurance marathon across the Sahara.