Belfast Telegraph

One thousand reasons to buy a car from these two

By Paul Gosling

It is a time for celebration for North Down Motors - it is now five years since the business opened and it is about to sell its 1,000th car.

Brothers Ian and Jonathan Davidson have no regrets about setting-up their used car dealership, which is situated on the main Bangor to Newtownards road.

Ian had been the manager for two major car dealerships, but was aware of what he regarded as a gap in the market for a medium sized operation.

"They were all big dealers - no one was doing 30 or 40 cars," said Ian. But setting up in business with brother Jonathan was almost an accident.

"I was to go into partnership with another guy, but he pulled out a week before [we were due to open]," recalled Ian. "My brother was just about to get married when he lost his job."

So the coincidence of the two events meant it was the two brothers who opened up the business. However, Jonathan had never been in the car trade before.

"He was in the financial services industry, which is relevant in the car trade," explained Ian.

North Down Motors opened before the financial crisis hit and at that time about half the sales were part-financed on credit arranged through the dealership. Now it is only about a quarter of the transactions that use loan finance.

"People who are buying cars at the moment are pretty much cash rich," said Ian. Many of the buyers are civil servants or other public servants.

Not surprisingly, the recession has had other effects on the business. "We sold 250 used cars in our first year and our sales would have been well over a million," Ian recalled.

"Now we sell about 200 cars a year and our turnover is around a million. So our turnover is down by around £300,000 from where it would have been.

"But the profit margins have risen, because there is a lack of good car stock. People are not buying new cars, so used cars are not coming onto the market. More bad cars are coming on the market!"

By sticking to their market position of quality new cars, North Down Motors is currently doing very well. They have gradually built-up stock levels, gained a reputation for service and standards and have just had their strongest trading quarter for three years - doubling their sales in the last quarter compared to the same period last year.

Today the businesses comprises the brothers and two full time employees - a car valet and also their father, who acts as the business's 'runner', driving customers around. In addition, there are seven part-time staff.

Plans are being worked on for the future of the business, which will probably lead to an increased stock of cars and a workshop facility to prepare cars for sale.

"We have thought a few times about running a workshop, but we have been put off by employment law, staff holidays and so on," explained Ian.

"It would involve £15,000 to £20,000 set-up costs. In today's market, that is not a sensible move.

"At some point we will have to open up a workshop. But we would have to set up the right computer system. And maybe we will extend our stock."

The brothers are thinking of increasing the used cars stocked from 35-40 cars, to 40- 50 cars.

The Davidson brothers are keen to expand, but are determined to do so in a planned and sensible way.