Let’s make a deal

Like any young man, cars were al­ways some­thing that in­ter­ested Nick Strauss. His pas­sion for cars, com­bined with his love of sales, which de­vel­oped through the famed fam­ily busi­ness, Forges of Footscray, cul­mi­nated in Nick forg­ing his own path in the car

Business First - - CONTENTS -

– Like any young man, cars were al­ways some­thing that in­ter­ested Nick Strauss. His pas­sion for cars, com­bined with his love of sales, which de­vel­oped through the famed fam­ily busi­ness, Forges of Footscray, cul­mi­nated in Nick forg­ing his own path in the car in­dus­try. Nick is now he owner of the Ber­wick Mo­tor Group (BMG). He speaks with Jonathan Jack­son about am­bi­tions and what it means to own and run a suc­cess­ful mo­tor ve­hi­cle dealer group.

Forges of Footscray was once a Mel­bourne in­sti­tu­tion. In its century-long his­tory it built a rep­u­ta­tion as a busi­ness built for the people: a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant trait in an area that has al­ways been in­dus­trial work­ing class. There was a lot to be learnt from Forges be­fore it we sold: the way it con­ducted busi­ness, treated staff, pre­sented to cus­tomers and not least the way in which it stood firm as a Depart­ment Store as large com­peti­tors sprouted around. The com­pany was even­tu­ally sold to Dim­meys, an­other iconic brand that has also dis­ap­peared from the radar, but that his­tory pro­vided an im­por­tant role in Nick Strauss’s busi­ness foun­da­tions.

When you speak with Nick you get the feel­ing that he has taken many of the above traits to heart. He had even com­pleted a two-year Re­tail Man­age­ment course at the fa­mous Har­rods Store of Lon­don, as a path­way to take over Forges. That busi­ness was sold in 1987 and the hand-over never oc­curred, how­ever Nick gained fur­ther ground­ing as part of the start-up team at Gaz­man from 1989 to 1992.

Fol­low­ing his ten­ure with Gaz­man, Nick found him­self within the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try and knew this was where he would build his fu­ture.

“It wasn’t un­til I joined Fowles Auc­tion Group in 1993 that I be­gan to see an op­por­tu­nity present it­self. Ever since that mo­ment, I’ve lived and breathed any­thing au­to­mo­tive and de­vel­oped a real pas­sion for cars and the auto in­dus­try. Be­ing the hu­man sponge that I am I kept learn­ing all the facets of our in­dus­try and what seemed to make the in­dus­try tick.”

Fowles Auc­tion Group was an­other with a long his­tory in vol­ume sales and cus­tomer ser­vice. While there were many lessons to be learnt at Forges, it is the train­ing he re­ceived and the re­la­tion­ship build­ing skills that came from the auc­tion gi­ant that gave him the in­dus­try spring­board per­spec­tive.

“Be­ing my first foray into the au­to­mo­tive world, it def­i­nitely opened my eyes. My big­gest les­son, which I still re­fer to to­day, al­ways comes back to de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with ev­ery­one you meet and deal with. Ev­ery re­la­tion­ship you build, no mat­ter how small, cre­ates life long op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

And Nick wasn’t afraid to make the most of his op­por­tu­ni­ties. He pushed bound­aries. He made sure he was do­ing more than the guy sit­ting next to him and he lis­tened to his men­tor; one of his early man­agers who helped Nick

“I’m never too proud to hear great ideas, feed­back or ad­vice from any­one. Ev­ery­one has an idea and suc­cess­ful lead­ers don’t sit on the fence, we make de­ci­sions based on facts and in­for­ma­tion. With­out that you’re sim­ply trav­el­ling in the dark.”

take the next step to se­nior man­age­ment and busi­ness own­er­ship.

That men­tor taught Nick to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties and un­der­stand when an op­por­tu­nity pre­sents it­self, then shape it to pro­vide an ex­pe­ri­ence like no other.

“Still to this day, I pride my­self on lis­ten­ing: two ears, one mouth. It was one of my first lessons from a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man.”

An­other les­son was that, in any busi­ness, com­pla­cency is a quick killer. To avoid com­pla­cency it is im­per­a­tive to chal­lenge your team and ques­tion your own ef­fort ev­ery day. This re­quires lis­ten­ing to staff.

“I’m never too proud to hear great ideas, feed­back or ad­vice from any­one. Ev­ery­one has an idea and suc­cess­ful lead­ers don’t sit on the fence, we make de­ci­sions based on facts and in­for­ma­tion. With­out that you’re sim­ply trav­el­ling in the dark.”

This phi­los­o­phy led him to the po­si­tion of sales man­ager and then gen­eral man­ager of Noel Gould Holden/South City Holden. Yet he sees his first big break as the op­por­tu­nity to buy eq­uity at North­ern Mo­tor Group in Bun­doora.

Tak­ing all that he had learnt and com­bin­ing those lessons with his own am­bi­tious traits he built North­ern into a dom­i­nant multi-fran­chised car deal­er­ship com­pris­ing Nis­san, Kia and Chrysler brands Jeep and Dodge.

Dur­ing his 10 years as di­rec­tor, the com­pany grew to em­ploy over 100 staff and had an an­nual turnover in ex­cess of $100m.

Nick sold his share­hold­ing in Novem­ber 2012 and pur­chased Cly­de­vale Aus­tralia P/L now known as Ber­wick Mo­tor Group. To­day, BMG em­ploys over 200 staff and has an an­nual turnover in ex­cess of $170 mil­lion.

The growth is due to sev­eral el­e­ments, not least Nick’s lead­er­ship abil­i­ties.

“I try to be a very down to earth CEO and love to min­gle with my staff and help to de­velop the next gen­er­a­tion of elite sales people. When I can, I still love to meet our cus­tomers on the show­room floor. This helps me keep my feet well and truly on the ground. It’s what my busi­ness is about and I like to re­mind my­self that’s what I’m about.”

Trust in busi­ness is also a key com­po­nent to de­vel­op­ing a suc­cess­ful com­pany.

“My team has my full con­fi­dence to make de­ci­sions and im­ple­ment their own ideas, which al­lows me to fo­cus and over­see the busi­ness’s fu­ture di­rec­tion and is­sues at hand.”

There are 10 brands over six lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing Chrysler, Al­pha Romeo, Fiat, Nis­san, Kia, Great Wall and Suzuki. BMG sell new and pre-owned cars and of­fer ser­vice and parts and ve­hi­cle fi­nance. They also look af­ter large fleet com­pa­nies. There’s a lot to man­age, but Nick has put a team in place that en­sures man­age­ment is flu­ent.

Flu­ency comes with great com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It builds in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal re­la­tion­ships, which is vi­tally im­por­tant when you are deal­ing with car man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and be­ing in­volved with your part­ners is a key to suc­cess. A lot of the other car deal­er­ships do what they do and that’s about it. How­ever, with­out a healthy re­la­tion­ship nei­ther of us have a busi­ness. I have spent a lot of time work­ing with the man­u­fac­tur­ers on im­prov­ing the way we part­ner each other, in­clud­ing chair­ing a num­ber of coun­cils.

“We need to con­tinue to work to­gether. The his­tory of man­u­fac­tur­ers dic­tat­ing how a deal­er­ship should run their day-to- day busi­ness has hope­ful-

ly long gone, and I would like to think I have had a lit­tle bit to do with that. I have al­ways pro­vided feed­back – good or bad – and ad­vice to the man­u­fac­tur­ers from a re­tail per­spec­tive to help steer the in­dus­try and in­form the way it cur­rently op­er­ates.”

One thing that Nick feels sep­a­rates him from most other deal­ers is his em­brace of new ideas and ini­tia­tives. He says man­u­fac­tur­ers re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate this open­ness and are will­ing to go the ex­tra mile for BMG.

Nick is known for be­ing in­no­va­tive within the in­dus­try and is never sat­is­fied. He feels there is al­ways some­thing BMG could be do­ing bet­ter.

“I’m a big be­liever in do­ing things a bit dif­fer­ently or break­ing the mold, es­pe­cially in the auto in­dus­try which has a bit of a rep­u­ta­tion for com­pla­cency. There’s no growth in any busi­ness by keep­ing the sta­tus quo.”

In terms of fleet man­age­ment, this is one as­pect of the busi­ness that sets BMG apart.

Over the past 18 months, Nick has in­vested heav­ily in this area. Once again he placed high im­por­tance on re­la­tion­ships with fleet com­pa­nies and busi­ness own­ers to build this as­pect.

“One of our sales team mem­bers showed real enthusiasm for fleet sales and his am­bi­tion and drive led me to pro­mote him to the role of fleet sales man­ager.

“Un­like tra­di­tional re­tail sales, we are not spend­ing large amounts of money to drive en­quiries and sales, in­stead we are spend­ing time de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with the de­ci­sion maker, and en­sur­ing our over­all ser­vice lev­els are above and be­yond what is ex­pected. Fleet sales within the in­dus­try have nearly dou­bled over the past ten years, and we’re try­ing to re­gain that loss in re­tail sales with a strate­gic move into the fleet side of the in­dus­try. It’s all about mov­ing with the times and adapt­ing to change.”

Which is nec­es­sary in a cli­mate in which the Aus­tralian car in­dus­try is in a volatile po­si­tion.

Firstly, it’s about max­imis­ing the good times with the knowl­edge and real­is­tic ap­proach that it won’t last for­ever.”

The pos­i­tive is that Aus­tralia has one of the high­est pro­lif­er­a­tions of new car brands in the world. This means prices have fallen with in­creased com­pe­ti­tions and mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion. The neg­a­tive is that while brands on the Aus­tralian mar­ket have re­duced their re­tail prices to re­tain their mar­ket share and meet their tar­gets, over­heads and gen­eral busi­ness costs con­tinue to in­crease for the dealer. This is where fleet man­age­ment of­fers di­ver­sity in the mar­ket. Nick says the mar­ket has made him more dili­gent in how the busi­ness is op­er­ated. He takes a two-pronged ap­proach.

“Firstly, it’s about max­imis­ing the good times with the knowl­edge and real­is­tic ap­proach that it won’t last for­ever. For­ward plan­ning is a key com­po­nent in any busi­ness and suc­cess­ful businesses plan for ev­ery sce­nario, good and bad. Sec­ondly, when times are tough it’s all about be­ing smarter in what we do and how we do it. A will­ing­ness to change and adapt the busi­ness to suit the cur­rent eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment goes a long way in guar­an­tee­ing longevity, while those who don’t plan or change their ways seem to come and go very quickly.”

Dili­gence pays. BMG is the num­ber one Kia and Nis­san deal­er­ship in Aus­tralia.

“There’s a lot of hard work from ev­ery­one that goes into be­ing num­ber one,” Nick says. “All the staff have a real pas­sion for the brand and the com­pany, and most im­por­tantly have the drive to stay at the top. Over the years we’ve de­vel­oped pro­cesses and re­fined the way we do things with the aim of be­ing the best. Our staff have quite a lot of in­put into the way we do things, which gives ev­ery­one a real sense of own­er­ship and mo­ti­va­tion and sets us apart from most businesses. We’ve rolled this out over the en­tire com­pany and it has paid div­i­dends; we were awarded the Nis­san Plat­inum Dealer of the Year award in 2013, and have re­ceived a mul­ti­tude of other deal­er­ship and in­di­vid­ual staff awards across the group. Now the chal­lenge is to con­tinue to grow and do things even bet­ter in or­der to stay num­ber one.”

Nick is a pre­pared man. He has de­vel­oped plans to com­bat a range of sce­nar­ios. He is still the same pas­sion­ate man about the in­dus­try that he was when he first en­tered and he is still a cal­cu­lated risk taker. This au­gurs well for BMG in the fu­ture as he sets out to max­imise op­por­tu­ni­ties by tak­ing a change man­age­ment ap­proach to tech­nol­ogy, prod­uct and sys­tems.

“I want to ex­plore these and hope­fully utilise them to grow the busi­ness and be­come one of Aus­tralia’s largest dealer groups. More im­por­tantly I want to change the in­dus­try stigma that we’ve been plagued with for far too long.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.