ONE of the North East's biggest car dealers is working to sell its showroom display towers in the Middle East and Africa as it battles to boost profits.
Hodgson Newcastle pushed sales back up to more than £50m last year and is hoping to continue the rise and revive profits after seeing them drop 27% to £3.9m.
The 53-year-old business with five sites has been hit by the long slump in the industry which has seen similar-sized rivals struggle or disappear.
“We’re battling on but it’s very hard at the moment. The industry over here has suffered a lot and it’s worse up in the North because of the lack of investment in infrastructure and the lack of support for business. The North-South Divide is getting a lot wider,” said owner Steve Hodgson.
But Hodgson, who took over the business from his father Lee more than 20 years ago, has been determined to ride out the storm without cutting back on the company.
He has focussed on bringing sub-contracted work, like pre-delivery checks, MoTs and other repairs and inspections, in-house and invested in speeding up work that will pay back over the years. He is also keen not to cut costs or his 200-plus workers.
“Sales have been going up again and we are doing everything to make the work efficient. But we determined to ensure the quality of our work and the service does not change,” said Hodgson.
“The worst thing a company can do is to cut costs because if you cut staff you will not get the same level of service. The main thing that will make or break a business is its people.
“I have a fantastic team here and I am keeping on to them. We are not a short-term business and when the economy recovers we will be in a very good position.”
Hodgson launched the Autopod three years ago alongside Tony Whelan of Newcastle builder Whelan Construction.
He designed the eight-storey pre-fabricated towers which could hold 32 cars and were to be sold to other dealers looking to increase capacity and efficiency without needing more land.
Hopes of selling a dozen a year faded as the industry staggered but Hodgson is looking for business overseas.
“It has been difficult as companies have stopped investing in dealers the last few years. But we are in talks over a couple in London and in the UAE,” he said.
“We have been in talks with the Ministry of Transport in an African country about an exclusive supply deal. We have been going to the big shows and meeting everyone we could and we had an approach which if successful could be very good for us financially.”
Business has been recovering at its two Toyota dealerships, a Mazda site, a Mitsubishi site and Suzuki dealership, despite the exchange rate hitting price of many Japanese brands. I think sales are coming back and I am confident we will see profits coming back in line with sales over the next couple of years,” said Hodgson.