Despite the national economic uncertainty over Brexit, a family-owned North-East motor dealer is expanding with a major investment. PETER BARRON looks at the history – and the future – of Croxdale Group

 

WITH a wealth of experience in the motor industry behind him, Anthony Rockingham is able to look ahead with confidence despite the economic challenges facing the UK.

“Whatever is going to happen post-Brexit will affect the whole motor industry, not just us,” says the managing director of the Croxdale Group. “But what I do know is that we will be in a position to deliver a better service than ever to our customers – we will be ready, whatever comes.”

More than half a century after it was founded, Croxdale Group is defying national economic uncertainty by investing around £450,000 in the business. While others are waiting to see what the future holds, Croxdale – situated on A167 four miles outside of Durham – is driving forward with confidence.

Croxdale built its reputation as one of the longest-established Citroen franchises in the country. Subaru was added three years ago, followed by Mitsubishi a year later, and now Croxdale is adding the DS luxury brand to the family. It has become the only DS franchise in the Durham area, with the nearest others based in Newcastle and York and Cumbria.

Well positioned in Europe and worldwide, DS is seen as the jewel in the crown of the French-owned Groupe PSA, and Mr Rockingham is proud that Croxdale will be one of only 35 dealerships in the UK to sell the prestigious brand.

“It is an extremely positive development for the company and a real vote of confidence in the future,” says Mr Rockingham.

DS was Citroen’s premium sub-brand until becoming a standalone marque in 2015. Consequently, Croxdale already has a number of DS customers on its database and is now primed to build on that foundation.

The bold expansion on the eight-acre site includes an upgraded state-of-the-art Citroen showroom, a new DS showroom, an increase from a four-bay workshop to 10 bays, and a new body-shop. The fledgling Croxdale Carstore business – set up to sell non-franchised second-hand models – will also move from the back of the site into a former furniture warehouse at the front.

The development of the site has also been designed to meet the needs of the electric vehicle era, and recent sales events have been well-attended in anticipation of the expansion and growth in choice.

“These are hugely exciting times for the company,” says Mr Rockingham, who has overseen bottom-line growth of £400,000 in his first year since joining the Croxdale Group, with that upward trajectory set to continue. “It is a very good news story, not just for Durham, but for the region as a whole.”

The Croxdale expansion represents a pivotal moment in Mr Rockingham’s career, which began as an 18-year-old as a trainee salesman with Sanderson Ford in Darlington.

He smiles when asked what sparked his interest in the motor trade: “I was studying for the national diploma in computer studies and working in a Chinese restaurant to make ends meet,” he says. “Like most students, I was driving round in an old banger at the time and I used to chat to customers in the restaurant about the cars they drove. I wanted to have a nice car and and I suddenly thought that the best way to get one would be to become a car salesman.”

From that first job as a trainee salesman, he worked his way up through the ranks at Sanderson Ford, becoming business manager, then sales manager and general sales manager as he was given additional responsibility for more sites.

The opportunity arose to join John Gill Limited as general manager in Harrogate, also looking after the York and Bedale branches, and he ended up as director.

When John Gill was sold, his next career step was as general manager for Toyota with RMB Automotive, covering Stockton, Darlington and Northallerton. That led to a further promotion to the role of general franchise manager, overseeing the introduction of new franchises, including Ford, Renault, and Dacia.

After five years, it was time for another challenge and becoming managing director of Croxdale Group was the “perfect opportunity”.

“It is a family-owned business with a proud history, and a loyal customer-base, while also offering real scope for growth,” he says.

The site has been established for more than 100 years and was used to make bombs during World War Two. After the war, a local family used the site for the Ness Furniture manufacturing base. Members of the family also had a passion for motor racing and that led to the car dealership being added 52 years ago.

The furniture business closed in 2015 but the Croxdale Group has continued to grow as a motor dealership, with the number of employees rising from 25 to the current 60. Staff members include parts manager Ian Todd, who has worked for Croxdale for 34 years, and Peter Chapman, who started as service manager 31 years ago and is now a senior manager in the group, looking after IT and assisting with after-sales.

“We have an experienced and loyal workforce and that shows we have a reputation as a good employer,” says Mr Rockingham.

And with the addition of the DS brand, along with a bold investment in the existing franchises, there will be further opportunities to join the Croxdale success story.