WHEN a young Miles Jude joined a fledgling garage as a cleaner in 1989, little did he imagine that, more than 30 years later, he would not only still be working for the same business, but running it.
‘When I joined Derek Warwick Honda in October 1989, the garage had only been open for a couple of weeks,’ said the now managing director.
‘I had just returned to the Island, having spent three months travelling around Europe, and I was playing golf with the then sales manager of the garage, who said he was desperate for someone to come and clean cars. I needed a job, so, the next morning, I started work as a valeter.’
His position, though, was to prove short-lived.
‘After about two weeks I was asked to go and see the managing director and sales manager after work,’ he recalled. ‘They said that they thought I would make a good salesman and asked whether I would be interested in joining the sales team. What they didn’t know at the time was that I had already applied for a job in sales at another garage, but I was delighted to be able to stay at Derek Warwick Honda.’
There was, however, one condition which Miles had to fulfil before he could accept his new position.
‘They told me that I had to find someone to take on my cleaning role before the garage opened the following morning,’ he laughed.
‘That mission accomplished, the other staff were all taken aback when I arrived, suited and booted, the next day.’
Quickly progressing to sales manager and then general manager, the car enthusiast and keen rally driver started building a team of staff whose love of vehicles and commitment to customer service matched his own.
And, while many elements of the motor industry and the business have evolved over the years, those two factors underpin the company’s ethos to this day.
‘The customer service is critical,’ said Miles. ‘A car showroom can be quite a daunting place to walk into but a lot of customers comment on how relaxed it is here and I think that is testament to the boss. Derek is great to work for, and the morale and atmosphere here is phenomenal. We all muck in to do whatever is needed and have great fun along the way.’
While those words might sound like patter from a man who started his career in sales, they are borne out by the company’s staff retention record.
‘We have a team of 20 and nine of those, including the service manager and parts manager, have been with the business for more than 20 years,’ explained Miles. ‘The finance director, Margaret Troy, has been here since day one, having started as a PA and secretary to the directors before the doors to the garage even opened. Meanwhile, George Goncalves, our service manager, and Mark Willmett, our sales controller, have been here for 28 and 27 years respectively.’
It is this longevity which Miles attributes to much of the dealership’s success.
‘Having the same key members of staff for so long has really helped with developing customer relationships and building the customer loyalty which is so fundamental to the business,’ he said.
‘Indeed, every year Honda UK holds an awards ceremony at which the prizes are awarded based on ten key performance indicators. One of the indicators is customer satisfaction, and it is a huge credit to the team that, of all the Honda UK dealers, we have achieved the highest customer satisfaction rating for the past three years. We have also, for the past 20 years, placed first or second in the overall performance ratings.’
But, as he reflects on the business’s success and 32 years of trading, he admits that it could all have been very different.
‘When the business was first set up, Derek was very much a figurehead and was not involved in the day-to-day running of the garage. After two years, the business was in financial difficulties and the only way to salvage it was for Derek to buy out the other partners,’ explained Miles. ‘From that point, we quickly began to make a profit and continued our expansion of the business into the UK, opening Derek Warwick Honda dealerships in Southampton, Portsmouth and Winchester.’
Further change came in 2003, when the decision was made to sell the English business interests to Honda UK.
‘Originally, the Jersey business was going to be included in the deal but the company and the staff were – and still are – a huge part of Derek’s life and so he retained the local company as a standalone dealership,’ Miles added.
It proved to be a shrewd decision, with the company not only topping the Honda UK customer satisfaction ratings but also out-performing its rivals in terms of sales.
‘In Jersey, we have a 24.2% market share of all the sectors into which we sell,’ said Miles. ‘This compares with an average of 2.9% in the UK. Again, I put this down to our customer service and the reputation for reliability which Honda has built.’
And the customer service is more important than ever, says Miles, as the competition between manufacturers has increased over the decades.
‘I would say the biggest change to the industry over the years is that every manufacturer now offers every possible connotation of a car within its range,’ he reflected. ‘If you think back to 1997, for example, when Honda launched the CR-V SUV, there were probably only three other manufacturers with a competitive model in that sector. Now every manufacturer will have one. You have to differentiate yourself in other ways.’
And Honda, he says, does this though a combination of reliability and cutting-edge technology.
‘Honda has been the most reliable car in the marketplace for many years, regularly topping the reliability surveys,’ he added. ‘It also has a clear racing heritage and phenomenal research-and-development resources, which enables the company to produce advance cutting-edge technological cars.’
With such a strong commitment to embracing new technology, it is not surprising that the manufacturer is focused on electrification.
‘We have just received the new all-electric Honda e and, by next year, the entire Honda range will be powered by some form of electrification,’ explained Miles. ‘In the short-term, many of the cars will be hybrid plus full electric which, in my opinion, lowers emissions and reduces fuel consumption, while offering a practical driving solution.’
But what does Miles think of the move to all-electric vehicles?
‘Jersey is one of the few marketplaces suited to electric vehicles at the moment, as journeys are generally short and ideal for the range,’ he said. ‘This is great for a car such as the Honda e, which is designed to be an urban car and has a range of 120 miles. As manufacturers develop their vehicles, so the ranges increase all the time. Unfortunately, though, the infrastructure across Europe is not moving at the same pace, which could cause some issues.
‘Even in Jersey the infrastructure is limited. If you live in a house where you can plug in your car to charge, then that’s fine but if you live in a town apartment, or somewhere with on-street parking, there is very little provision for charging your vehicle.’
And it is not just the infrastructure where Miles believes investment is needed if the government is to achieve its goal of banning all sales of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2035.
‘Many governments across Europe are subsidising the purchase of electric vehicles,’ he said. ‘In France and Germany the subsidy is up to 7,000 and 6,000 euros respectively, while the UK government offers up to £2,500. In Jersey, you get free parking for a year.’
With a Honda SUV electric due to launch later this year, the new Jazz Hybrid already in the showroom and a new HR-V hybrid on the way, there is plenty of excitement – and also some challenges – among the team.
‘The advance in battery-powered vehicles means it is incredibly important that our staff are highly trained to deal with the electrical systems, as they could kill someone who didn’t know what they were doing,’ explained Miles. ‘We are therefore investing in training for all our staff to give them the equipment and knowledge they need to work safely on the new cars.’