Driving loyalty key in competitive market, says Cranbrook vehicle supplier Terry Thorpe
The last 40 years have witnessed the most significant revolution
in the motor trade that's ever been seen and it's taught me
priceless lessons. Not just about cars, but also why loyalty is the
most important asset for any business.
I've been sourcing cars for customers for more than 30 years and
I've discovered people will stick with you if you do your job well
and come up with the right product for the right price. And listen
to what they really want.
Not that capitalist concepts such as sales and profit were part
of my vocabulary as a pupil at Tunbridge Wells Technical High
School (now the grammar school), when my political views were some
way to the left of Karl Marx.
Terry Thorpe, proprietor
of D. G. East Partnership
I particularly upset my headmaster by producing a project on our
school uniform, where I came to the conclusion that as it was
supplied exclusively by a shop owned by one of the governors, this
was blatantly unfair to the town's independent outfitters. Not
surprisingly, aged 16 and with 11 O-levels to my name, I left
school shortly afterwards.
I was taken on full-time at the Sandhurst village garage, where
I'd already had a weekend job, progressing from manning the petrol
pump to producing bodywork estimates and invoices.
In 1978 I joined Central Garage in Tenterden, which was
appointed as an Opel service dealer until General Motors stopped
importing Opels. We then took over from the local Caffyns selling
Austin, Morris, Rover and Triumph models.
I was only 23 when I was appointed sales manager. Business was
great, despite some serious manufacturing issues. Which is where I
first discovered customer loyalty. Despite the problems, our
customers kept returning for new cars and for servicing and
Business got even better when Honda linked up with Triumph.
Quality standards shot up, not least because the Japanese insisted
their cars were built exactly to spec.
Soon Rover cars were being made to the same standard and small
town Central Garage was regularly in the top 10 – out of 1,700
dealerships – in customer satisfaction surveys.
So it was quite a shock when in 1994, BMW, which had by that
time taken over Rover, decided to sell exclusively through main
dealers. Overnight, our franchise was terminated.
We decided to focus on selling low mileage, high quality, nearly
new cars. And still the customers stuck with us, proving that
loyalty isn't a product, it's about long-term personal
Five years ago I decided to develop my passion for motorsport
into a business and go self-employed. I was already event manager
for European rallycross champion Will Gollop from Canterbury,
Ireland-based British champion Helmut Holdfield and latterly
British supercar rallycross champion Andrew Jordan.
At the end of 2007, I also met up with Denis East in Cranbrook,
who I'd known since we were childhood neighbours. He had become one
of the country’s foremost private suppliers of cars.
Denis has a peerless reputation, has been a high profile media
spokesman for the industry and has even designed a software system
to help employees calculate the tax implications of having a
We joined forces and founded the D.G.East Partnership. We both
knew how to source new cars at the best price but I also bought
complementary skills in servicing and accident repairs.
Denis decided to step down this summer, so I became sole
proprietor. But running my own business means I can spend more time
with my wife Jillian and the family, as well as playing a bit of
golf and attending as many motorsport events that I can fit in.