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Staffordshire Honda opens

For proprietor Bob Sheldon, who last year celebrated thirty years in the trade and a twenty-year association with Triumph at his Staffordshire Triumph premises, 30 July signalled more than just an opening day for a second showroom five miles down the road, Suzanne Potts reports.

Ex-coal miner Sheldon hasn’t been handed anything on a plate in business; he started out in the industry buying and selling bikes from his home back in the early 1990s. In 2001 when he took on the Triumph franchise he surely must have thought that was the pinnacle for BS Bikes, but a passion for motorcycles coupled with ambition and great pride in the city of Stoke-on-Trent later saw the Triumph franchise expand into 12,000sq.ft premises. The franchise generates in the region of 700 bike sales annually and has inspired Sheldon to develop the business further.

It was common knowledge in the industry that Honda wanted a foothold in the heart of Staffordshire to service the conurbation and Sheldon seized the opportunity by acquiring a 14,000sq.ft former Vauxhall showroom sitting on a three-quarters of an acre site in the centre of Newcastle-under-Lyme. The last Honda dealer in the area closed more than twenty years ago in nearby Fenton. As with many former car showrooms, the premises has ample parking as well as a glass-fronted showroom with a useful mezzanine level providing all the facilities necessary for a modern, spacious motorcycle showroom.

“In this business, if you don’t seize the initiative – somebody else will!” says Sheldon.

The Potteries, as Stoke-on-Trent is still known, is perhaps not currently renowned for being the centre of innovation and business since the demise of the coal and pottery industries that were at its heart until the 1970s. But nonetheless, it’s the home of leading online bookmaker Bet365 and the birthplace of billionaire philanthropist John Caudwell – not to mention Robbie Williams! Sheldon believes the city is special – “its people are salt of the earth and loyal,” he says, which for him means it is the only place he wants to do business.

“To build a business in the Potteries means a great deal to me.  The area gets a lot of bad press undeservedly, and if I can build a good business in this area then others can do it too, and it all helps give a more positive image of the city. Everything in our showrooms has been locally sourced as far as possible and we will continue to use local tradesmen and suppliers.”

The gleaming new Staffordshire Honda showroom opened on schedule but, as with all major openings, it all came together in the last week before the doors opened. 702m2 of floor tiles, purchased from local tile manufacturer Johnson Tiles (one of the remaining original pottery firms in the city) were laid just in time and the team was getting more than a little hot under the collar when just 48 hours before the opening 43 gleaming new Hondas arrived to be de-crated in time for the opening. An insurance stipulation for roller shutter doors provided another headache, with the doors being completed only the day before the artics containing the bikes rocked up. Oxford Products is currently providing a range of clothing, helmets and accessories for the new showroom and the used section of the showroom is gaining stock all the time. A tie-in with a local training provider is also high on the agenda.

A tired but enthusiastic Sheldon said: “We set a deadline for the opening, and we were determined to stick to it, all the major work is now done but now we move on to the details. Seven bikes were sold on the opening day, which was a really positive start. We have a small team of seven staff in place but will look to grow this number as the business establishes itself over the winter.”

Sheldon is planning a recruitment campaign in the autumn to expand the team further.

“Honda arranged for TT legend John McGuinness to attend the opening day and that certainly helped bring in the crowds! The weather was great, and the site was packed and although we haven’t got specific numbers, we do know 485 portions of hog roast were sold so that gives us a fair idea!”

Sheldon has the assistance of right-hand man Steve Bailey who will take an overarching management role across both the Triumph and Honda sites. Fortunately for both Sheldon and Bailey the two showrooms are only a few minutes’ drive from each other, thus enabling them to split their time and focus equally across both sites. The aim being to build the Staffordshire Honda arm of the business to be comparable with that of Staffordshire Triumph, with its 18-strong team, enabling each location to operate independently to support a continued focus on customer service and retention which has always been extremely important to Sheldon.

With the opening of Staffordshire Honda behind him, Sheldon still has much to look forward to and his enthusiasm for the industry abounds.

“We have the advances in electric technology from Triumph to look forward to as well as the eagerly anticipated off-road offering, and with Honda we can offer the breadth of models, including the commuter range which will bring a whole new customer base to us. We have always benefitted from a great working relationship with Triumph and I’m really looking forward to working with the team at Honda to establish a similar relationship and a strong foothold in the Potteries again for the brand.”

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