Hard Work Pays Dividends for Steve; Steve Hodgson Has Taken the Entrepreneurial Spirit and Hard Work Ethic Learned from His Father and Turned It into a Pounds 1.5m-a-Week Used and New Car Business in a Tough Market. James Barton Speaks to the Man Who Turned a Modest Family Concern into the UK's Largest Mazda Car Retailer

Article excerpt

Byline: James Barton

STEVE Hodgson is a self made businessman who has built a multi-million pound car sales business that goes from strength to strength.

It was never meant to be this way. Les Hodgson, Steve's father, who owned a garage forecourt and car repair business in Seghill, Northumberland, wanted to give his children a good education and watch as they found careers outside the motor trade.

Originally from Ashington, Les did not follow the family tradition and become a miner.

Although Les had forged a career in the car industry he felt it was a hard trade and wanted his children to seek broader horizons. But a serious heart attack in 1976 changed all that.

Steve's father was lucky to survive and his son was forced to make some stark decisions about his future much earlier than his father had wanted him to. He decided to enter the family business aged 18 after being educated at King's School in Tynemouth.

Steve recalls: "My father had envisaged a different career path for me' he wanted me to go into a 'better' profession but, because of his heart, it never happened."

Over the next 10 years Steve learned the business. "We sold petrol, had a four-car garage and a three-car second hand showroom."

Then in 1986 Les again suffered a heart attack, was lucky to survive, and immediately retired.

"My father gave me a 50% stake in the business and I was backed by the bank," says Steve.

"I realised the future of the business did not rest on retailing fuel' then as now the major chains are able to use their buying power and price smaller retailers out of the market."

Steve instead focused on continuing second-hand car sales and launched a Mazda dealership. To keep costs down he enlisted the help of a local farmer David Lowes - who went on to become Hodgson's general manager - who helped to dismantle the forecourt canopy in return for leftover scrap metal.

Steve evolved the business, careful not to extend himself too far, and now occupies a prominent position in the UK retail sales market. And this year the business is on track, accounting for 10% of the North-East new and used car market.

"From 1986 the business grew well with us selling 118 cars a year by 1989. This was a very exciting time and one of the most significant things we did at the time was to reinvest every penny we had back into the business."

Steve, an accomplished pianist, contributed to keeping the business afloat playing in a band in local pubs and nightspots, while wife Lindsay worked as an ice skating instructor.

Steve and father Les, who had retained a 50% stake in the business, ploughed the profits back into the business to enable it to grow further.

"I conducted research of rural retail car sales outlets and realised we were never going to get to the next level from our site in Seghill."

In 1991 Steve raised enough money to buy the first acre of the company's current marque and head office at Silverlink, North Tyneside - a turning point for the business. "I realised what I had to do was find a site where I could become the Mazda dealer for Newcastle."

With the site secured, Steve travelled to Tunbridge Wells with David Lowes to bid for the exclusive rights to the Mazda dealership in Newcastle.

Steve plated Tina Turner's Simply The Best, complete with his own voice-over, as part of his presentation to Mazda executives ("David [Lowes] thought I was mad," Steve unashamedly recounts).

It could have been an over the top disaster but Steve had done his research and his proposal for a significant investment and exclusive Mazda franchise at The Pentagon Silverlink site was accepted by phone the same day while Steve and David were travelling back.

Steve has since added a further Suzuki and Toyota dealership at Silverlink, increasing the acreage of the flagship site. …