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Born and bred in Preston the owner of Penwortham Garage is 60-year-old Alec Gabbat. Leaving school at 15 he’s spent 45 years working in the motor trade and puts his success down to his ability to talk straight to customers.
“You need to talk straight to people about the product,” says Alec, “if you say it’s a quality car and they turn up and see a hunk of junk then they aren’t going to buy it.”
Learning his trade at garages around Preston, including the Fairways Garage and then Fairways Volkswagon, where he was General Manager, Alec decided that Penwortham was the place to set up his own dealership.
He said: “I wanted to do it, I wanted my own dealership. I’d been General Manager and been in charge of 80 odd staff but I wanted to have my own place, as I think you can sometimes lose perspective when you’ve got somewhere that big to run – especially in my day, when I had to do all the HR and PR for the place, I didn’t have any extra staff for that!
“The site was available in Penwortham and I set up in 1982. It was a good size site and importantly it was in a reasonably affluent area.”
Alec started out with BMWs and still has a soft spot for them, naming the BMW x5 as his favourite car if he had to pick one to take on a roadtrip.
“When I started selling BMWs,” says Alec, “they weren’t what they are now. I had a tiny dealership and at the time was the only BMW dealership in Preston.”
The biggest challenge facing Alec when starting off has been the increased levels of competition in the motor trade. With the rise of car supermarkets and people able to buy cars online, he’s seen business drop from when he started out.
He said: “The biggest challenge in 27 years has been the increase in competition. When I started out then all the adverts in the LEP were black and white, so you couldn’t really tell the difference between my ad and the main dealership. Now though, there are a lot more dealers and the Internet has changed things massively. There weren’t the car supermarkets in those days, you’d buy a car locally from a dealer you trusted.”
Alec used to sell 5-10 cars every weekend but now says it’d be a lucky weekend if he was able to sell that many. However, he feels there’s always a place for quality in the motor trade.
He said: “I often get people saying “I’ve seen that car £1,000 cheaper online”. I tell them they haven’t really seen it, seeing it on the screen is not the same as seeing it there in front of you. You can always see a cheaper car on the web, but that doesn’t guarantee you a good car.”
The current economic climate had Alec worried in the back end of last year but he’s seeing the green shoots of recovery already.
“If you think back to October, Nov,ember and December,” says Alec, “it was fresh on the news and it was all doom and gloom. Now, it’s still on the news but people are sick of it.
“In those autumn and winter months then people weren’t buying anything, I was going to auction and the price of cars was just crashing down. We had a tough time before Christmas, I was thinking ‘Oh Christ!’ but after Christmas it’s started to pick up.
“I think if you’re a regular person, with a regular job, and you don’t think you’re going to lose it, then buying a car is going to be on your list of things to have – and now people are thinking it’s a good time to buy one, as there’s no point buying a house or saving as there’s no interest rate!”
Straight talking, an eye for quality and a reputation built up over years in the motor trade has served Alec Gabbatt well during his 45 years in the motor trade and will no doubt continue to serve him for many years to come.