1,144: that’s the magic number for Carbase, the family-run used car supermarket with branches in Bristol, Weston-super-Mare, Lympsham and Brent Knoll. It refers to the number of cars it strives to sell every month – mirroring the record set in March 2019.
Carbase aims to achieve this target by focusing on trust, transparency, and fairness – the values laid out by Managing Director Steve Winter when he established the company in 2003.
Quality, service, and trust
For the past eight years, the day-to-day running of Carbase has been handled by General Manager Gordon Veale, who has overseen a period of what he modestly describes as “good growth” at the company. “The quality is there, the level of service is there, the trust factor is now there. The brand is growing based on those three parameters,” says Gordon, who has been in the motor trade for 25 years. “We want people to enjoy coming to Carbase, and we are very proud of our reviews and our customer-centric approach.”
The company’s stock includes everything from superminis to SUVs, with plenty of Audis and BMWs, as well as high specification Volkswagens such as the Golf R that served as the subject of our recent CarGurus Used Car Review. In addition, it’s preparing for the imminent launch of Vanbase, which will bring 250 vans into the Bristol area. As a result, Gordon expects the company to grow from the current 180 employees to more than 200 in the not-too-distant future.
It’s not all been plain sailing, mind. As with many in the industry, Gordon outlines the increasing difficulty of sourcing stock: “Over the last 12 months, our biggest challenge has been margins. The sourcing of a higher grade has become challenging, so we’ve had to slip down to the lower grades. These then need more prep so our prep costs have gone up and that’s squeezing our margins.”
It’s an issue that’s exacerbated by the kind of cars the company sells. “We tend to buy highly specified cars,” continues Gordon, “and the technology involved in things like panoramic roofs can be costly to repair if there’s a problem. Or if SD cards go missing or the satnav or touchscreen isn’t working – the technology is such that in all cars now if something goes wrong, you’re not talking about a £50 fix. It’s expensive to get a car to the kind of retail standards we use.”
In terms of stock mix, Carbase predominantly focuses on petrol and diesel, but Gordon says that electric is “starting to come on to our radar.” To that end, around 5% of the company’s stock is currently electric, with the Volkswagen e-Golf named as a standout performer. “We also recently sold 20 electric vans to the Channel Islands, because they suit that environment so well,” adds Gordon.
Although electric vehicles are currently a small part of the business, the management at Carbase is organising training courses for technicians and salespeople, as well as planning to install charging points in order to prepare for a larger shift in the future. “People who buy electric cars at the moment have really researched the product,” he says. “We’ve got to get our level of knowledge to something that at least matches the customer’s.”
The digital journey
Regardless of what car buyers are interested in, you can be sure Carbase will be tracking it long before somebody reaches the forecourt. “The digital journey is something we pride ourselves on. We look at every facet of that journey and see where we can make it as simple and as seamless as possible for the customer,” explains Gordon. To that end, Carbase uses some of the latest technology available to vehicle retailers and regularly partners with third-party sites such as CarGurus on innovative pilot projects.
The end result, in time, could well be a complete online journey all the way to sale, but Gordon doesn’t believe the market is quite ready for that just yet: “We are getting more people who are quite happy with a digital journey, but at the end they’d still like to shake hands with somebody,” he says. If all goes to plan, then, that’ll be 1,144 handshakes per month.