North East motor dealer Richard Hardie is moving up the gears on the back of buoyant car sales and a new strategy for future growth.

The Sunderland-based motors group is driving back into profit this year due to strong used car sales, the success of the new MG range and a growth in its online business.

During the last 12-18 months the company has focussed on a new strategy to work from fewer dealerships while investing in online marketing, used car sales and a push on new marques while continuing to promote FCA Group brands Fiat and Abarth.

Against a difficult national backdrop for the motor trade, coupled with the impact of Covid-19, this strategy is paying dividends for Richard Hardie. Even after lockdown and the closure of the business for three months, used car sales are reaching record numbers while sales for the new MG range of models are growing by the month.

This current growth reflects a turnaround within the business. Today, Richard Hardie operates from three profitable dealerships in Sunderland, Ashington and Silverlink, in North Tyneside. The company disposed of two sites, including one in Durham and a struggling site on Scotswood Road, Newcastle before the end of last year.

Philip Hardie, managing director, explained: “The Newcastle site just didn’t work for us and with the poor sales from the Alfa Romeo and Jeep brands it was a big drain on the business. Too many dealerships were taking up too much resource and management time and we knew we had to focus on our core dealerships and key strengths.

“The shift to focus on our stronger franchises while investing in growing used car sales and our online business has really paid off and is helping us pull through this difficult period for the UK motor trade. We fully expect to end this year in profit and in a much stronger position than at the end of last year.”

Richard Hardie – trading for almost 50 years – is one of only a few independent family-owned motor businesses in the North East following the acquisition of many by the big national retail groups.

Daughter and marketing director Rachel Hardie said: “We’re proud of our family roots and the company’s history. Our strong family ties and ethos run through the business; we’re proud of our staff and the fact so many have remained loyal and been with us through the good times and the more difficult recent years.

“We’re seeing some positive signs in a difficult market. Online marketing is now such a big feature of the motor trade. Our investment in this area is part of our drive to broaden customer choice. Showrooms are still important but more viewings and research, along with transactions, are taking place online.”

Continued investment in the company website – www.richardhardie.co.uk –  means people can now buy a car through the site and are able to do the whole transaction online.

Sales director Nick Hardie said: “Since reopening after the first national lockdown used car sales have seen a real boom. We sold 969 used cars between the two lockdowns this year.

“Elsewhere, the MG have made a big contribution to new car sales. It’s a well specified, well priced range and their getting great reviews from our customers and the trade. We would have sold even more if we’d been able to get more stock.

“Thankfully, we’ve expanded our stock of really desirable used cars which can range in price from only £2,000 to more than £25,000. Our ratio of used car sales against news has shifted significantly to the point where it’s almost three to every new car sale.”