Where the two men do coincide is in their willingness to take a calculated risk. The business, by its edgy nature, is all about risk. The Tom Hartley name is synonymous with the ability to meet demand that other dealers can’t satisfy. In order to keep that edge and the reputation that rides on it, the Hartleys sometimes have to adjust margins. They are determined to be the first, and for as long as possible, the only place that the very newest, most prestigious vehicles can be found.
There are people who will pay a premium to be driving the season’s must-have luxury motorcar around town while the ordinary buyer is still on a less enterprising dealer’s waiting list. It is the speculative nature of the business that makes experience and instinct so important. With Tom Sr it is the lifelong, intimate knowledge of buying, selling and dealing that gives him his confidence. For Tom Jr, those aspects are already well developed, but that extra depth of interest in the cars adds another strength.
Despite the element of gamble, in one way the Tom Hartley business model may just give them an advantage in times of economic uncertainty. Tom Hartley is a flexible business. Their methods mean that they are not tied to list prices. They can adapt, buy and sell at the prices of the moment.
Tom Jr sums it up: “The economy doesn’t affect our business like most. We buy in at the price we know we can move the car at. Unlike other dealers, people can come and pick and choose from a variety of luxury cars. That’s one of the reasons we are the most successful dealership in the country. We get the first of every car and there’s a premium for that. People know that when they want a car that no one else can get, they can come to Tom Hartley.”
In addition to that reputation for being able to get hold of vehicles that are pretty close to unobtainable, Tom reckons that the ambience of their premises plays a part.
“We’re a bit like a home from home,” he says. “It’s like part of our home, not like a cold showroom. People have the privacy to walk around in a nice, relaxed environment and see all the different types of cars under one roof. That’s unusual. If you go to most other showrooms, you will normally just see the one make.”
Whatever combination of service, reputation and location it is that sways the customers, the formula is working well. Last year they turned over approximately £150 million; and this year they are expecting that figure to rise. Like his father, Tom rarely takes what he would consider time off. The dealership is not so much a job as a lifestyle .