Behind the scenes at Autoworld

Issue no. 53 – May 2014.

by Paul Chapman

Autoworld Chesterfield

I’d always assumed Chesterfield’s Autoworld was one of a number of dealerships spread across Derbyshire, Yorkshire and the East Midlands – but apart from a recent new addition in Nottingham they are a Chesterfield based company, and locally owned to boot. I’m having a coffee with Judith Barcroft, Marketing and Communications Manager at Autoworld to find out a little more about another successful Chesterfield business.

Autoworld is family owned, founded by David and Sue Priestnall, David being Chesterfield born and bred. After starting out in the motor trade David took premises in an old Cinema at Eckington in 1972, and when the lease expired 1981, moved to Whittington Moor.

The original business, Autoswap, sold used cars from a single wooden building, where the Suzuki dealership resides today – at this time, prior to A61 dual carriageway, Brimington Road was the main road from Chesterfield to Sheffield. When an engineering workshop became available, David moved into this additional space and started with the first franchise; Skoda, followed shortly afterwards by a Suzuki dealership – growing to become Autoworld Motor Group with a turnover in excess of £75million.

Sadly David passed away in April 2011, the funeral was held at the crooked spire the only place big enough to hold such a large crowd – a fitting send off to a great entrepreneur.

Susan together with both sons, Stephen and Simon, along with Tony Cordin are Directors of the Company.Tony celebrates 20 years at Autoworld in 2014.

Family has always been important at Autoworld and today many of the staff have a number of generations working at the site. Tony’s daughter works in the business, Judith’s son is a salesman in Fiat, and many of the staff have relatives working in one of the many Franchises.

This creates a sense of community, pride and loyalty within the business, with some core staff having worked there for over 20 years. Tony commented “along with our family members, we have some great staff working in our business with many years of experience. In November the business closed on a Sunday and we took all the staff along with their families on an action packed day to Alton Towers.”

As time progressed the site expanded and new franchises were added. Today the marques carried at Autoworld include Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Citroen, Fiat, Hyundai, Seat, Suzuki and Volvo, motorcycles available include Harley Davidson, Buell and Triumph plus Vanworld selling both new and used commercial vehicles.

Most recently the state of the art Service Centre was added, behind which there are 22 service bays and six pre-delivery inspection (PDI) bays. Autoworld employs 240 people and approximately another 100 people indirectly associated with the business “the majority of whom live locally in Chesterfield” adds Judith.

The only Autoworld business outside Chesterfield is the Harley Davidson franchise in Nottingham, “this wasn’t a planned addition, we were approached by Harley Davidson who wanted us to take on this site” explains Judith.

I walked around the site with Judith, taking a look at each of the showrooms. What struck me was the difference between the brands, it’s as if they’ve been purposely selected to provide a wide choice of brands and models, the trendy Fiat 500 tailorable in so many ways, the Volvo XC90 for towing the caravan, the Seat Leon Cupra the fastest production front wheel drive car at the Nurburgring, the imminent arrival of the gorgeous Alfa 4C through to the Suzuki Alto an introduction to running a car on the smallest of budgets costing just £5999 on the road.

I asked how things were with sales, “March sales totalled over 1,000 vehicles” answered Judith, “commercial sales are 30% up on this time last year. I always think this is a good indicator of the economy, sole traders don’t swap their van unless they can see a good future, so right now things look very positive.”

Autoworld pride themselves on their strong focus on customer service. “We are measured and marked by our customer feedback” explained Judith. “This feedback isn’t just important for helping us to improve, it sets the level of discounts suppliers offer us, which we pass through to customers. Car dealers have a stereotypical image, we work hard to change this and our feedback suggests we’re getting it right.”

We chatted about Autoworld’s involvement in the community – they support vehicles for Ashgate Hospice, Kids n Cancer and Chesterfield Football Clubs, sponsor the Dronfield 10k and more recently became the sponsor of Matlock Town FC’s ground and the Autoworld Lounge, MD, Tony Cordin being a big supporter of local Charities and sporting clubs. In addition Autoworld are Derbyshire Trusted Traders and proud to be Chesterfield Champions.

“Alongside the corporate sponsorships we’re really proud of our staff who are always raising money for charities. The Three Towers Challenge; Blackpool, London and Paris raised £35,000 for Kids n Cancer, we’ve supported Brake, the Road Safety charity, and we run a Christmas Toy appeal where we donate to local good causes such as the Women’s Refuge and Chesterfield Royal. We had customers delivering items to donate, straight from Toysrus and brand new bikes from Halfords – this really was one of the best things we’ve done” adds Judith.

So, after the whistle stop tour, returning to the office to collect my stuff I realised that yet again, I’d been pleasantly surprised by Autoworld. I’d met another successful local business, making a really positive contribution to Chesterfield through employment opportunities and charity involvement. All good stuff I thought.