“We keep the spirit of a small company...”: David Lhoir WESTON CEO Interviewed By EuroCocWeston is a car trader that is active in most European countries. Their proposition is universal: quality cars at competitive prices.
David, can you please give us some figures about your business (in regard to the cars sold, employees, history...) so that we have more precise idea?
We started the company in 2005 with 4 people under the wings of my former boss’company. We sold around 1,000 cars in our first year. In 2006, I started to realise that working under their wings was a limitation of our ambitions and began to work out a new strategy. In 2007,I invested all my personal capital to buy out my partners. A big risk! In August 2007 we moved out from Tienen to Aarschot, we ended that year with 1,800 cars sold. 2008 was great with 3,000 cars sold, but I stayed unsatisfied with the profit vs the used capital to manage these numbers. 2009 was the big breakthrough...the real crisis started and we saw huge opportunities for buying big quantities, and the bankers followed our new speed level. The results were stunning; 5,500 cars sold, 4.5 times the 2008 profit. We continued the same level in 2010,hireda lot of people growing to 20 employees. 2011 was a difficult year, few cars to buy and our clients were not confident about the market. The fixed assets were high. We sold 30% less and the profit lowered by70%. It was time to review our buy and sell system for 2012. We stopped our focus on volume and smaller cars, and started to buy more premium cars...less competition, higher profit. We found again a good rhythm and balance between volume and profit over 4,000 cars sold and doubled our 2011 Profit. We continue this focus for 2013. I did a step back as a general manager for12 years with Pfizer, with new energy, and new ideas. Somebody to upgrade our flow, communication as a general quality in terms of service and communication. We will achieve sales probably around 4,500 and maintain a good balance between volume and profitability.
It is great to see your company growing year to year. What is the success formula in times of economic “crisis”?
The success formula is different for each company. I think that our success is our flexibility and access. When a supplier makes an offer, we are able to answer in less than 1 hour. We have also built up good own capital combined with a solid bank partner, which makes us strong when buying and paying fast and to stay calm when sales are down. We sell a serious number of cars, and we keep the spirit of a small company...friendly and easy to access even on a management level. All clients know me personally and have come into my office from the very beginning.
Why should a customer come to Weston rather than another car seller/car trader? Where in particular are you different?
Good prices, big choice. A serious and solid partner. No surprises; when something goes wrong, we always backup. As for a supplier, we are good buyers...fast decision, fast payment. We never let them down with ordered cars.
What does your average customer look like (dealer, final customer, other traders.., BE, FR, NL citizen...) and have you seen any developments in recent years?
Our clients are still the same as years ago (only higher in number). We sell to all kinds of clients. We have brokers, official dealers, importer traders...our main markets are Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, and The Netherlands.
You created a very pleasant facility for your company – both background for your employees and a nice area also for customers. How do you see this decision now? Would you do it again?
I will do it again, because we just bought terrain new plot of land to build a new daily home for our employees, clients, and suppliers. Better, newer, nicer, and more spacious. Since people spend more time in the company, as at home it has to be a pleasant area.
Most of our customers are car traders or car dealers themselves. You are competitors in one area, but I know that WESTON is cooperating also with many others. How can you manage this relationship successfully?
In my opinion it’s the biggest change for the near future. Sharing information, stocks, contacts makes us stronger wiser. We optimize by using the strength of each different company. We protect our sources, and protect prices on the market by way of this strategy.
We can see that European countries are one after another raising taxes on new or second vehicle registrations. If not directly, then through other administrative barriers. Are you expecting any major legislative change that would in any way affect your business?
It is already having an effect on our business. Personally I think it’s old school to complain about taxes having an effect on buying behaviour. We have to adapt our product, prices, and margins to compensate. All European countries have serious economic (financial) problems. Those have to be sold (paid) by the working people, companies, and industries. There were easy times when we all made easy (easier) money. We all pay the price for the game we played...