Lens Auto Hyundai Grahamstown: The gold standard in its class

Running a dealership in a small town is no mean feat, and if it is a family business with 40 years in the business, then you have to do everything you can to make sure you honour the trust that the town’s people has placed in you.

Hyu Grahams1

One such business, and the last privately owned new vehicle dealership in Grahamstown, now called Makhanda, is Lens Auto Hyundai.

The dealership was recently awarded the Hyundai Dealer of the Year title in Category C for small dealerships, its second win since 2015. To win this award, Lens Auto had to beat 48 other dealerships that competed in this category.

But how does a smaller, new-vehicle retailer manage such a success story? “My father, Len, started his business nearly 40 years ago. He always, said to me that in a small town you only have so many customers and everyone knows everyone else. Cherish everyone and deliver the best service possible and by word of mouth will be the only marketing that you will need,” says Steven van der Merwe, Len’s oldest son, Dealer Principal and Director of Lens Auto Hyundai Grahamstown.

Running the family business – Steven (DP), his father, Len, and mother, Julia.

Steven, his dad and his mother, Julia, are partners in the business. One of his brothers, Robert, owns the Lens Auto TyreMart, also part of the extended family business in Makhanda. Another leg of their business is Lens Auto Sales, the used car banner at Lens Auto Hyundai. They will soon be opening another used car dealership under the same banner, along with a TyreMart in Port Alfred.

“This award means a lot to us. It is recognition for the effort we put in and belongs to each and every one of our employees who I want to thank for their hard work. We have a great team across all the departments. In our town, this award serves as a testimony to customers and potential customers regarding our commitment to provide the best service possible,” Steven tells Dealerfloor.

Part of the historic building in which the dealership is housed.

“Lens Auto started out as a repair shop some 40 years ago. My father used to be the Service Manager at the Mercedes-Benz dealership in town before taking the step to open his own business. Through hard, honest work, his motto in life, he established a first class reputation in town, where ‘word of mouth’ is an important advertising method and can make or break you.

“In 2008, we acquired the Hyundai franchise for Grahamstown. We revamped Lens Auto and changed the workshop into the showroom floor and built a brand-new workshop at the back. We have been in our current premises since 1984, although the business started out in 1983 in another part of town.

“Our dealership is located in Bathurst Street, one of the first streets in Makhanda, which is also one of the oldest towns in the country. The building dates back to the late 1800s and is protected because of its historic heritage. In terms of this, we cannot change the front façade but only the interior.”

Steven and his brother, Robert.

Asked about his interesting career, Steven tells Dealerfloor, he worked at the business (when it was just still just a repair shop) for about five years before getting married and swopping South Africa for Britain where he spent 14 years. “I was at the After-sales side of the motor retail business, four years at Land Rover and ten years at Mercedes-Benz. We decided to return to South Africa in 2012, and I took the management position as DP at Lens Auto Hyundai. My dad has since retired and my mom is almost semi-retired, still assisting at the dealership.

Steven says Makhanda is predominantly a legal and education hub with the Eastern Cape High Court and Rhodes University located in the town. “We also have some of the best private schools as well as Model C schools in the town. The drought over the last few years and low water levels of the dams have created havoc in terms of water supply to the town. Notwithstanding that, we are positive and committed to doing business here and serving the community in this part of the Eastern Cape. All in all, we are very happy back in South Africa,” Steven says.

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