His nickname already tells a story about his passion for cars, but his achievements at a noticeably young age in the highly competitive motor retail industry, show true commitment and passion.
The nickname “S-Class” was given to Sean Claase because of his passion for Mercedes-Benz and the similarity in his name. He acted true to his nickname when he joined the Mercedes-Benz AMG Academy at Zwartkops in Pretoria, which he still does on a part-time basis in-between his full-time work at the dealership.
But his business achievement is much broader than his passion and knowledge for Mercedes and his love of driving.
He started his automotive career at Autohaus Angel in Cape Town as a youngster, with no experience in car sales. After a few years, he decided to start his own business, not driven by money and chasing targets, but by his love of cars.
In 2015, at the age of 24, he used his credit card to buy his first car to sell. His mother helped him to clean and prepare the car to a standard that he was happy with and then found a buyer.
With this effort, his business career in the motor trade was launched. Shortly after that, someone he knew contacted him to sell three of his cars. Sean took on this task successfully and has never looked back.
He later swopped working from home and found a suitably sized warehouse in Killarney Gardens, Cape Town. After a couple of months, Sean decided to move his business up north to Johannesburg where he was born and bred, hoping to expand his business in the City of Gold.
After a year and a half up in Johannesburg, having to acquaint himself with new workshops, panel shops, auto trimmers and of course paying a lot of “school fees” in the process, he established Automotive South Africa in Ferndale, Johannesburg, with space for up to 60 vehicles.
Dealerfloor chats to the Sean “S-Class Claase”, the founder and owner of the dealership about his road to success and the effects of the pandemic.
“I worked tremendously hard to get where I am today. I have never been handed anything, I worked in a video store part time at the age of 16, saved up and at 17 I bought my first car. But my eyes were always on the motor industry, I wanted to work with cars.
To start a business with one car that you bought on your credit card, is a gamble that paid off in many respects. Another challenge was starting a business from scratch, then moving it 1 400 km to start all over again.
“I had to overcome a lot of challenges, one being a huge monopoly player in the industry, buying every car in sight, leaving not much for the smaller to even medium-sized dealers. Then the pandemic hit and complicated business more. Stock is scarce and expensive, but we manage to stay afloat.
Asked about what kind of vehicles Automotive South Africa specializes in, Sean says mainly vehicles anywhere between R100 000 and R400 000. Trying to get good cars under R100 000 is always tough, mileage and condition wise. And at this point, our purchase limited is under R400 000, and as long as we know our limits, we have the potential to grow.
“I love Mercedes-Benz. However, I also have a passion for Peugeot and Citroën. No one really knows why; I simply get questionable looks when I say that. Armand Peugeot was arguably one of the most passionate motoring enthusiasts, after Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler showcased their gasoline powered automobile, Armand Peugeot went ahead and created the second gasoline powered automobile with a Daimler engine.
“My love for Citroën has to begin with Andre Citroën; a man of vision and creativity. Which sort of shows at our dealership, we try to find and sell unique models still in excellent condition. From Peugeot 406 Coupes to 607s. Jaguar XJs, Volvo 960s, etc. Those kinds of cars do not sell everyday so we deal with a wide range of vehicles.
“We do not do the prep work of the vehicles ourselves but use first class service centres like Bosch and the AA to make sure what we sell, are in tip top condition. Our reputation in retail is of the utmost importance and we have never had a comeback, including “blind buys” where people bought from us and only see the car in real life once it is delivered and we deliver nationwide,” he says. In the 6 years of operation, we only had one retailed car returned, and that was in the early days and because of a weak aircon…
Sean says in establishing his business he did everything, from the design of the logo to the required colour scheme. “I spent six days a week at the dealership and do everything from selling to washing and delivering cars. I love to be part of the entire process. I gave up my office to sit closer to the sales staff to understand what is going on and where I could perhaps help. I have a phenomenal team.
Asked about his passion for Mercedes-Benz, he says since a young age, the luxury German brand has been close to his heart. “It is also this passion for the brand that got me involved with the AMG Driving Academy.
In late 2013, Mercedes-Benz was launching its then new S-Class. Donovan Taylor, a good friend of Sean’s, and a driving instructor, mentioned Sean’s name as they needed extra help with the launch. “The week ahead was bucket list stuff! My knowledge, passion and driving skills all played a part in me connecting to the Driving Academy and the rest is history.”
And his view of the future taking all the abnormal circumstances we find ourselves in these days into account? “I am positive that we will manage through this period. I have overcome a lot to start my own business with great challenges that necessitate hard work and dedication. I believe in following that recipe,” Sean concludes.
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