From a used car dealership in 1974 to a mega multi-franchise new vehicle dealer today. That’s the story of the Smith Auto Group (SAG) in Bloemfontein.
Soon a dream will be realised when SAG will move into their new 18 000 m2 premises in Markgraaff Street in the Free State capital. This brand-new, state-of-the-art dealership is a completely new facility, and it will open its doors towards the end of November this year.
Unfortunately, the founder of SAG, Ferdie Smith senior passed away recently, so he will not see the completion of this part of his legacy. Ferdie and his wife, Lynette, who passed away in 2001, started the business in 1974 selling used cars, and over the years they built it into a formidable auto business in the Free State with the help of their three children.
Today SAG is run by the three Smith children, Ferdie, Fjay and Marisca Morrison. They are the three directors of the business. Ferdie fills the role of General Manager, Fjay is in charge of the After Sales divisions and Marisca oversees the Sales divisions.
Ferdie, the oldest of the Smith siblings, says the three of them have been involved in the car business all their lives and that Marisca sold her first vehicle when she was only in grade 7.
SAG first welcomed Honda into its fold in 2000 and in 2004 Mahindra followed. Four years ago, GWM/Haval became part of SAG and about two years ago the French brands, Peugeot/Citroën, were their latest acquisition. Today they also run the Mahindra and GWM/Haval dealerships in Bethlehem. The possibility of yet another brand, not yet named, can at a later stage also become part of the SAG.
“We really look forward to the opening of our new premises,” Ferdie tells Dealerfloor. “Our dealerships are currently in the Central Business District and comprise of about 5 000 m2 and limited parking is one of a few drawbacks. The new venue is safe and user friendly with more than a 100 parking spaces and a coffee shop.
“Our massive workshop will include a training facility for our technical staff. All the different brands will be under one roof but separate, each with its own technical team. Our location close to the Central University of Technology will see interaction with the students on both the marketing and technical side of the business,” says Ferdie.
Says his brother, Fjay, about their staff and the new development: “Without our staff complement of 65 people, their loyalty and dedication, the Smith Auto Group would not have been able to get this development off the ground. They are crucial in the operational part of it on a daily basis.”
According to Ferdie, they will also focus on the environment at the new facility by using grey water and making use of solar panels to provide additional power. “I think it is also worth mentioning the fact that we create around 30 new job opportunities at our new premises. It is a massive investment and capital injection that we believe will bear good fruit for us and our customer base,” he says.
Asked about the current business conditions, Ferdie says the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the auto industry is well documented. Getting stock is a serious challenge across the board, maybe a bit less so on the GWM/Haval side.
“We cannot take deposits for new cars and keep customers waiting indefinitely. On the Mahindra side, we have a very loyal customer base that is more patient to wait. With some of the other brands customers are not as willing to wait. In the meantime, we keep our workshops busy by getting vehicles in for servicing and concentrate on what we have control over,” Ferdie tells Dealerfloor.
“My parents were born and bred Bloemfonteiners. My dad passed away a few weeks ago. He had been ill for several years but would still pop in to say hi on a regular basis. My mom was at my dad’s side since the business was established and was part of it. We will carry on with the legacy,” he concludes.
Mitsubishi Motors South Africa (MMSA) kept the wheels rolling this year with the opening of five new dealerships in four provinces.
The latest addition to the Stellantis dealer network is a large, new Super Group multi-franchise facility in Jacaranda Street, Hennopspark, Centurion, for Jeep, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot and Citroën.
We can overcome all the hurdles placed in front of us if we recognise our biggest asset in business is our people, says Rob Downs the Dealer Principal at CMH Nissan and Mitsubishi Pinetown.