Midbay Motors in Richards Bay was recently awarded the Absa Golden Award for medium-sized franchises. Dealerfloor asked Tracey Coetzer, Dealer Principal at the VW franchise of Midbay Motors, to tell us more about the family-owned business on KZN’s North Coast.
What dealership awards are you proudest of?
The year 2020 has been good to me. I won the Club of Excellence award at Volkswagen SA this year for 2019 (the dealership also won in 2012 and 2013) but it was our first award since I took over the VW dealership in January 2017.
I also won the Absa Golden Partner Awards for 2019 – which is fantastic, as Midbay has never ever won this award.
My dream is to win Volkswagen SA’s Dealer of the Year; then I know I am on top of my game.
Midbay has been trading for 47 years, who started it?
The Hodgson brothers, my father Michel and my uncle Daniel, started Volksway Empangeni in 1973. Both their wives, my mom June and aunt, Connie, ran the business.
They expanded to Richards Bay in 1989 under the name Midbay Motors, where my brother, Kenneth, a few cousins and I also joined the family business. Kenneth and I purchased the business in July 2004, I was the sales manager and Kenneth was the DP.
Midbay Group today sells VW, Audi, Peugeot, Citroën and JAC, and I own 50% of the Midbay Group. We no longer have any family working alongside us, but the future may yet see either his sons or my daughters join us. I hope they do.
How do you manage the four brands in Midbay Group?
I am the DP of the VW franchise, Kenneth the DP of Peugeot, Citroën and JAC, and we have appointed Frank Kruger as the DP of Audi.
We run each franchise independently but share the admin costs. Before I took over the VW dealership, I was the financial director after our accountant decided to leave.
I did this for a few years until we were approached by Citroën and I decided to head up this new initiative. This was in 2013, when we had just built a state-of-the-art dealership for the VW dealership, and we had space to open Richards Bay’s newest Citroën dealership, which opened July 2014. I ran this so successfully that when they decided to amalgamate Citroën and Peugeot they gave me Peugeot, with Empangeni getting Citroën.
When Kenneth relinquished VW, I took up that challenge, and I have been here since January 2017.
Midbay Group’s admin is based with me at the VW dealership, and I work closely with our financial manager. Having grown up between dad's workshop and mom’s office, I’m not scared of getting my hands dirty and rolling up my sleeves when it comes to work. The only thing I am short of is an overall, I’ve never attempted overhauling engines!
Where did you attend school and train to continue in the family business?
I matriculated at Empangeni High School and was accepted to do a BCom on my trials, but finals didn’t go so well. My father wanted me to redo Matric. I instead found an executive secretarial course at Sight and Sound College in Durban and sold him on the public relations and accounting courses.
I of course also learnt to type like an executive secretary and I must say, it’s a skill that saves me a lot of time today. After living in Durban for a year (and having a ball!) I joined the family business in December 1992.
I subsequently did several correspondence courses in marketing, managing and accounting. I even did Wimpy’s restaurant management course for three weeks, as my family used to own a Golden Egg. However, I think on-the-job training and learning all our systems have been my best training.
Owning the business and being the Key Individual for FSB, I still do 18 hours of continuous professional development a year. I continue to study and really enjoy it. It is a lot easier now than when I was at school!
In 2013, I completed the Leadership Development programme offered by Stellenbosch University through a VWSA initiative. This has added great value to me as a person.
Is Richards Bay seeing a V-shape recovery, or are the area’s industrial and tourism economies still reeling from the effects of lockdown?
Still reeling — when we came back in May, we had three phenomenal months but we had a slowdown in August and September and await the outcome of October.
This is, as I predicted, how the effects of COVID-19 would play out: April with no income whatsoever, then doing exceptionally well as pent-up demands are met, and the last quarter taping off drastically into 2021.
Richards Bay is made up of big industry such as Billiton, Richards Bay Minerals, Mondi, Bell Equipment, Foskor and the Richards Bay Coal Terminal. Should any of these fold, the impact would be disastrous. We saw the ripple effects last year when one of the businesses retrenched 500 people at a time. The entire town slowed down.
Web-based sales mean all dealers are now national, does Midway staff mostly sell Empangeni and the Bay, or everywhere?
We definitely put ourselves out there to sell you a car to wherever you want it. Loyalty and supporting your local dealer seem to be a thing of the past. People browse the Internet and click. The challenge is to respond first once the client has clicked. We are all in a fast-paced race.
Which type of deal suits your clients best, straight loan, balloons, or even used car leasing?
Our clients are 70% government officials and they are all very price conscious, opting for 72 months and the maximum balloon.
In employing staff, which do you rate highest, attitude, experience or training?
Attitude. I pride myself that I have had five tea ladies that have all been promoted through the ranks with very little experience.
Their attitude, hard work and dedication to Midbay have got them to where they are today. Today, they are respectively a creditor clerk, licensing clerk, receptionist, sales executive and leads manager.
I feel so loved by all of them at my dealership; they even fight to get a selfie with me.
How important is recognising your staff’s effort for you as manager?
Very important, I am always aware that any achievement we get is not owing to me, but my team, and I always find a way to say thank you even if it's just a PS chocolate.
My favourite staff story was when my sales and finance and insurance ladies, Jackie Smith and Cheryl Ulyett, posed on the dealership floor as mannikins dressed in bikinis with a surfboard and a few decorations to look like a beach scene, while waiting for my Regional Sales Manager’s visit. When he walked past them, they suddenly moved, making him almost jump out of his shoes!
When do you do your thinking, do you set aside “me-time” or strategise on the run?
I love sport and pretty much do anything if challenged — running, cycling, golf, boot camp and tennis. Ideas or strategies come to me at different times but I think most ideas are sparked during conversation.
Family – do you balance home and work, or spend more time at work than home, what does “me-time” entail?
I’m definitely a hard worker, but I try to maintain a good balance between home, work and exercise. I love sport and pretty much do anything if challenged, running, cycling, golf, boot camp and tennis. Ideas or strategies come to me at different times but I think most of the time engaging in conversation spikes an idea that leaves me pondering. Sport is my favourite pastime, but I also love to binge watch a good series.
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