Sitting in a store cupboard above a car body shop surrounded by toilet rolls, Tom Marley plotted the enterprise that would shake up a market dominated by one main player.
He had re-mortgaged his home, along with that of his parents, to get the business going alongside two other founders, all sharing dreams of building something big.
Three years later, their Bradford-based business, The Car Buying Group, was crowned the fastest growing company in GP Bullhound’s Northern Tech Awards, with turnover of £20m and plans to treble that within the next 12 to 18 months.
“We’re not just creating a cottage industry – we’re doing this to go big,” he told BusinessCloud.
Father-of-three Marley, whose previous roles include working as cabin crew for First Choice, got his taste for start-ups while helping establish an online car auction site for four years and decided to go it alone in 2014.
“I enjoyed the freedom to make decisions and move quickly without the red tape,” he said.
“We looked in the marketplace for something that would be digitally led, where there was one main player, that was ripe for us to disrupt the player.”
The company in question was We Buy Any Car, known for its catchy jingles and swift turnaround for those who want to cash in their vehicles.
Although they wanted to offer something different, chief executive Marley and the team were mindful that their offering was similar enough that the legwork their competitor had done in educating consumers around car valuation was not lost.
“People will come to the online space to sell their car for convenience, they may not make the most money but it’s convenient – it’s like going to your corner shop and paying more for milk than if you travel to a supermarket,” Marley said.
For that reason, the majority of the process can be done online, with a valuation received in two to three minutes – although he accepts some still wish to speak to a person over the phone. While other websites require an owner to drop off their car, The Car Buying Group offers free collection and payment is transferred within hours rather than them having to wait several days. The process takes an average of 24-38 hours.
The service was initially trialled in Yorkshire and the South West, but now covers the whole of the UK, with 25 per cent growth month-on-month. While their competitor went down the advertising route, Marley says they chose to set up online partnerships with car sales websites and leasing and finance companies.
“Why spend £15m on TV advertising when you need to be getting in front of the consumer when they’re making that decision,” he said. For that reason, customers looking for a new car on websites such as Motoring.co.uk, are offered a valuation service for their existing vehicle that seems to be part of that website but is powered by The Car Buying Group.
Although there is generally little loyalty in these types of transactions, three years on the business is noticing returning customers, which Marley puts down to their smooth and simple process.
Although they expected the growth they have experienced, the tendency is always to want more. Turnover was at £20m last year and the business is on track to turn over £60m in 2017/2018.
“We’ve created a relaxed office where people can express themselves and make a difference and everyone gets a share in the good times,” Marley said.