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Darcy's family tyres.

Byline: Anastasia Weiner

Few businesses would deny they provide a great service that is quality for money.

But while many struggle to achieve the ultimate service industry ambition, North Eastern Tyre & Exhausts has perfected its art.

From its roots as a single service garage on Melbourne Street in Middlesbrough, North Eastern now boasts an empire stretching across the North-east and Yorkshire.

Serving both the motor trade and walk-in retail clients, the company has carved out an enviable reputation within a fiercely competitive and territorial sector, strengthened by agreements with most of the region's dealerships including Vauxhall, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, VW, Porsche, and car dealer giant Pendragon. It also supplies a number of competitors.

But its innovative approach to its customer-facing depots has also helped keep the Middlesbrough firm ahead of its rivals. Instead of the traditional "oil and rags" garage environment, North Eastern has built dealership style "super sites" that are more showroom than pit stop, complete with reception, internet access, plush sofas, children's play area, and refreshments.

"We wanted to create a much more friendly environment for customers," explains Ben Darcy, North Eastern's sales and marketing manager.

"We also employ female receptionists too, which we feel is much less intimidating for women drivers, who are anxious stepping into a male-dominated environment.

"As far as I know we were the first in the industry to adopt this model."

A third-generation family business, North Eastern also prides itself on a long-term strategy of "flexible innovation" and inward investment.

Not only has it achieved Investors in People accreditation, it is a member of the Institute of Family Business and the Entrepreneurs Forum.

North Eastern is also a member of the Tyre Industry Council (it has someone sitting on the council) and recently won an award for commitment to environmental issues - a key concern in the sector as new rules governing the diversion of tyres away from landfill come into power next year.

It's this entrepreneurial attitude that has helped build North Eastern into a pounds 30m turnover business employing 250 staff.

Founded by Fred and Netta Darcy 30 years ago, the business quickly expanded, moving from its original Middlesbrough site to larger premises at Brotton railway station.

It was here that Melbourne Motors, as North Eastern was originally called, identified a gap in the market for the supply and sale of tyres.

By the mid 80s, the business boasted two more garages in Marske and Guisborough, but it was the opening of North Eastern Exhausts in Middlesbrough that prompted a change of direction for the firm.

"As we distributed exhausts around Middlesbrough, people started asking if we could supply tyres at the same time, and as a result our distribution arm began to grow," says Ben.

"It marked the foundation of North Eastern as it is known today."

According to Mr Darcy, the business continued to grow organically until the mid-90s when an opportunity to join a nationwide tyre-buying group - Group Tyre - came up.

"As the other members of the group where in different geographical centres, it meant that we could take advantage of group purchasing without encroaching on each other's territory," explains Mr Darcy.

By the end of the 90s, North Eastern had expanded into York, and built a new centre in Middlesbrough.

Both sites were to reflect their plans to change the traditional garage experience.

"In Clifton Moor in York, the depot is sat between a number of dealerships. It was very important for us to blend in, which is why we adopted the glass showroom look," Mr Darcy adds.

"It is very important to Ian Darcy, our chief executive, to move away from a grungy environment. It has raised the industry standard."

The York concept site was followed by a similar design in Newcastle in 2004. The company also has a site in Goole and a distribution depot in Leeds.

The company continues to harbour expansion plans within its core service area of the North-east and Yorkshire, but currently has no intentions of straying outside its geographical boundaries.

"Development is likely to be something more along the lines of our existing retail and distribution model," says Mr Darcy.

As a third generation Darcy, Ben is proud of working in a family business.

"There are a number of Darcys working here, but it is by no means a cushy number," he stresses.

"Everyone at North Eastern works hard to improve and expand our business."
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Business Weekly
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Nov 28, 2006
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