Nigel McCree: Friendly and approachable

Nigel McCree may have moved himself and his business to deepest rural Devon, but that doesn’t mean the service will be any less than the usual personal, friendly approach. He talks to Jessamy Chapman about the company’s new chapter, seven years after starting.

Those operators who have dealt with Nigel McCree-Falconer over the last seven years will be familiar with how he works.

It’s a way of working that has allowed him to move with his partner Ruth Wardhaugh from Loughborough in the heart of England, to rural North Devon, in the last two months – without any detriment to the business.

The decision has come from Nigel and Ruth’s relaxed, now-or-never attitude to life.

Nigel is originally from Croyde, 10 miles north-west of Barnstaple. His long-term dream of returning home to North Devon has been achieved earlier than retirement thanks to the couple’s determination not to let their life leave them behind; to do it while they’re still young and they’ve still got the chance.

The new house, ‘Higgledy Cottage’ in Frithelstock Stone, six miles from Bideford, is currently being refurbished but eventually Nigel will have an office there, where his customers and clients are always welcome to drop by – as long as they don’t mind the dogs.

It’s Nigel and Ruth’s carefree, contented ideology that carries into the business. Readers of routeone may be familiar with Nigel’s adverts in the magazine – always with a different bon mot thrown in to reflect the company and keep it interesting.


The friendly middleman

The business model is relatively simple. Nigel is appointed sales agent by an operator wishing to sell a vehicle – similar to an estate agent. He’s the ‘middleman’, but that’s no bad thing. “Some buyers and sellers find it diffuses potentially sticky situations to have a middleman,” he says. Once he has been appointed, Nigel will get in the car and go to see the operator, take pictures of the vehicle, and check that it’s well-maintained, tidy, and with no defects. He believes it’s important to see the premises where the vehicle has been kept and maintained, and knows that potential buyers will want to see this too.

The fact that he’s now in Devon isn’t a problem for the travelling side. “I’ll go to most places in the car,” he says. “I like driving. We’re only two hours from Bristol, and from there only an hour from Reading. Reading Buses is a big client of mine, so it was important to stay fairly close to them.”

He adds: “There aren’t many operators putting ’07 and ’08-reg vehicles back into the bus market. And they do it to help themselves to keep investing in modern technology.”

His other major clients include Stephensons of Essex, Southdown PSV and Chalkwell, as well as many smaller operators.

On the other hand, Nigel is conscious of his carbon footprint and only goes out in the car when he needs to – such as when he gets new clients and customers. “It’s important that we see them face-to-face,” he says.

Nigel then puts the new vehicles’ photos and information on the website, which is the business’ ‘shop window’, and on the stock sheet, which is e-mailed every few weeks to a database of 2,500 potential buyers.

“I speak to all of them to ensure they want contact,” Nigel explains. “The people who get my stock sheet are the people who want to get it – it’s no blanket junk mail.”

He has a great relationship generally with his customers and clients. “I speak to operators on a daily basis,” he says. “When people are looking for a vehicle, they let me know, and I can tell them when something suitable becomes available.

“We know our customers and what they want; it’s a selling point. We don’t try to sell them what they don’t want.”


Selling all the stock

Nigel has a long history in commercial vehicle sales. He trained as a PSV and HGV mechanic, and worked as an HGV mechanic for the RAF. A couple of years after leaving the RAF, he started his own business, Drive Line Commercial, a mobile service and repair facility.

“It was great,” he says. “As well as general maintenance, I was helping operators prepare for test, helping with O-Licence applications, and acting as an expert witness for people having difficulties with vehicles.”

The business lasted six years, after which he became a sales executive at two Renault truck dealerships: First Lex Commercials, then RH Commercials.

“I took it as far as I could before looking at the next step,” he says. “I met Darren Dunbar, a finance broker. He introduced me to Volvo Coach Sales in Loughborough and I got an interview with Brian Walker.

“Brian is a good friend; I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s a hard man, but with him there’s only one way to go – succeed or fail, and we succeeded within 18 months.”

Nigel was promoted to Coach Sales Manager in 1999, in charge of the team selling 450-500 used vehicles a year for Volvo, and that’s where he stayed for eight years.

“In 2007, after meeting targets every year, producing profits and doing all the right things in the right way, we had trimmed the stock down in the best way possible,” he says.

“When it got to below 40 vehicles in the yard, it became apparent to me and to them that there was no viable job there, and I was made redundant.

“I was offered a few different positions in Volvo aftersales, but I didn’t really want to do that. I wanted to stay in sales.

“It was my good fortune to leave on good terms with Volvo, and I was happy to start my own business.”


Life’s philosophy soon took off. People whom Nigel had sold Volvos to approached him now to be their self-employed used vehicle sales agent.

“I’ve been self-employed before so I know the pitfalls, and the hazards,” he says. “It’s easy to sell when you work for a dealer. You’re given a job to do and a salary, and you know if you stay on target you’re likely to have a job the next year.

“What I do is a little more challenging. But I set my own targets and I know what tomorrow’s going to bring.

“And as long as I have a salary commensurate with what I used to earn, I’m happy. I’m not out to sell the most vehicles, or to make the most money.

“It’s more important to me to sell the right vehicles to the right people, and for those people to be happy with the vehicle and the sales process – and that they’re happy with it in their fleet. That comes from the heart.”

Since 2009, the business has sold around 100 vehicles every year, which Nigel is perfectly content with. “I don’t make too much or too little money,” he says. “I’m at a happy medium.”

As well as great relationships with operators, Nigel has good links with like-minded suppliers.

He still works with Darren Dunbar, in a mutual relationship whereby the two businesses recommend each other’s services and introduce each other’s clients, and has a similar partnership with insurance broker Wrightsure. It helps reputation and builds trust between the businesses and their customers.

“I try to make the business totally informal and approachable,” says Nigel. “When I was in managerial positions for other firms, it was always my ambition to make everything approachable for everyone.

“It doesn’t matter if a bloke walks in wearing overalls, and he’s got three vehicles. He deserves the same time and experience as an operator with 40 vehicles.”

“That’s the philosophy of Nigel McCree,” adds Ruth. “It’s about customer satisfaction and the personal touch.”

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