This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
The Car Buying Group might be one of the youngest companies on the Northern Tech 100 league table, but it’s also the fastest growing, according to the first Northern Tech 100 league table.
A store cupboard in Bradford surrounded by toilet rolls might not seem a fitting environment for a promising young startup. But that’s where The Car Buying Group began operating in 2014.
“It really was a startup story,” says managing director Tom Marley. “I remortgaged my house, my parents remortgaged theirs – the lot.”
The idea came from spotting an opportunity in the online space for car sales. Tom and a few friends discussed a large deal that had recently taken place between We Buy Any Car and British Car Auctions and realised there seemed to be plenty of room in the market.
“We looked at that deal, knew that online car purchasing was still in its infancy, that there was only one big monopoly player, and that they were only taking up 5-10% of the marketplace, so it was ripe for someone to come in and give them a run for their money. We realised we could probably make a nuisance of ourselves,” he explains.
That was back in 2014. And within weeks of starting out in the store cupboard, developing a test and trial proposition with the company’s now tech director James Branton, and switching on their pay-per-click advertising, the leads started rolling in.
He quickly realised that convenience was going to be their USP and set about capitalising on it. “We looked at how convenient the selling process was for sellers at that time and decided we could take that to a new level. Rather than getting customers to drive their car hundreds of miles, we could collect it from their doorstep. Rather than make them wait three days for payment, we’d pay them immediately with an online transfer.”
Of course, an easy sale might sacrifice some of the money you could make but that’s just part of the business, Marley says. “That’s the market we operate in. It’s not about getting the highest sale price possible for your car, but it’s more convenient through us, and everybody knows that – we all know where we stand in the market.”
The thing that powers all this for the end user is the tech they developed. Getting that right was their number one priority before going live with the online platform. “Our biggest asset, our IP if you like, is the valuations engine we’ve developed. It’s a living, breathing organism, constantly interrogating data, pricing and what we’re buying.”
He then cautiously elaborates, trying not to give too much away. In essence the tool they’ve developed gathers data from various industry sources and applies a complex set of algorithms that factor in the minutiae of the car before offering a guide value.
Their tech team is so good they even build their own products for internal use, such as a scheduling tool for the company’s call centre.
Contrary to what many say about a lack of technical talent in the sector, Tom says he had no trouble there. “We’re firmly rooted in the Yorkshire area which puts us in a unique place. Our location near the M1 [the company now operates from Wakefield] means we have access to people living in Sheffield, Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford and we’ve got some really good people who don’t want to have to move to a London startup or commute to Manchester and we’re able to capture that wealth of talent.”
He adds: “It’s easier to say it’s not out there. I think you just need to think about it differently and allow people to work differently, remotely if necessary. Our tech director lives in Plymouth.” In fact, he says hiring the right sales staff quickly is actually his biggest business challenge.
Having a good tech and market intelligence team is what’s enabling the company to run as efficiently as possible, diversify, and grow fast. 18 months ago the Car Buying Group decided to accelerate its growth by selling white-label solutions to other websites, as well as forging commercial partnerships based on the online valuation tool they’ve developed. This means they now have two sets of customers – consumers and corporates.
Tom is confident about the year ahead. With a number of big projects in the pipeline he expects the company to at least double its growth rate this year. Quite the trajectory from its humble store cupboard beginnings.
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