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Mercedes-Benz dealer S & B chalks up a 30-year milestone

S & B Commercials represents Mercedes-Benz in Hertfordshire, Essex, and London. A three-time winner – most recently in 2011 – of the prestigious Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicle Dealer of the Year title, the company operates from headquarters in Welham Green, near Hatfield, other main dealerships at Stansted and Thurrock, and vehicle maintenance units at customer locations in Harlow, Hatfield, Thamesmead and Wellingborough.

As well as the award-winning Mercedes-Benz truck and van ranges S & B Commercials is responsible for sales of the popular Fuso Canter light truck, while its factory-trained service and parts teams provide round-the-clock after sales back-up.

The company’s success has been a personal triumph for Managing Director Ron Holmes. Over three decades S & B Commercials has grown out of all recognition and it is today an £80-million turnover business, employing 275 staff across its seven locations.

Though now 69, Ron has no intention of retiring and remains firmly at the helm. Wife Carol, a Partner in a City law firm prior to her retirement, continues to provide "sound, impartial advice" as Company Secretary, while the couple’s son Daniel started working for S & B in 1999 and is now Director of Operations.

What, then, is the secret of S & B’s success? "If I’ve done anything well, I’ve employed the right people," he said. "My firm view that staff should be treated with dignity, and have their value to the company acknowledged regularly, has stood me in very good stead down the years."

Underlining this point, in addition to Ron and Carol, S & B Commercials still has eight employees each of whom has clocked-up 30 years’ continuous service. A further seven have achieved 25 years, with 10 more serving at least 20 years.

Ron’s first job was mining coal in his native Black Country. "I was the only worker down the pit with three A-Levels," he recalled. Spotting his potential the National Coal Board awarded him a scholarship to read Mining Engineering at Nottingham University.

But armed with an Honours Degree he quit the NCB – "I couldn’t face the prospect of going underground again" – and joined cement and concrete giant Blue Circle as a graduate trainee manager. "I ran a quarry in Kent," said Ron. "We were extracting 12 tons of chalk every hour, seven days a week. It’s the hole in which the Bluewater shopping centre now sits."

In 1972 Ron accepted a trainee manager’s position with the Lex Group and, because of his engineering background, was steered towards commercial vehicles rather than cars. Nevertheless, as he rose through the ranks Ron ran car as well as truck and van dealerships -he realised, though, that given a choice he’d plump for commercials every time.

Ron’s big chance came in 1982, when he seized the opportunity to undertake a management buyout of an ERF franchise which had previously traded as Sellers & Batty, but was already known as S & B. He quickly added two more franchises, giving him three brands under one roof. And then, in 1992, came the single most significant moment in the history of S & B Commercials… wooed by the manufacturer, he switched to Mercedes-Benz.

"I could only see the industry contracting in terms of the number of ‘players’ and I thought, when it does, who will be left? Not ERF, but certainly Mercedes-Benz. So I went with the biggest truck maker in the world, and the one with the best brand image."

To celebrate S & B Commercials’ 30th anniversary Ron and Carol hosted a dinner for their longest-serving colleagues and partners aboard a floating restaurant on the Thames, with guests being collected from their homes and brought to The Embankment by some of their customers in Mercedes-Benz Vito Taxis – one of the taxi drivers, Billy Lorimer, used to buy parts from Graham Turner, back when S & B was an ERF dealer.

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