The UK commercial vehicle industry has lost one of its most respected figures with the passing of Don Marshall, the founder of Britain’s longest-serving Mercedes-Benz dealership.
The Chairman of East Midlands group Mertrux died last Friday (18th November) after a long illness, aged 72.
Mertrux, which has headquarters in Derby and other dealerships in Leicester, Nottingham and Mansfield, has represented the three-pointed star in the East Midlands since 1971, three years before Mercedes-Benz UK opened for business. The Marshall family also owns the Lancashire DAF and Lothian DAF truck operations, which are based in Preston and Edinburgh respectively, and previously held an ERF franchise.
Don Marshall came from an agricultural background and always loved machinery. He began his career in the motor trade in 1963, landing a job two years later selling Dodge and Commer tractors for Burton-upon-Trent dealer Bert Deacon.
Don was truck sales manager in 1971, when, with Bert’s backing, he seized the opportunity to launch only the third Mercedes-Benz commercial dealer in Britain. After 12 months Don and his team had sold more than 70 units, "but we’ll double that next year," Bert told the Board. And they did.
Continued growth over the next decade, and the offer by Mercedes-Benz UK of a passenger car franchise to run alongside the truck and van operation, prompted a move in 1981 to the much larger premises on the Pentagon Island in Derby which are still the company’s home.
Despite his interests on the car side, Don was proud to declare himself a truck man through and through: "I’ve probably got diesel in my veins," he joked, on more than one occasion.
He was also immensely proud of the company he built, and of its remarkably loyal workforce. Of the 148 sales, service and parts specialists, and administrative staff employed across its four locations, no fewer than 20 individuals have been with Mertrux for 20 years, while six have clocked up 30 years’ service, four have reached 35 years and one, Chris Insley, the workshop foreman at Derby, has been with the company since the very beginning, having joined Don as a school-leaver.
The winner of numerous Mercedes-Benz and industry awards, and an enthusiastic supporter of a wide range of deserving local causes down the years, Mertrux is very much a family concern. Don’s eldest son Ian became Group Managing Director in 2005, having previously served as Dealer Principal, while daughter Sarah is Company Secretary and youngest son Matthew a Director; their sister Judith has also worked for the company in the past. The latest recruits – and the first of Don’s 10 grandchildren to join the firm – are Ian’s daughters Lucie, 19, and Chloe, 17.
Don remained true to his agricultural roots and in later years enjoyed tending to his prized herd of 60 pedigree Charolais cattle on the farm he shared with wife Hazel, at Scropton, between Derby and Uttoxeter. He was a breeder and prize-winning entrant at the Royal Show. "Hazel complains that I’m too competitive but I’ve always wanted to be the best as a motor dealer and the same goes for the cattle," he said.
Don also built an eclectic collection of classic trucks and other machinery. His favourite was a 32.0-tonne ‘bull nose’ Mercedes-Benz LPS1418 tractor unit, which was the first vehicle ever sold by Mertrux – it went for the princely sum of £6,250 to Burton-based Draycott Transport. Ian bought back the vehicle in 1996 as a gift for his father and once restored it was shown regularly in public, most recently at this year’s CV Show in Birmingham where, to mark its Ruby anniversary as a Mercedes-Benz dealer, Mertrux presented the truck at the main entrance to the NEC exhibition halls, parked alongside a new Actros tractor unit.
Ian Marshall said: "If my father taught me one thing, it is that this is a ‘people’ business, always has been and always will be. That’s why he ascribed such importance not only to the quality of the relationships we have with our customers, but also to the quality of the people we employ. He was a much-loved father, grandfather and employer, and will be sorely missed."
The Marshall family have requested that anyone wishing to make a donation in memory of Don, should do so to St Giles’ Hospice, Whittington, Lichfield – www.stgileshospice.com