Tim, tell us what you know from those early days, it must have been a very exciting time.
Yes it was. My grandfather had gone into this very exciting business ‘motor cars’. It was very new at the time, there were no franchise or manufacturers, everything was imported.
Do you know why he moved to Pietermaritzburg?
Well, I think he soon realized that being near the ports was going to help business, and at the time PMB was the biggest city near Durban, so it made sense. His first business was on Commercial Road in Maritzburg and he kept his first cars in my grandmother's yard
I bet she was delighted with that! So did your Grandfather go it alone for a while or did he start to grow his business straight away?
I think quite soon after the move to Maritzburg they hired a man called Monty Diamont. He was Hoopers first employee and in fact he came to see us about 15 years ago. A fascinating man and it was really lovely to hear about those early days when cars were still a huge luxury.
The motto of Hoopers for many years has been Tried, Tested and Trusted.What is really behind that saying? Why do you think Hoopers is so trusted and so successful, even today?
My grandfather died when I was three, so I didn’t know him personally. However, from the stories passed onto me he certainly was a great people person. He hated to hear of customers being short-changed or unhappy. He actually started a philosophy post-war in about 1945/46 called SOS – Sales on Service. He wholly believed that you could do more sales by giving people good service.
So, you went from SOS to Tried, Tested and Trusted, based on the philosophy of your grandfather?
Actually there was a change in between. My father took over the business in the early 50s and changed it to ‘Where Customers Send Their Friends’. That was what was really important to us. There was always a Hooper to go to if you believed you weren’t being treated properly – and that really is at the heart of the company even today. “The buck stops here” to quote Ronald Reagan - there always will be a Hooper at Hoopers to make sure things turn out best for the client.
Do you feel that today, even though you are a family business, families still use Hoopers? Surely in this day and age loyalty to a brand because your father or mother used it is less common?
Maybe it is, but you know what makes it really worthwhile is when people come up and tell me ‘My father bought his car from you, I buy my cars from you’ – that really means a lot to us as a dealership. We think big corporates have lost that and we work hard to maintain that personal touch, even though we have grown enough to be able to service the big corporates in the quantities they require.
That really is so refreshing to hear. Now, you’ve been a Volkswagen dealership since 1969, what made you decide to become Volkswagen?What is it about the brand that you love?
“That’s a good question. My father was the managing director of the business at the time and we had been Renault from 1959 to 1968. We did well with Renault, we were an award winning dealership – but my father loved the marketing side. I remember him being frustrated and talking about the lack of support from Renault SA in growing the marketing side. I think he started to look around and Volkswagen filled that hole. We’ve been with them since 1968 and it really is a wonderful franchise.
So, Volkswagen really works for you?
Oh yes, it is a franchise you don’t willingly let go. It is a good value product and a good quality product.
I guess we have to ask then Tim, what is your favourite VW?
Well, there are just so many different options. From a practical point of view we have done tens of thousands of kilometres touring the country in Microbuses as a family. The Microbus has to be my favourite VW for traveling in as a family – you just can’t beat it. It is safe, well-engineered and has lots of space.
As a Hoopers family we have had lots of memories in a microbus, we have towed all sorts of things to all sorts of places.
But from an exciting point of view there isn’t much that can beat the Sirocco or the Golf GTI. One's a legend, and the other is an extremely well-engineered, every-man's sports car.
Then again, from an emotional point of view, can you beat the Beetle? I don’t think you can.Everyone has a Beetle memory somewhere.
Tim, I have to agree with you.It is such a long-standing, well-known brand and there are so many different aspects to it. It’s so nice that you can identify the different icons within it.I think everyone will have their own favourite VW car and it will be great to hear what your customers hold as their favourite car later in the year.
On a dealership level, you do a lot of sponsorship in the Durban community.What has been one of the most memorable events?
Well I suppose one of the most exciting ones recently has been Chad le Clos. He alone is a delightful character and really is a solid citizen and has worked very hard for what he has achieved. He really is an admirable person. His father is an exciting character and a really lovely family to know.
We have also for years been involved with Rotary – for 20 years plus. So it’s hard to put your finger on one event there. We continue tobe involved in all manner of charity events – we like to give back to the community we are a part of.
So, we’ve chatted about the past, what about the future? This year is a big year for the motor-industry. What do you see in store this year for Hoopers? Where do you think it is going to go?
One thing I’m sure about is that I don’t see the motor industry moving away from servicing. On the service andafter-sales side, being able to look after clients and stay abreast of the developments on the technical side is a challenge for dealers. Luckily at Hoopers we have a service department that is headed up by Douglas who runs an excellent shop.
However, I do think from an industry standpoint and a personal perspective, the impact the internet is having on the industry is changing the way motor cars are being sold. As dealers we have to adapt or die. Volkswagen is aware of this and are also making changes to keep the brandwell represented in the internet market.
It’s such an exciting change, I wish I could get rid of 40-years, but I will leave that challenge up to our current MD – Clive Brooks, and my son Dave Hooper.
Do you have any ideas on how to keep the business fresh? As a family business it can often be hard to keep moving forward – are there any not-to-secret plans you can share with us?
It's an interesting question – I’ve handed over the reins to our MD Clive Brooks, 6-8 years ago and he was the first non-Hooper to be an MD of the business. Clive has really done an outstanding job and I had honestly thought that it was the end of the Hooper dynasty when I handed over. But my son David, who is a CA that has been working in the banking industry decided to come on board. He earned his spurs; he worked very hard at learning the industry and now runs the financial arm. It’s been really fun watching him develop and he has lots of ideas. He’s coming in with all these new concepts and he is very in tune with the internet. I’m really enjoying watching this new team come together and take the business forward. I know I’m going to enjoy watching the dealership develop.
Clive, Doug and Dave are now the directors and I sit back and watch as we enter new fields that I wasn’t aware of: like Facebook and Twitter where everyone communicates different. It’s very exciting and really lovely to watch – I can’t wait to see where this year takes us.
Well I will be sure to go and like your Facebook page then! So one last question – any advice for those who want to get into the motor industry?
Besides don’t? It is an exciting industry and it will remain so. I can’t really see anything on the horizon that will change people from wanting their own mode of transport. To work in the motor-industry you have to love the service industry, you have to love looking after people, you have to enjoy the technical challenges that are coming and be full of energy for that. If you enjoy that you will enjoy the motor industry.
Well Tim, thank-you so much for your time. I’m sure all Hoopers customers will be delighted to see this snippet of the business they are so loyal to and it's been fascinating talking to you.
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