Nicholson United Autos, with its sites in Whakatane, Morrinsville and Rotorua, is celebrating 40 years of Nicholson family ownership.
The car dealership was originally opened in Morrinsville in the 1930s by the Paine family, as a General Motors dealer, and a young 19-year-old Graham Nicholson started working for Paine United Autos as a car groomer in 1960.
“He cleaned cars, made the tea, and was a general rouseabout,” says his son, Dean Nicholson.
When Graham started at Paine’s, the dealership held franchises for Holden, Vauxhall, Bedford and Chevrolet. He worked his way up the company ladder, becoming the sales manager, and eventually buying shares in the business.
In 1980 he purchased the dealership outright. “He came home and asked what he should name the business,” Dean recalls. “Should it stay Paine United Autos, or should it have our name?” The family decided they wanted the business to be Nicholson United Autos. “Although for the next 20 years we were still called Paine’s,” says Dean.
Nicholson’s became well known through the district, with Graham at the helm supported by his wife Shirley, for its strong family and community-based values. The family business has always looked for ways to give back to the community they live and work in.
Graham added the Subaru franchise to the dealership, and although confident it was a good move, he was astounded at the success of the franchise. “He sold 12 Subaru’s in the first month, and that was a lot for those days,” Dean says. “Dad couldn’t believe how well they went.”
In 1984 the land in front of the neighbouring motel was acquired by Nicholson’s, and Toyota was added to the dealership. At this stage Graham and Shirley had three adult children, Dean, Ross and Wendy. Ross joined the business in the parts department in 1983, and Dean, after a brief stint with the Matamata Piako District Council, came on board in 1984 as part of the car sales team. Graham served on dealer councils for General Motors and Toyota and was on the MTA board.
The family had just completed the process of transitioning the business from Graham to his sons, when he died in October 2004.
It was in 2004 that Dean and Ross decided to add Subway to the business. “Dad thought we were mad,” Dean recalls. “We opened it two days before he died, and he was amazed when we told him there were people queuing down the street, waiting to order.”
Dean Nicholson is now the CEO of the company, Ross is Operations Manager, and the next generation are joining the team.
Ross has two sons in the business – Dylan and Curtis. Dylan is in accounts and Curtis in car sales. He originally trained as an occupational therapist, but decided to join the family business, starting first in the service department and moving to sales this year. Dean’s son Ryan started in sales and has recently moved into the marketing side of the business.
When Graham bought the business in 1984 there were around 40 staff, now there are 100. The Morrinsville firm has branches in Rotorua and Whakatane, and until recently, a Holden dealership in Matamata. They hold franchises for Nissan, Mazda, Suzuki, and now Kia, which has been taken on as a replacement for Holden.
Dean and Ross continue to hold true to the strong family and community-based values established by Graham and Shirley. They have had many staff members stay with them for several decades, including Ray Glover, Ron Bean, Dick Reston, Sylvia Smith and Graeme Hurley, to name a few.
Chris Earl has been selling cars for Nicholson’s for 40 years, with Andrew Lingard, Parts Manager, just clocking up 35 years.
“There are four things we work on every day,” says Dean. “Personalised service, respect for our community, giving our customers a consistent experience, and maintaining a resilient business that we hope will be around long-term.
“We don’t always get it right, but if we don’t, we make it right,” he adds. “That’s what Dad taught us. We still have customers who dealt with the Paine family, and with Dad.”
Kia catches on
The brothers have added Kia to their range of vehicles in Morrinsville. “Kia is a brand that fits with our customer base,” says Dean. “These cars are really high quality, but priced well. They are a great value for money brand.”
Todd McDonald, Managing Director of Kia Motors New Zealand, says the expansion of the Kia brand is an exciting opportunity for all concerned. “Dean and his team have greatly impressed us with their extremely professional, customer-oriented approach, which reflects the philosophy of Kia Motors,” he says. “We are very pleased to welcome the Nicholson team to the Kia Motors family and we look forward to the expansion of our brand in the region.”