Gilmour and Suzuki - a winning combination
Emma Gilmour likes to drive flat out and works at almost the same pace. She competes in the NZ Rally Championship and owns the Dunedin Suzuki dealership, Gilmour Motors. [photo: Geoff Ridder}
Emma is a regular competitor in the New Zealand Rally Championship, although 2019 has been a bit of a shocker. Her Suzuki Swift has blown two engines and there’s no spare. So it’s back to the workshop and out with the wallet.
“It’s a challenge,” says Emma. She’s had a few of those over her life and is no stranger to tackling the tough stuff to reach her goals.
Emma spent lots of time at her parents’ used and new car dealership when she was growing up. However, her first passion was for horses, and then later, driving. She became a driving trainer to support her rallying, competing in New Zealand and overseas. There’ve been lots of stage wins along the way, but Emma has her eye on the prize – she wants to be the first woman to win the New Zealand championship.
In 2010 she and her then co-driver and partner Glenn Macneall took on the Suzuki franchise and began selling new cars from the used car site of her parents, Alistair and Carola. on Princes Street in Dunedin.
“A year later we bought out my parents, who were struggling financially. Two months on, we found out why – they’d had an employee who’d been stealing from them for years. Over six years she stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2012 she was prosecuted and convicted.”
The woman was responsible for much of the Gilmours’ banking and credit control. “When we took over, she had to take on our computer system and couldn’t cheat it. We became suspicious of her and she left. Then we uncovered the fraud and much wider investigations began.”
The ongoing fraud had seriously damaged the Gilmours’ business. They’d thought the lack of cash flow was largely due to the GFC. “My parents had to downsize from a massive dealership with a big workshop and compliance centre to a smaller used car site.” The court heard the couple sold assets and took out loans to keep afloat and all the time, their employee watched them struggle and continued to steal from them. She was sentenced to four years jail.
“It was very cruel. They trusted her and she could see the stress and toll the cashflow shortage was having on them.”
Today, Alistair and Carola own a small workshop and sell imported used Nissan Leafs.
Building the brand
Emma’s personal ‘brand’ as a well-known rally driver has helped her build her business brand. There’s a lot of crossover.
“Before taking on the Suzuki dealership, I competed with a Subaru, now I drive a Suzuki Swift.” Her major sponsors are longtime supporters Vantage Windows and Doors, and now, Suzuki. “Suzuki has provided enormous help in developing the Swift for rallying, and it’s great to be able to rally what I sell.” Being known locally as a rally competitor also raises the profile of her business, and that of Suzuki.
Over the first few years, Emma and her sister Monica, who helps with marketing, built up Gilmour Motors’ website. Along with the usual pages on a dealership website, Emma also has a page dedicated to road safety, which focuses on various techniques and tips for drivers. Using her catch phrase ‘Buckle Up Buttercup’, Emma covers off everything from how to choose your first car through to how to avoid aquaplaning and drive on black ice.
“Every now and then, we share them on our Facebook page.”
Gilmour Motors also uses its Facebook page to promote the occasional car that’s for sale and tell people which charity will receive that month’s $250 donation from the business.
“Customers nominate their charity, cause or school, something that is special to them, and we do a draw. While it’s not a huge amount of money, it can mean a lot to a small organisation. We get approached often for charitable donations, and this is the fairest way to respond, we think.”
Best business tip
Emma says she runs the rallying side of her life as a business and has transferred much of what she has learned over the years into Gilmour Motors.
Emma says like others in the south she likes to do her deals honestly and with a handshake. And the business is doing well. “We’ve had to keep very tight control on spending while I paid off the early loans and then I bought out my partner Glenn when we split up in 2014.”
Building up the customer base has been vital. “One of the best things I’ve done to develop myself as a business owner was to join BNI (Business Networking International). The chapter I belong to has 30 to 40 members, all of them from different types of the business. The point is to refer business to each other, and to learn about each other’s companies. No one is in competition with anyone else.” The chapter meets once a week and over time, everyone gets to make a short presentation on their particular business. We have weekly engagement with each other which helps build a strong team atmosphere. “We share ideas and pick up tips from each other. In our chapter, last year over $2 million worth of business was done through referrals to each other.”
The Suzuki dealership focus is on New Zealand-new, with trade-ins from Suzuki owners who are upgrading. Recently one customer was celebrated on Gilmour Motors’ Facebook page when he drove off in the fourth Suzuki he has bought from the dealership.
The showroom includes a small counter for Hertz rentals. Gilmour Motors bought the agency license after a fire destroyed the city Hertz premises and the agency became available. “It was an opportunity to add some diversity to the business. We rent several cars a week and it brings new people into the showroom, many of them local, and some have bought cars from us.” The local customers are often using them as insurance replacement vehicles or people driving out of town for work.
“There are some tourists but I hadn’t expected so many locals. It all adds to brand awareness for us.”
Emma Gilmour’s enthusiasm and enjoyment of rallying underpins much of what she does.
“It’s such a buzz having the road to yourself. The car becomes an expansion of you, and on a gravel road you can make it dance. Nothing compares, unfortunately.”
“Mum and Dad taught Monica and I to drive well on the roads, and I think towing horse floats, driving trucks and riding motorbikes, all helped get me ready for the rally driver’s seat.”
Early in her driving career she worked for AA as a driving instructor, taught at corporate events, and still provides advance driver training on tracks, when time permits.
[Photo: Becky Ladbrook, Fast Exposure Photography]