Tony Ireland Townsville is one of the premier automotive dealerships in Australia, it became that way by delivering unparalleled customer service in every aspect of their business. They exceed customers’ expectations at every opportunity, providing an ownership experience that will encourage them to stay a repeat customer and share their experiences with others.
The roots of Tony Ireland Townsville can be traced back to Cairns in 1923, where Francis R. Ireland founded a business repairing and selling bicycles, motor cycles, and repairing motor cars. That business expanded and grew and was passed to Francis’ son, Ron Ireland in 1950. In turn, Ron’s son – the eponymous Tony Ireland – worked in the business through the late 1970s and early 80s.
Tony left that family store and moved to Townsville in 1985. He bought the Holden dealership, which is known today as Tony Ireland Townsville, and started serving as his own Managing Director. He was shortly awarded franchises for Land Rover, Jaguar and Peugeot. He also sold a couple Isuzu trucks every month, and led a team of 50 employees.
“It was unusual at the time because I had two younger brothers and usually the younger brothers would leave a family firm,” Tony says.
Since 2005, Tony Ireland has gone through a complete overhaul of their business. They’ve renovated the Land Rover store, built a new Volvo showroom, built a new Holden dealership and a new Isuzu truck and Toyota forklift dealership. “Where the old truck dealership was, we completely renovated,” Tony says.
Tony started that campaign of renovations and additions to bring the facilities up to modern standards. Since the original Holden dealership was built in the early 1970s, it was only designed to sell 350 new cars in a year. At its peak – with Land Rover, Holden and Isuzu all at one site – they sold 1,500 new cars in a year. This put enormous stress on the facility and it “really became tired,” Tony says. “Rather than renovate Holden we did a complete rebuild and it turned out fantastic.”
What makes Tony Ireland Townsville a dealership of choice is the amount of work they have dedicated to their “value guarantee” philosophy over the last few years. They’ve focused hard on the brand pillars of each franchise they represent. They’ve expanded their business by offering brands that don’t compete with, but complement each other.
“We’ve managed to build a business that’s got Toyota Forklifts and Isuzu trucks, for example, where everybody that’s got one needs the other and you’re not competing,” he says. “So the Holden brand doesn’t compete with the Volvo or Land Rover. And they don’t compete with trucks or Forklifts.”
The company has also focused heavily on providing an exceptional service to customers – and to have good customer service, you need good staff. That’s how Tony Ireland operates. To be a part of the Tony Ireland group you have to perform at the highest level. “If you want to be an employee of ours, you really have to have the basics down pat – you have to be honest, you have to have integrity and you have to be enthusiastic and care about the customers,” Tony explains. “We all have to treat them like we need their business back again.”
Tony describes the assessment of an employee as simple. If someone could not approach Tony at a work-related outing and have a friendly conversation, “then I don’t want him in the business,” he explains.
“That applies to sales people, that applies to managers and that applies to everybody. If it’s a management position, I’m not interested in a manager until I really meet the person and feel you’re the sort of guy I want to bring home for dinner and meet my wife,” he says.
Today, Tony Ireland Townsville employs 190 people. More than 25 of them have been with the company for more than 10 years. On the whole, the company’s staff retention is excellent, but does tend to be lower within the entry-level positions.
“We tend to have high turnovers in those areas because the guys at the bottom of the food chain are desperately looking for another $100 a week,” Tony says. “If somebody leaves my business to go and better themselves and buy their own business, I have a farewell party for them because I’ve been able to help their career.
“But if somebody is a salesman for me and they to go to be a salesman for someone else, I find it difficult to even say goodbye,” he adds.
Tony Ireland Townsville utilises excellent training facilities with all the latest audio and visual gear and computers. Currently, they do a lot of web-based training as well. “All the factories come to our dealership to train our people, but we also do training programs externally,” Tony says.
Tony himself goes to Chicago every 90 days for a two-day meeting, which is a planning and business management session with Strategic Coach – a world renowned business coaching organisation. “That’s how committed I am to exploring the world to get the best and latest of ideas,” he says.
As a result of their value guarantee and brand loyalty, Tony Ireland Townsville is a healthy business growing all the time. They’re always embarking on new projects and coming up with new proposals. “Our basis for expansion has always been business synergy. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel all the time,” Tony says. “That’s how we grow our business.”
The biggest challenge for Tony Ireland at the moment is the effect of the microchip on gross profit levels. The public wants higher levels of service and high quality facilities but aren’t prepared to pay, Tony explains. “Often the return gross profit in a vehicle deal is determined by which dealer in Australia is under the most pressure from their factory,” he says. “In the days where you could provide a better experience and be paid for it, it doesn’t necessarily apply anymore.”
The challenge for Tony Ireland Townsville is convincing people that their level of service and security is going to be superior. “We’re more efficient than we used to be. We have less staff in administration, therefore we get a more accurate and quicker result,” Tony says. “The business is really going to require stronger relationship building and it’s going to require leveraging the variety of the brands and databases.”
Tony’s long-term vision for the company is to do exactly that – which is what he loves, and what he is good at. He finds the challenge of investing in complementary businesses interesting, and he is excited about forging new lasting relationships with clients. “I think the future is going to be immensely bigger than the past, and we’re going to be proud of it,” he says.