Pukekohe is part of a trusted motor vehicle company that’s been going from strength to strength for 90 years.
Doing a rip-roaring trade in luxury cars at the height of a recession sounds like a fantasy, but that’s just what Ebbetts achieved during the 2008/9 global financial crisis. General Motors in Australia had imported 100 Cadillacs, but got cold feet when the financial markets crashed. In what might have appeared a suicidal move, Ebbetts bought the lot. “It was the company’s most successful campaign ever. They went like hot cakes - there were three or four selling every day,” says Ross Sheppard, principal of Ebbetts’ Pukekohe dealership.
“It’s an example of the entreprenurial spirit of the company, and the way we are prepared to go out on a limb to seek out the best deals for our customers.” If Alf Ebbett had gazed into a crystal ball in1928, he might have reconsidered setting up a vehicle dealership in the face of the looming Great Depression. That he forged ahead anyway, and with his brother Ron continued to survive in business through the hard years of the 1930s, says much about the business approach that has seen the Waikato based company thrive and expand into the 21st century.
An early photo shows a line-up of trucks outside the Hamilton premises of Ebbett Motors, the names of Vauxhall and Chevrolet proudly emblazoned on the building behind. Along with other General Motors marques including Oldsmobile and the now defunct Oakland, these were the backbone of the company, carrying it through the Depression years. Then as now, farming needed trucks. With the expansion of dairying post-war, Ebbetts was ideally placed to supply milk tankers to Fonterra’s forerunner, the New Zealand Cooperative Dairy Company, which at one stage operated the largest single-site fleet of Bedford trucks in the world.
Ebbetts has grown well beyond its original Hamilton base with 12 dealerships across the North Island and over 600 staff. While now better known for comfortable cars than tough trucks, Ebbetts still caters for its farming base with a range of Nissan and Holden utes. A feature of the Ebbetts offering since the brand’s emergence in New Zealand in 1952, Holden is a firm Franklin favourite, sharing friendly rivalry with the Ford fanatics. “Holden is definitely here to stay,” says Ross. “The Colorado ute is a top performer on the farm, and the new look Commodore is an amazing beast. With its high performance V6 engine and all wheel drive with German engineering, it has better handling than the old V8 as well as a lot more specs. And it’s a great looking car. “Nissan is also a very strong seller, in both utes and cars. The Navara ute continues its popularity, while the Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail are mainstays of the SUV market. Call in to our stand at this month’s National Fieldays for some terrific special deals.” Like many of his staff, Ross has seen long years of service with Ebbetts. Starting as an apprentice mechanic in Hamilton, he’s worked his way up through the company to his current position heading Ebbett Pukekohe, where he’s been ever since the dealership opened in 2006. Usually a dealership manager comes from a sales background rather than a mechanical one. “They threw me in at the deep end,” Ross recalls, but he’s relishing the role and finds his intimate knowledge of vehicles from the inside out gives him a particular advantage in the sales area. It also means no pressure on prospective purchasers from the sales team at Ebbett Pukekohe.
“If you come into our car yard on the corner of Edinburgh and Tobin Streets in Pukekohe you won’t be rushed by over-zealous salespeople trying to push a deal. We have a relaxed atmosphere with no hard sell, but at the same time our staff are positive and helpful.” It’s an approach that clearly gets results, Ross points out. “Our branch sells 60 vehicles a month on average, and we service 35 a day. We’re the number two performer for the company, and it’s all down to the hard work and high standards of the staff.
“We have a very strong emphasis on looking after our customers, whether during the sales process or afterwards. Our after-sales manager Paul Fiebiger has been here as long as I have, and our business manager Michelle Wiggins can arrange finance to suit any customer. “Vehicle servicing is another of our strengths, coming complete with a complimentary vehicle spruce-up. For both service and sales, we’re a far more convenient option for local people than tackling the motorway into Auckland.
“We like to share our success by giving back to the local community. As a branch we’ve provided sponsorship to a number of groups including bowling and golf clubs, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and schools. “I’ve seen massive changes in Pukekohe since I arrived in 2006, and I’m really excited about the future as the town grows. We also have some exciting times coming up here at Ebbett Pukekohe, with new brands coming on stream shortly.” Currently offering nine brands from the utilitarian to the luxurious, Ross is coy about the details of what’s to come, but suggests customers follow that old adage – ‘watch this space’. There’s also another old adage – ‘you can’t always get what you want’ - but you might well find what you need among the 600 used vehicles to which Ebbett Pukekohe has access. And if Ebbetts can’t find something to suit right away, they’ll do their darndest to keep on searching till they find the perfect match.... maybe even a Cadillac.