Expand and deliver: Inside car buying start up Carzam
The 4 Series Evans bought online was delivered in style
New online car retailer Carzam offers next-day delivery direct to your door. We try it out and meet its straight-talking boss
I’m supposed to be doing the interview, but the second I sit down in his office, Peter Waddell, a co-founder of Carzam, the online car supermarket that was launched in December, starts grilling me on my experience of buying one of his cars. Offence being the best defence, I blurt out that as a used car buyer, I prefer to see a car warts and all rather than, as Carzam does, preparing it so that it looks like new. Who knows what sins his company has brushed under the carpet?
Waddell promptly launches a blistering attack on a rival online supermarket that does exactly what I’m suggesting. “They don’t bother fixing dents and scratches. They just show them to you!” he exclaims, pointing to a used car on its website with all its blemishes circled. “That’s not good enough.” Warming to his theme, he declares that unlike other online car supermarkets that are owned by auction groups or backed by City investors, Carzam is self-funded (to the tune of £50 million, I’ve read).
Lest I doubt the depth of his pockets, he types his personal address into the computer and a moment later I’m gazing slack-jawed at a picture of his home, near London. It’s one of the grandest I’ve ever seen. His helicopter is parked on the sweeping lawn. Out of sight is a car collection that includes two Bugattis. I guess that if he’s happy to show off his house, he won’t mind me asking what he’s worth. “£800 million,” he says, adding that as well as from car sales (he owns a number of car dealerships, including Big Motoring World Group), his wealth comes from property investments and construction.
I’ve never known a businessman be so open about their wealth or so bullishly dismissive of rivals, but if I think the show’s over, I’ve not counted on the finale. Waddell rolls back the sleeves of his shirt. “See these scars,” he asks me, pointing to the ugly wounds on his fingers, hands and forearms. “My mother did those when I was a lad, which is why I was taken into care. I’m a Barnardo’s Boy.”
Does this explain his evident self-reliance and determination? Waddell started out as a chef, working evenings as a cab driver to pay for the cars he bought at auction. When there were too many to park on the street, he bought a small showroom and swapped his whites for a suit. Later he would launch the country’s largest independent BMW dealership and, in 2004, Big Motoring World Group, the template for Carzam, his new online venture that has brought me to his office in Peterborough. Quite literally, in fact, because I arrived in the very car I’d just bought from his website a couple of days before. I’d been invited to ‘test drive’ the Carzam experience by choosing and buying any car I liked. It would be delivered to my home and I could run it for a short while before returning it. To pay for it, I only had to quote a credit card number provided by Carzam.
My first instinct was to choose one of the company’s fastest and most expensive cars but I decided that if the exercise were to have any value, I should choose something older and cheaper. I plumped for a one-owner, 2014-reg BMW 420d M Sport auto coupé with 77,000 miles and a full BMW service history, for £12,650.
Like other online sellers, Carzam’s prices are non-negotiable because, it claims, they’re already low. In reality, the BMW was no cheaper than similar cars advertised by traditional dealers who, crucially, would be open to offers. Later, I raised this with Waddell, who defended Carzam’s prices by saying they were checked against other major sellers to ensure they were competitive. (After I returned it, the BMW was re-advertised for £13,000.) Regarding his company’s low bid for my ‘part-exchange’ (£1000 less for my sample swapper than a leading valuation source), he was equally unrepentant, saying that the company prefers to quote a conservative valuation it will stand by, rather than disappoint the customer by offering less at the point of exchange. “We don’t want to kick the customer in the balls,” he said.
Having ordered and paid for my BMW, I had only to wait 24 hours before it would be delivered. In the meantime, I watched a personalised video introduction to the car emailed to me by the sales team. Late the following day, the car arrived in a smart, covered trailer.
The next morning I checked it over and to my surprise found three blemishes: a paint chip the size of a 5p coin to the side of the passenger door handle, a small L-shaped tear on the side of the driver’s seat and green discoloration on the driver’s window rubber. I looked forward to raising these with Waddell later the same day at Carzam’s Peterborough HQ.
Aside from the seat tear, the BMW’s cabin was like new and on rough, urban roads rattle-free. On the motorway, the car purred along returning 46mpg. Not for the first time, I gave thanks to those people who buy new so cheapskates like me can enjoy their old cast-offs for a song. At his Peterborough office, Waddell was annoyed at the marks on the car and said they would be rectified. It was hardly the point but I let it pass. In any case, I wanted to see the jewel in the Carzam crown – the brand-new preparation centre.
Two more centres are being planned and by next December Waddell hopes to be selling 20,000 cars a month. I’ve no doubt this multimillionaire Barnardo’s Boy will achieve his ambition. “What everyone in this business needs to understand,” he says, “is that we’re coming to town and we’re going to deliver.”
*Inside Carzam's £40m prep centre*
To be successful, an online car sales operation must prepare its cars properly. This fact hasn’t escaped Carzam boss Peter Waddell, who, with his business partner John Bailey, has spent £40 million creating a 14-acre vehicle preparation centre. Around 350 cars arrive every day and are first driven over machines that measure the tread depth of each tyre (4mm is the minimum allowed). The vehicle’s condition is then assessed and any dents, scratches and chips highlighted for rectification. Special scanners will soon be installed that will measure panel gaps and paint depth. Cars that fail to make the grade are sent to auction.
The successful cars now go to the main area, which features 72 workshop bays and 12 MOT bays. Six ‘runners’ ferry parts to the mechanics so their work isn’t interrupted. In one corner of the centre is a movable paint oven that can bake five cars an hour. Paint chips are properly repainted and oven baked rather than touched in and chipped windscreens replaced rather than repaired. Alloy wheels, too, are properly repaired and repainted in ovens. There are nine dent repairers working in two shifts and four people whose sole job is to fit numberplates. Surveying his high-tech centre, Waddell says, cryptically: “If you don’t have the sweets, you don’t have the sweet shop.”
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