■ The man who sells supercars to the superstars, 59, on why lockdown means you must step on the gas to be a success
What’s lockdown been like for supercar sales?
It’s been incredibly busy. Because I live on a private estate where my showrooms are, we were the only top-end luxury supercar dealership legally allowed to operate and for many people, despite the grim news on television, life doesn’t change. They still treat themselves — and even more so, because people are really seeing the reality that you can be here today and gone tomorrow. So they are treating themselves to that car they’ve always dreamed of. In my 47 years of working I’ve seen four recessions and as a supercar salesman I make twice as much money. In the crash of 2008, the super-rich were terrified of the banks crashing so they invested their assets into visible assets like supercars and prices shot up. When — like now — circumstances become trying, you need to focus and have determination. My advice to anyone working through the lockdown? Get up a bit earlier and go to bed a bit later, sign in at 7am and go home at 8pm.
So it’s true you work every single day of the year?
I’ve been in my showroom every Christmas Day for 30 years because a lot of people do buy cars as presents. I’m busy on Christmas Eve wrapping giant ribbons around Ferraris. I love making people happy and staying open on December 25 means people come to me. I don’t like holidays and although my wife insists we go away I do have a phone and I still do deals. In fact, when my son was born in 1987 I was making calls from a telephone box outside the labour room. I’ll never forget that day — I closed a deal on a Bentley on the payphone just outside the delivery room.
What extremes have you gone to for a deal?
I saw a Ferrari parked outside the Holiday Inn in Leicester once and because it was a much in-demand model I went inside and asked who it belonged to. It turned out the owner had gone into the leisure club and when I went to find him, they told me he was in the sauna so I stripped off and joined him. I introduced myself, told him I wanted to buy his car and, after his initial shock, he agreed. I bought the car there and then, and he took a taxi back to his office. It’s the only time I’ve stripped off for a sale. But last year I was stuck in a traffic jam on the M25. I started chatting to the driver of a Range Rover. He told me he wanted to change his car for a newer model so we ended up doing a deal on the motorway. I was delayed for six hours but he drove away looking forward to a new car and I left with a deal worth tens of thousands.
You started selling cars at school…
My parents owned a carpet shop so I was selling carpets when I was still at primary school. But my father had a Rolls-Royce when I was nine and I really liked it, and I knew then that I didn’t want to spend my life selling carpets — I wanted to sell cars. I made my first car sale at the age of 12 in 1972 when I borrowed £2,100 from my dad to buy a Range Rover, which I sold the next day to one of his friends. I made £150 profit, which was a lot of money in those days. My uncle used to drive me around the car auctions and I learned the intimidating feel of an auction, as well as how to recognise the body language of people about to buy. I can tell as soon as someone walks into the showroom if they’re serious about buying or not, just from judging the way they hold their shoulders or look you straight in the eye. By the time I was 14, I was buying and selling Range Rovers and Rolls-Royces. I concentrated on selling unobtainable models but I have never owned a car in my life.
What’s the most expensive car you’ve ever sold?
A £30million Ferrari. I can’t say who we sold it to — I signed a confidentiality agreement. My clients include Elton John, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rod Stewart. People usually arrive at the showroom in helicopters. We’ve a private landing pad just outside, which has proved invaluable during lockdown because we’ve managed socially distanced car handovers.
Mistakes, you’ve made a few?
My first was selling an Aston Martin for the wrong price in 1979, when I lost £10,000 because I valued the car wrongly. It was my first experience of losing money in a single deal and it was a bitter pill to swallow but at least I learned my lesson.
What’s been your lowest point?
I made my first million at the age of 17 before losing it all when I was squeezed out by a change of rules from big car manufacturers. At the same time I had to have corrective eye surgery. It was a terrible low because I didn’t know if I’d get my eyesight back and I had to build my business back up from scratch.
What’s the ultimate dream car for most people?
Most young men want Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches. My own favourite still has to be a Rolls-Royce because I don’t think any other car gives you the same feeling of success or lets you know you’ve arrived. When I was 14 I was caught behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce, which I was driving from Aberdeen to Glasgow to sell.
Salary: From £20,000 plus commission for a junior car salesman up to £700,000 for a supercar salesman
Regular hours? No, because clients are in different time zones. I rarely finish before midnight and I take my mobile to bed so I can deal instantly with emails and calls from the Far East
Short and sweet advice: Don’t be greedy
We’re living in a different world suddenly and unless you can be flexible post-Covid, you may as well stay in bed because you won’t survive.
■ Hartley’s autobiography, The Dealmaker, is out now