Company profile: Heritage Parts Centre
The Porsche owner hunting for spares might think he or she had come to the wrong address: a modern three-storey warehouse with ‘VW Heritage’ emblazoned across its front. After all, hadn’t VW and Porsche gone their separate ways? The sight of a 997 and striking 993 C4S in the directors’ parking spaces is slightly more reassuring, and then the company’s Marketing Manager, Andy Gregory appears. “Yes you are in the right place,” he says. “The directors are Porsche fans and we now supply over 3000 Porsche parts.”
VW Heritage retailing Porsche spares? It turns out there is solid business logic behind this. A ten year company man, Andy Gregory explains that the business really goes back to 1986 when founder David Ward hit on the idea of offering a removals service for students between digs: famously impoverished undergraduates were in no position to call a taxi. But he needed suitable transport, something slightly more versatile than a bare, steel bodied Ford Transit. So he hitched a lift to the Netherlands to buy a Volkswagen T2, the famous VW bus long beloved of campers and hippies. However, no sooner had he got the VW back home than a neighbour leapt upon it and made him an offer he could not refuse.
Budding entrepreneur Ward could see a more lucrative business than trundling students about. He returned to the Netherlands and purchased another VW bus which he converted into a camper van and resold – the enterprise was not called VW Heritage yet, but you can begin to see what was coming. His expertise with VW’s van led to requests for parts from VW Karmann Ghia owners, spares for which like the bus were then more plentiful in Holland and Germany.
Inevitably he began to get inquiries for Beetle items and what originally had been Karmann Classics grew by the mid 1990s into VW Heritage. “We have had to change premises 5 or 6 times in total as the business was expanding,” says Andy Gregory, but we’ll be in Shoreham for good now, I expect – we have enough room to grow.
“VW Heritage took over the Essex-based VW specialist Big Boys’ Toys in 2007, and the name was repurposed and marketed towards classic Golf models in particular. The Big Boys Toys brand was specifically of interest to the company as both Purchasing Director Paul Howard, and current MD Barney Dines worked there in their former years; and having missed out on acquiring the business previously the opportunity was seized with both hands this time round.
The expansion into water-cooled VWs came at the good time, and with Volkswagen only obliged to offer their replacement parts for twelve years there’s a healthy amount of 80’s, 90’s and now 00’s VWs still alive which are all going to be needing assistance in the future. He is at pains to point out though that throughout its evolution, VW Heritage has never lost touch with its ‘run by enthusiasts for enthusiasts’ ethos. “Because we understand the cars as owners ourselves, we can and do talk to customers at length about their projects and offer personal advice. We have also taken the ‘frequently asked question’ idea a lot further by researching client questions we couldn’t answer and building up an information bank. It means that today, although like everyone else we operate mostly online, we still field up to 500 telephone calls a day. Customers like talking to us and it helps cement relationships. A number of people here began as clients and ended up working for us.”
VW Heritage had their hard work recognised by VW Classic Parts in 2011. The obsolete parts division of the German car parts giant needed a UK partner who knew their back catalogue inside out, and picked VW Heritage to represent them here in the Great Britain. Andy explains more “This exclusive partnership expands our offering from 19,000 parts to well over 60,000, and it gives us the privilege of displaying a VW logo next to our brand, even though we remain completely independent”. A massive deal for a business that started on a shared driveway with nothing more than a few hundred quid in their hand.
In 2014 VW Heritage moved to its present site, just behind the river and docks at Shoreham-by-Sea: this impressive modern warehouse with a parts and racking systems worthy of a small manufacturing plant offered three times the space of the company’s previous building. “Our first thought was, ‘how will we use all this space?’ But in three years we have filled most of it,” adds Andy. The company’s business model is not just consumer retail, but wholesale, or B2B as well. Their dedicated trade team spend all day supplying workshops, restoration specialists and even other retailers as well.
The company has embraced further diversification too, becoming a partner in MEYLE UK, the distributor for Hamburg auto parts maker MEYLE. This efficiently makes use the parcelling and logistics set up at Shoreham to despatch MEYLE parts such as suspension control arms to motor factors all around the UK. MEYLE’s range of Porsche parts are all available directly through Heritage Parts Centre.
So where does Porsche fit in? Julian Carter is the Resident Porsche Parts specialist. “It’s something the company has considered for some time: it’s an obvious fit with the VW business and it uses our existing dispatch systems. It also uses a lot of the same suppliers like Dansk, for example. We are building up our marquee expertise – I come from a Porsche spares background and we will be offering the same service to Porsche clients as we do for VW.”
Porsche parts sales will be under the Heritage Parts Centre name and the aim is to complement rather than take over market share. The company’s experience with VW enthusiasts suggests that its personal approach will win Porsche custom. It will extend its own high resolution parts photography to Porsche items so that online enquirers can look in detail at the product. “Frequently they are looking at the part on their screen as they are talking to us on the phone,” remarks Andy.
Much in the same way it has organised social activities for the VW crowd, the company envisages similar events for Porsche. Heritage’s PR executive Eva Brückmann hails from Mönsheim, which by interesting coincidence is about as near to Porsche’s Weissach test facility as you can live. “I was raised on a diet of classic cars,” she says “and my father is the chairman of the local motor club: he organises get-togethers with all sorts of Porsche people: we’d like to plan some of our events round that.”
These are early days for Heritage Parts Centre: the Porsche website began only in June and the initial stock is 3000 parts. “But that covers most of the ground,” says Julian Carter. “We hold most common 911 spares as far as the 997 gen 1. 911s have gone up so much in price that nearly everything is worth restoring now.” VW Heritage employs 75 people who between them speak eleven languages: the firm delivers parts to over 120 countries. They are retailers but also enthusiasts, with the dirt still under their nails. They are good at what they do, and keen to pass on their experience to customers, whom they often come to regard as friends.Their Porsche venture has all the hallmarks of success: we wish them well.
Founding Directors – David Ward & Nickie Swaden
Managing Director: Barney Dines
Contact: +44 01273 444044