H.R. Owen's Ken Choo | PH Meets

There isn't a petrolhead alive who hasn't dreamt of buying a supercar at some point; deciding on a spec, visiting an immaculate dealership, the agony of waiting for collection. For a select few H.R. Owen is one of the places you go to make that dream a reality. It's the world's biggest retailer for Bugatti, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini - and its ambitions do not stop there either. The firm has just opened a swanky new Mayfair Ferrari dealership, presenting PH with the ideal opportunity to sit down with CEO Ken Choo and talk shop.

Choo is an interesting guy, obviously brimming with energy for what is, by anyone's measure, a considerable workload (he's also CEO of Cardiff City FC and FC Kortrijk in Belgium, as well as heading up H.R Owen since the start of 2017). He speaks quickly and at length about everything from his 812 Superfast - "superb" - to charity dinners, hybridisation and the changes afoot in supercar buying.

Given our location, Choo is predictably keen to discuss the ongoing relationship with Maranello: "Ferrari as a company, even as a small company, know exactly what they want to do, exactly how to get there, how to sort their strategy and management." The potential, he reckons, is huge even after eight decades, and intrinsically linked to its considerable investment in R&D. "They're always trying to improve", notes Choo, who sees the SF90 Stradale as hugely important for the brand - and has bought one, of course - because of its ability to run emissions-free in a city without sacrificing the "soul of an engine" when its needed. Apparently lots of buyers in this realm aren't willing to embrace electric just yet - though HRO's recent acquisition of Pur Italia and Rimac franchises for the UK may soon change that - the majority preferring a best of both worlds compromise. "It's a no-brainer", the Malaysian says.

This being 2019, SUVs are inevitably part of the discussion as well. While he won't be drawn on any Ferrari 'FUV' conjecture, Choo says that H.R. Owen has seen that between 60 and 70 per cent of Lamborghini's Urus customers are new to the brand. But how do manufacturers retain the mystique that comes with low volume supercar production as numbers continue to rise? Choo sees the solution as fairly simple, at least in certain instances. "There's always exclusivity if you limit a production run"; he points to a Portofino that shares showroom space with the F8 and says: "If we said this was limited to 100 cars, it would sell out tomorrow."

Maranello is considered the exemplar at doing this, carefully managing supply and demand to keep customers content - "they protect the brand very well" - and ensure the demand is there for upcoming models. Choo mentions that not every HRO customer was interested in the latest Monza car at debut, yet the moment they were all gone those same clients were desperately keen to get hold of one. "If you don't want it, there's always someone else who does" is his view on limited run cars, which seems to hold especially true for Ferrari.

Aston Martin is a fascinating discussion point, the brand obviously facing a few issues at present following its IPO. Choo talks of the cycles every manufacturer faces, as demand ebbs and flows with product launches and how investment takes time to yield results. Having visited St Athan the week before our chat, where Β£60m is being spent, don't forget, Choo says Aston "is really doing the right thing." Interestingly, HR Owen was once a public company before going back into private ownership, the boss noting that it's easier to pursue a long-term vision when you don't have shareholders to keep happy. However, as the Aston range diversifies, the effects of the product cycle will be felt less harshly, he believes. That DBX, surely, can't come soon enough...

So those are some of the brands - Choo has "not much comment at this time" on Bugatti - but how do you actually go about selling supercars to the rich and (sometimes) famous? Unsurprisingly buyers aren't cajoled or coerced; the majority know what they want and how they want it before they arrive at the showroom. The personal touch remains essential, though - supercar buying solely from a website is deemed unlikely for now. Instead Choo talks of relationships, networking and portfolios; the building of a rapport beneficial to all parties. Clients are encouraged to get more from their purchases through one-to-one attention and tailored events. The level of trust can quickly become implicit: his team are responsible for Gordon Ramsay's cars to the extent that all paint and trim decisions are left in H.R. Owen's hands. "We're so pleased to be associated with Gordon", is the CEO's view, "though we do sometimes think: 'Oh sh*t, what if we've got this one wrong!'"

Both the personalisation side of speccing and manufacturer-sponsored drive experiences are said to be more popular than ever, customers keen to have something unique but also eager to use it, which is heartening news when so many supercars seem solely destined for collections. "More clients are demanding more events to drive their cars more", says Choo, "as they are bored of buying to put in a garage."

So what comes next? Well, more boutique dealerships like the Ferrari one, actually. The man in charge is adamant that their intimate atmosphere suits sales of these cars better than a sprawling showroom. New ones for Bentley and Aston are coming, and you'd imagine for the EV brands also. Almost business as usual then - just with more of it going on than ever. Which seems to be just how Ken Choo likes it.

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Comments (29) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Paddy78 16 Sep 2019

    Is this the one that was on Broke Britain? They weren't paying their cleaners the living wage... I guess you have to cut corners somewhere when you have a massive showroom in Mayfair.

    Absolute scum.

  • Chubbyross 16 Sep 2019

    Paddy78 said:
    Is this the one that was on Broke Britain? They weren't paying their cleaners the living wage... I guess you have to cut corners somewhere when you have a massive showroom in Mayfair.

    Absolute scum.
    Ooh, that’s the PH naughty step for you!

  • BlackLabel 16 Sep 2019

    Paddy78 said:
    Is this the one that was on Broke Britain? They weren't paying their cleaners the living wage... I guess you have to cut corners somewhere when you have a massive showroom in Mayfair.

    Absolute scum.
    It was the cleaning agency who were underpaying them.


  • BigChiefmuffinAgain 16 Sep 2019

    Must be a busy guy. Sounds like you only spoke for 5 minutes from the actual content of the article

  • oilit 16 Sep 2019

    Must be a quiet news day - or someone who spends a fair bit on advertising has asked for a bit of free PR


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