What does it take to grow a bungalow into a supercar dealership? A multi-million pound one with a man-made lake and a customer base that reaches around the world?
“Confidence,” according to Tom Hartley, founder of the Derbyshire-based firm that bears his name. “And a workaholic mentality that doesn’t stop for 47 years.”
You’ll likely have heard of Tom, who sold his first car at the age of 12 and now co-owns his business with 30-year-old son, Carl. That business is selling cars – extremely expensive ones, extremely successfully, and from a 40-acre site which once hosted nothing more impressive than his parents’ house. At 58, he’s as fired up as ever.
“In this game, you can never stop, you always have to keep one step ahead,” he says as we sit in the freshly-finished and glass-walled meeting room on the first floor of Hartley’s brand new three-storey showroom. “We cannot let our rivals keep up, Tom Hartley has to be the place people want to buy their supercars from, not just a place they can. That’s why we expanded with this building and that’s why we created the lake – which had not been done at a car dealership in the UK and probably Europe before us.”
Ah yes, the lake. Perhaps the best-known feature of Tom’s dealership, and the backdrop for thousands of classified ads – including those on PH – it is regarded internally as evidence of the firm’s determination to not ever rest on its laurels.
“I thought it was a bad idea,” laughs Carl during our conversation in his office, also glass-walled and located in the showroom downstairs next to the Bugatti Veyron he bought at the age of 27 – 16 years after first working with his dad. “He called me at 6am saying he was going to build a lake and I just told him to go back to sleep. When I came in later that morning, the diggers were already working away! But my dad’s like that, he wasn’t happy with us taking the same showroom pictures as our rivals. So we got the lake. Now eight out of every ten customers asks us for the pictures of their car on the lake; it’s become that much of a centre-piece.”
While the lake is custom-built for garnering attention online, it’s the new showroom which underlines the extent of Hartley’s long-term ambitions. With Carl now “doing the driving” while Tom “changes the gears” - as Hartley senior puts it - the business is being reinvented to cater to what is evidently the most dramatic shift in car buying habits yet seen.
These days, Tom Hartley can post images of a car on Instagram, receive a few direct messages from a wealthy client abroad, who then simply wires money over and arranges for the car to be collected. As Carl puts it, “the vast majority of customers don’t test drive the cars because they trust in our standard so much”. But not all buyers are the same: encouragingly, many still want to see their prospective six- or seven-figure purchase for themselves.
It is primarily for this clientele that Tom Hartley has created the new facility, which takes an already impressive location and turns the dial all the way up to Columbian drug lord hideout. It’s little wonder Tom’s site has been light-heartedly compared to the compound seen in the Godfather: behind the scenes there is a 24-person-strong team of gardeners and cleaners to keep the place immaculate. Front of shop there’s a LaFerrari, a Porsche 918 Spyder and McLaren 720S – but the underlying aim is no different to the aspiration of any forward-thinking luxury dealer: to make the process of viewing and buying a car from Tom Hartley seem friendlier and more personal.
“We really value the customer experience,” explains Tom. “We don’t judge people like some more traditional dealerships do. You can book an appointment and walk in wearing whatever you like, you’re never judged,” he adds, referencing the stories of some customers who were turned away from rival companies because they didn’t fit the bill. “Carl and I make an effort to meet every single one of our customers, so they become much more than buyers; we’re friends with lots of them,” Tom adds, before pointing out the bar and bottles of alcohol that are located to the rear of the showroom.
The site itself is impressive not just for the value of the cars contained within, but also the way in which they’re laid out. The old showroom – a single floor site with around a dozen cars inside about 50 feet away – is now dwarfed by the grandeur of the new building.
From top to bottom it goes like this: on the first floor there’s a wide balcony, which during our visit has a 720S and Huracan parked on it, while inside is a collection of Ferraris including a stunning white 360 Challenge Stradale, 308 GTS and 575 Superamerica, to name just a few. On the ground floor, there’s the collection of hypercars including the 918, a Carrera GT and that LaFerrari, as well as Carl’s Veyron beside two more. Oh, and there’s a Huracan Performante Spyder and a Ducati 1299 Panigale R Final Edition that Carl bought because “it’s beautiful” and recently sold over the phone.
But it’s the basement that really sets the new Tom Hartley building apart. You’re aware of the level’s existence from above because of the glass floor underneath the LaFerrari, which, when viewed from the basement, provides a clear view of the car’s underside without the need for a ramp or the buyer getting their knees dirty. Carl also has a glass floor in part of his office, so he can peak through and see the Aventador, Noble M600 and Rolls-Royce Dawn, which sit among many more cars underground. They got there via a state-of-the-art car lift, an Italian piece of engineering that Carl says has received “almost as much attention” as the cars themselves. It’s all about reminding buyers that no corners have been cut in the fast-growing of the business – and, the owners believe, underscores the lengths they go to when sourcing cars.
“The Tom Hartley brand name has been valued at £250 million alone,” says Tom, “but I would never dream of selling it. It’s not about the money anymore, it’s about the reputation, the credibility; if we sold the name that would be put into jeopardy,” Tom explains. With Carl essentially running the business with his backing, it’s about ensuring that it thrives as a family-run enterprise for future generations.
That job is not yet complete. Continued independence requires investment and far-sighted ambition. Not to mention a tendency toward workaholism - and quite a lot of confidence. “Ideally, I want to be forced to build another showroom in two years because of demand,” smiles Carl. Looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of that lake...