06 September, 2013
H. Horsfield & Son is a diverse business; alongside coach building they also offer Wedding Hire services, with a fleet of their personally designed and built vehicles, vehicle storage and an engineering pattern making service.
We visited John Horsfield, of H. Horsfield & Son, to ask him a few questions regarding his business and the classic motor trade business in general.
o Can you tell us about your business?
The business was the brain child of my father, he was a farmer and after the War there was the opportunity to diversify into selling cars. As part of selling cars, he was given a considerable number of old vehicles in part exchange which at the time weren’t worth a lot, but were lovely old vehicles. Many were pre-war so my father decided to see if he could restore them, which he did, and this side of the business grew from there. The business now consists of my father, myself and around 5 others working here.
o How has your business evolved over the years?
As well as the coach building/restoration side, we also have the wedding hire side, and I’d say that the wedding hire side is about a third of our business. This initially started from friends and family asking if they could use the vehicles for their weddings, and my father spotted the business opening and took it from there. As well as the wedding hire side, we also do a bit of vehicle storage and pattern making.
o Tell us about you, how did you get into the motor trade industry?
As a teenager I got involved in working at my dad’s business. It was a bit of fun doing some metal bashing! I joined the RAF for 9 years in an engineering related trade of aerodynamics. Then when I left, it was the early 90’s and the wrong time to get into the aviation business. I was then offered a job at Virgin being responsible for the release of planes for flights but the money was poor.
I then decided to do a lap of the world but still did a bit of work with Land Rovers, Morris Minors and Minis’. I was travelling for about 2 years and then one day, half way up a hill side in Bali, it reminded me of Yorkshire and I knew it was time to head home, so I joined my father in the business. At the time the wedding side was going well, so I put my energy into the workshop/ restoration side, focusing on the sports cars and designing our own bodies, and I have built that side of the business up to what it is today.
o What is the most usual or interesting vehicle you have worked on?
The first MKVI Bentley we did was interesting, it was dilapidated when it came in and we turned it into a beautiful vehicle. It had teardrop aerodynamic lines, with a personally build tool kit, with gold plated lights. It also formed the template for other cars we have since worked on.
o What was your first car?
Morris minor traveller, I remember it had rotten woodwork and was full of earwigs!
o What do you enjoy about your business?
The creativity side and also being able to make things. I feel like we are able to make vehicles that stand the test of time and will last a lifetime.
I sit down with the customer, ask them what they like, and then go through some pictures in books and of the prior work we have done, and then put our flair into the design and build.
If I saw a vehicle in the street years after we had worked on it, I would recognise it was our work straight away. I know every aspect of our work, even down to if we made a nut, why it was shaped in a particular way etc.
o How would you say the industry has changed over the years?
At one time there where hundreds of businesses doing the same type of bespoke work as us, but now I would say there are only about 5 who are able to do the complete end to end approach, from design to hand built finished vehicle.
There was a time when people would want to know about the best oil to put in it, the engine, the service, but not anymore. It’s an incredible feat of engineering in today’s vehicles, to be able to jump in a vehicle and do over 200,000 miles; the design and the engineering that has gone into these vehicles are taken for granted.
o Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I don’t want the company to grow much more than it is, because the next stage would be type production which is a repetitive business, and I like the bespoke approach. All of the people working here are individuals that have their own ideas and input which is to the company’s advantage.
o What would you say are the challenges for your business in the future?
Legislation is a big factor for small businesses. You have got to be an all rounder from solicitor to accountant, and you have to know all aspects to protect the business from failure. You could get lost in the market of global web as well if you aren’t prominent within it; and in today’s world it’s important to have a presence online.
o Has the current economic times impacted on your business?
The workshops, no, but the wedding businesses, yes. It’s more difficult to speculate on the wedding hire side with a long term future approach.
It used to be the case that people booked the venue, cars, catering etc a couple of years ahead of the wedding, but now they may book the venue but leave the cars until a few months before, so they are certain they can afford it. Our vehicles are the top end wedding vehicles so this has an impact as well, as people may go for cheaper options.
With regards to the workshop side, whilst the downturn in the economy has impacted on high street businesses, house building, interest rates and stocks, it hasn’t impacted so much on the classic car industry. Those that may have invested to make money in stocks etc will invest in classic vehicles, as they see them as an investment which grows and see them as an appreciating asset. Plus with classic and vintage vehicles having free MOT and Tax that also helps in the current economic climate.
o If you were prime minster for a day, what would you do to help the motor trade industry?
I think the policy on motor trade is bonkers, living in a world where we are using everything and we have so many resources that can be reused. The idea of scrapping cars; what could be more of the ultimate in recycling that having a car that lasts a lifetime. We need to get people to think differently about cars and how we can make them last longer.
Also the way that petrol prices are increasing I feel there may come a time when petrol is considered a luxury although I’m sure they will come up with alternatives.
o What vehicle would you most like to own?
A supercharged Bentley, perhaps a Le Mans original racer, but to use not just to look at!
o What advice or tips would you give to someone who is just starting in the industry?
Try to work with someone first, running a business is difficult; getting you head around the tax, controlling the energy bills and so on. It’s best if you can work in an established workshop first to dip into the water before you commit to try it yourself.
In fact we have a guy here who is interested in setting up a mini restoration business and I am helping him to gain the business experience so that he can be in a position to do this himself one day.
Many thanks to John Horsfield for taking the time to speak with us.
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