Gleaming with an array of superior vehicle brands, the impressive Ebbett showcase lining the north end of Anglesea Street in Hamilton today bears little resemblance to the Ebbett car dealership established in 1928. Originally sandwiched between a Chinese laundry and a gunsmith’s shop in Hood Street, Ebbett Motors back then focused on the popular General Motors products of the time; namely Oakland, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet. These core marques secured the survival of the company which was bravely started during the world-wide depression by a young Alf Ebbett who was later joined by his brother Ron.
Now 86 years later, Richard Ebbett, Ron’s son, remains a valued partner in the Ebbett business; a widely recognised and respected name throughout New Zealand, with dealerships in eight different cities and towns.
Despite the impressive growth of Ebbett, an award winning and highly regarded company, the original Ebbett core values remain; focusing the utmost emphasis on genuine customer service and a sincere dedication to ensuring a partnership with quality vehicles.
While Richard is the sole remaining Ebbett family member involved, Ebbett is still a family business through and through, thanks to Waikato brothers Ben and Walter van den Engel and their ongoing dedication to the brand.
Both Ben and Walter boast an impressively long history with Ebbett, in Ben’s case dating back to 1971. Between them, they have worked in virtually every role possible, from mechanic to salesperson and now managing the tight knit Ebbett team as well as being significant shareholders in the business.
“We’re really proud of the qualities Ebbett represents,” says Ben. “We truly are customer focused in every respect. One of the things I enjoy most about our long history is working with customers who span generations and experiencing their ongoing loyalty and relationship. “
Hamilton city has always remained the central hub for Ebbett, with most activities, including an impressive collection of paint and panel facilities in earlier years, based within a small area around the junction of Hood, Thackeray and Anglesea Streets.
No stranger to adapting to changing times, Ebbett has managed to avoid the fate of many vehicle dealerships and is now stronger than ever before. The business is blessed with a loyal team with an innate business leadership, a strong flair for innovation and a desire to constantly achieve standards of excellence in all facets of business; whether customer service or in the workshop.
Ebbett has a company history to be proud of, having survived depressions, recessions, world wars and stock market crashes. While the face of Ebbett has continued to evolve throughout the years the core values of the business remain the same; total emphasis on customer service and, unusually for a motor dealership, a willingness to take bold risks.
When General Motors decided to separate its two product lines in 1938, Waikato Motors Limited was formed to operate the Vauxhall/Bedford franchise from the original Hood Street premises, while Ebbett Motors moved to a newly built dealership on the corner of Hood and Anglesea Streets, focusing on passenger vehicles representing the Oakland, Pontiac and Chevrolet brands. However, the timing of this expansion was unfortunate as within 12 months the world was at war. For the duration of the war, when no new vehicles were imported into the country, the two businesses shared the old Hood Street premises while the New Zealand Air Force occupied the new complex at Hood/Anglesea/Thackeray Streets.
Holden and Ebbett formed a strong partnership in 1952; the same year Holden was first imported into New Zealand. Ebbett’s trucking business sourced and supplied some of the first milk tankers in the Waikato region. The tankers were owned by the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company (now Fonterra), which at one stage operated the largest single-site fleet of Bedford trucks in the world.
The next major event to shape the company was the stock market crash in October 1987. The downturn following this was extreme and the company was ill-prepared for it, having expanded into the Auckland market in the mid-80s. It was however an opportunity for Ben to gain a shareholding in the company, an opportunity he took with both hands despite the weakened state of the company. Ben recalls the time: ”some out-of-the box thinking, an element of risk taking and hard business management turned the business around from the brink and we have continued to thrive since”.
Richard Ebbett recalls the Cadillac deal as being one of the greater risks which paid off.
“In 2009, General Motors in Australia decided to introduce Cadillac as a premium brand. They bought almost 100 cars to Australia, set up dealers, trained people and were just about to launch it when the global financial crisis hit. They decided it was not a smart idea to try and establish a premium brand in such a risky financial crisis.
“All the dealers in New Zealand were sent a document describing every individual vehicle and asking for individual bids. Ben sent a two paragraph email to them telling them we would buy the lot. I’m sure they couldn’t believe it to start with. But we did. We sold them very successfully nationally and even scoured the world to buy some more from places like Rotterdam and New York, as they had stopped making right hand drive Cadillacs at that stage.
“That was the most vivid example of what I think is one of the main strengths of the business, which is being bold, taking calculated risks in situations where we can control pricing and offer a good deal to our customers.
The history of Ebbett is littered with similar stories of the business taking a punt in order to try and secure a special customer-driven deal.
Of course an integral part of the successful journey has been the skilled, loyal and dedicated staff at Ebbett. At the recent staff Awards dinner, Walter pointed out that “It’s about all of us from Ben and me right through to the 1st year apprentice doing whatever our role is to the best of our ability and with a positive customer attitude”. “Our departments all need to be like well-oiled cogs that keep the wheels of our business in motion”. “We are proud to have so many staff who have been with us for 15 years or more.”
Fast forward to today and the Ebbett Group has a presence far beyond its central Hamilton roots. While it still dominates the inner city streets where it started life over 80 years ago its dealerships cover the North Island. Holden is proudly represented in Pukekohe, Tauranga, Taupo, Porirua and Wellington. Other brands handled by Group dealerships include Audi, HSV, Jaguar, LandRover, Nissan, Skoda, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.
Under the group’s wing are also Johnston Ebbett (Wellington and Porirua) and Duncan and Ebbett (Hamilton, Tauranga).
The Ebbett name has a proud place in the development of the Waikato region, to the extent that it has in its own right become a ‘Marque of Excellence’.
Ebbett is a business well accustomed to receiving awards. Included among its many national formal recognitions are taking out the Grandmasters Holden title 10 times and the Chairman’s Award four times (that’s 14 first or second places in the last 19 years). However while Ben and Walter van den Engel are delighted at these achievements, it is the daily satisfaction of running a credible, reliable and customer driven business which gives the brothers their greatest professional rewards.