In the driveway of a house in post-war Britain, a small crowd gathered in response to a local newspaper advert offering a car for sale.
The year is 1946 and David Wickens, recently de-mobbed from the armed forces, wants to sell the car to raise some cash, but is surprised by the interest their advert has generated.
Potential buyers were prepared to bid against each other for the car and in an instant, an idea formed. Instead of selling the car, buyers were told to come back at the end of the week and they would be offered enough cars for them all to buy.
Wickens, supported by his brothers Tom, John, Jack and Jim, approached de-mobbed soldiers eager for cash and urged them to offer their cars for sale to the crowd they promised would be turning up at the weekend.
And so, in a field in Frimley, Southern Counties Car Auctions was born, using an acorn and an oak tree as its logo. Today, the acorn of Southern Counties Car Auctions has grown into the oak of BCA Europe, which now has 23 UK locations, 14 European locations and massive plans for expansion.
Since its launch, it has reached a number of milestones – the latest achieved in March when the firm was named the MG Rover-sponsored Best Disposal/Remarketing Company at the Fleet News Awards 2003, adding to a string of awards from previous years.
During 2002, the value of BCA's business reached an estimated £2.5billion, with a base of 24,000 buyers, and it continued to push the business forward with innovations, business wins and new services.
It has adopted wireless barcoding technology across the network to improve vehicle registration and stock control, has introduced a V5 tracking database to monitor and match up car documents at sale time and introduced a new hand-held appraisal system for commercial vehicles.
For the company's managing director, Andrew Hulme, the Fleet News Award win is a testament to an ethos of training and teamwork built up since the company was formed.
He said: 'We have the most talented team of professional managers and staff in the country. Training and retraining is not used as though it is just in fashion – it is at the forefront of what we do and is woven into the fabric of the business.
'We need to have an immensely strong base to cope with the competing demands of buyers and sellers. Despite our investment in leading technology, simplicity is the key for customers, so our workforce is of immense value. It operates from the top to the bottom as a team, in the same way that in football, the goalkeeper is just as important as a striker. The Fleet News Award reflected on the management and on the staff and they are a pleasure to work with.'
As the firm looks forward to the demands of the rest of this year, Hulme believes that part of the key to success is starting each year as a 'clean slate'. He added: 'There is huge potential in Europe, despite the headway we have made so far. It may be felt our investment in Europe is fairly recent, but we have been there since the early 1990s.'
From its current network of 14 centres on the continent, BCA expects to expand to 16 in 2004. Hulme added: 'We will move forward where there are tangible opportunities for careful and considered expansion.'
But although there are changes for the company, Hulme is loyal to the industry, viewing it as one of the most exciting places to work of any business. He said: 'The level of intensity is enough to make some people go pale. It is like the football results for every sale.
'This is an industry increasingly affected by instant judgements and decisions, which makes for a very demanding working environment, but it is absolutely electric and a rewarding, stimulating business to work in.'
Andrew Hulme, BCA UK managing director, said: 'We currently have the capacity to handle volumes of vehicles from the largest fleets – not just in the UK, but in Europe – and we see demand for these high volume services increasing in the years ahead.' Following a record year in 2002, the company has also reported a strong first quarter in the used car market, with demand for quality stock resulting in some of the highest conversion figures on record.
BCA fact file
Charting values through the years
IT is hard to believe that in 1978 many fleets did not consider residual values when compiling their company car choice lists. What the car fetched at auction three years down the line was irrelevant and the main reason for choosing a car was its list price. But what sort of prices have been achieved at auction houses since Fleet News was launched 25 years ago?
Our records show that in 1978 a Ford Cortina 1600 GL cost £3,423 to buy new. In 1979 a three-year-old model with 60,000 miles on the clock fetched £1,100 at auction. During the same year a three-year-old Vauxhall Chevette L three-door hatchback with similar mileage was sold at British Car Auctions for £1,150.
In 1984, a four-year-old Citroen CX Athena with 60,000 miles on the clock fetched £1,100 at BCA and in 1986 a four-year-old Ford Transit 2.4L 35 cwt which had covered 115,000 miles was sold for £850.
In 1987 we reported that a BMW 323i with 16,000 miles on the clock fetched £1,250 at Motor Auctions Group in Brentford. In 1993, BRS Stoke sold a three-year-old Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0 GSi with 38,818 miles on the clock for £6,100 and in 1996 a three-year-old Ford Sierra 1.8 LX 5dr which had done 81,762 miles fetched £3,150.
And recently? Well, at Manheim Auctions the new Saab 9-3 made its debut in an exclusive closed sale. Strong sellers on the day included a 9-3 1.8t Vector with 5,737 miles on the clock that fetched £19,500 and a 9-3 2.2 TiD SE with 15,213 miles that sold for £13,900. Average prices for vehicles on the day were in excess of 114% CAP clean.