John Banks Group celebrates 40 years of selling Honda

Family concern  left to right, John Banks Group founder and chairman John Banks with his children 

Family concern left to right, John Banks Group founder and chairman John Banks with his children managing director Mark Banks, Melanie Banks-Browne, a group director and company secretary, and Justin Banks, a director and dealer principal of the Suzuki divisions. - Credit: supplied

It’s 40 years since John Banks took on Honda to launch what has proved to be a very successful relationship. Motoring editor Andy Russell reports.

It’s hard to think of John Banks Group and not associating it with Honda – a big part in its growth and success.

This year the group is marking 40 years with Honda, starting with motorcycles and branching out into cars as well, which has seen it become one of the longest-serving and leading franchises in the country.

John Banks Group has grown from one site in Bury St Edmunds – still head office – to having Honda dealerships in Bury, Ipswich and Cambridge, with Bury also selling motorcycles and Cambridge scooters, as well as Suzuki car dealerships in Bury and Ipswich.

Turnover has grown to £55m last year with up to 7,000 new and used sales a year – 500 of them motorcycles and scooters. In March this year it sold 754 new Honda and Suzuki cars alone to achieve its best March figures ever – a far cry from the 80 to 100 Honda cars a year the single Bury dealership old after taking on the car franchise in 1976.

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As one of Britain’s leading motocross racers in the 1960s, winning the domestic championship four times, founder John Banks built his business around motorcycles and 40 years ago started selling Honda motorcycles – building a five star Honda centre in Tayfen Road – and adding new Honda cars two years later.

Now 70, John is chairman with the day-to-day running of the business in the safe hands of children Mark, Melanie and Justin.

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Managing director Mark said: “The business has grown but we are still family owned, still work on the frontline side of the business and still very much involved in how we run it. Unfortunately the bit that is hard to continue is, while we are family owned and family run, we no longer see all the customers. When we started we sold all the cars and saw the customers.”

All three children can work in every part of the group so have a deep knowledge and understanding of every aspect of the business which has helped it to thrive.

Mark explained: “We are one of the top 10 Honda dealers in Europe and we have been doing it a long while.”

Much of the success has also been down to customer service, providing the best offers from the manufacturer and passing them on to customers. And when things don’t quite live up to expectation it’s all about sorting things out efficiently and promptly.

Justin, a group director who also heads up the Suzuki side of the business, said: “When it comes to customer service, if it goes wrong we deal with it.”

Mark added; “It is all about good quality service.”

And he explained that is also very much the Honda ethos – great products at reasonsable prices that customers want to buy.

The motor group kicked off it 40th anniversary activities with a used car sale at Suffolk’s Trinity Park showground at Ipswich, selling 75 cars over a weekend. Another anniversary event is planned later this year.

As well as the continuity of being family owned and run, the group benefits from its high level of training and low turnover of staff and Justin pointed out that those who leave often return to the John Banks fold.

Melanie said: “We only want the best people in the business – we have all got to work at 110%.”

Mark added: “In business today it is all about the people. You only get out what you put in.”

It’s a business philosophy that pays off for, with Honda cars, John Banks Group has a local market share of 12 to 13% – five times Honda’s national share. And it has a 24% share with motorcycles. The group is also looking forward to a full Honda model range next year with a host of new cars – including new HR-V, Civic Type R, NSX and Jazz.

“Honda has a market from 17 years old to when you give up driving,” added Mark. “And there’s a good used market.”

The Suzuki franchise is also successful with sales growing 35% last year compared to 2012.

Founder John is quick to praise his children for moving the business forward and growing it.

“We couldn’t have done it without Mark, Justin and Melanie. I was happy with one dealership. They came into the business and it just got bigger and bigger and better.”

And it sometimes means taking opportunities when they arise.

Mark explained: “The opportunties never come when you are ready – they always come when you are not.”

Its Cambridge site is currently being redeveloped and John Banks Group is still looking to expand further.

Mark said: “We are right in the middle of an expansion project with the addition of up to three more franchises within the next two years.”

Motorcycles and scooters – a market it returned to after some difficult years for the industry – are an important part of the business again, boosted by commuter sales and attractive personal contract purchase (PCP) plans.

When customers bring their Honda in – be it car, motorcycle or scooter – they get the same level of service and customer care.

Justin said: “Customers get a different experience buying a bike here because it is more car-oriented. They are not treated like that in many other bike shops. We are able to do it because everything is on the same site.”

As well as selling motorcycles it also has a range of clothing and accessories and is a top dealer for Arai helmets with a fitting service and £40,000 of stock.

The group also has an out-of-hours phone service and Mark said it was not unusual for people to call at 10pm to ask for a part and the number of internet inquiries between 9pm and 1am was huge and the website was constantly being developed.

“That part of the business is so hard to say where we will be in three years time.”

It’s the latest chapter in John Banks Group’s 40-year success story that has customers at its heart.

John Banks Group head office in is Kempson Way, Bury St Edmunds. Telephone 01284 330525 or visit the website at

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