Family-run motor firm shares secrets behind 60 years of business success in Gloucestershire

Foundations laid in place by John Cleevely in 1962 have paved the way for 60 years of business success for Cleevely Motors - and it's love and devotion passed down from father to son, through to grandson and his wife, that has made their dreams come true.

By Emma Luther  |  Published

In 1962, former Dowty's engineer John Cleevely pledged to create a better future for himself and his family. As he transformed an old Cheltenham coach house into a workshop, he began laying down the foundations of a business that would span three generations and grow and flourish as the years passed.

As Cleevely Motors in Cheltenham celebrates 60 years of success with an open day on Saturday 10 September 2022, current owner Matt Cleevely looks back on some big changes and shares the secrets behind its growth with SoGlos, which include embracing change and not being afraid of hard work.

How proud are you of the success of the business?

I am both immensely proud and surprised by how our family business has grown and developed over the last 60 years.

We concentrate on providing honest, high-quality car repairs and have a hugely loyal customer base because we provide good communication and service.

It isn’t a secret recipe, but just obvious business sense. Look after your customers - why aren’t more businesses doing that?

How has it changed across the years?

We are in a trade that is constantly changing and developing. Embracing technology has played a big part in our development as a business.

Whether that is investing in new lifts, as cars became bigger and heavier, or diagnostic equipment as computers became more integrated into cars, we have never been afraid of re-investing in the business and the staff.

Technology is now what drives the business. The investment in new front-of-house staff and management software means we can now help our customers and communicate more than ever. MOT and service reminders, online job authorisations and emailed invoices, estimates and service reports are all part of our communication policies.

Our system also sends surveys to our customers after every visit, allowing us to constantly improve our customer service and performance, with real-life feedback.

We want to be the best that we can be, whilst still offering value for money - that ethos will never change!

What are some of the highlights from the last 60 years?

Our staff make the business the success it is. They haven’t always been family members, but have always been so loyal that they've become part of the family.

Some of the business highlights include my grandad recovering vehicles from the then new M5 for the AA. We still have the original Land Rover he used and it will be at our open day celebration on Saturday 10 September 2022. 

It was great that our previous workshop built by my grandad and his brothers in Andover Street was extended. It was a special place with a unique atmosphere, but we ended up outgrowing it.

The decision to leave was difficult, but another highlight was being able to create our new premises in Lansdown, where we are today. It had always been a dream to have a clean, tidy and spacious workshop and to be able to display our professionalism.

It is a highlight to have been asked to be involved in some of the television programmes that we have been, too. Having friends and family see the workshop on television and contact me is always a proud moment and a personal highlight, even if I wasn’t sure about being on television at first.

What has been your proudest moment?

My proudest moment has come recently. We now have more departments than ever before. There is reception, accounts, workshop, parts, sales, EV rental and training for technicians from other garages.

I had a meeting, which started with me showing my guests around. What I witnessed made me immensely proud.

The office team were dealing with customers, the technicians in the workshop were all working on cars, the parts manager was picking and packing parts, we had delegates on site being trained and the sales team were educating new potential customers about how an EV would suit them.

My dream had come true and everything the team had worked for was working in front of me.

What’s your ambition for the next 60 years?

For now, I have stopped growing the business and I want to concentrate on being the best that we can be.

It would be nice if the next generation of the family want to take the business on, but I don’t want to pressure my children to think they have to.

I would hope the business continues though, perhaps run by the team of staff.

The trade is changing massively and personal transportation is, too. It doesn’t make sense for commuting to be individuals in two-tonne metal boxes, we need to think differently about how we get around.

It may be autonomous pods, micro cars, more active travel or some other new design of transportation, but whatever happens we will hopefully be up to pace with it as a business.

I hope my theory of not fearing change, but embracing it, is rubbing-off on the team.

What are your secrets to success?

Hard work, hard work and more hard work.

If you want something badly enough, then you can make it happen - that is all I have done.

I am also very passionate about what I do, it is a great driving force for me.

Surround yourself in the business with like-minded people, who understand your goal and vision. Make them feel appreciated and valued. Always treat customers with respect and clearly communicate your service, then your customers will see the value and appreciate it.

Even as the business has grown, we have tried to stick to the core company values of honest, high-quality repairs and treating our customers with a friendly, personal service.

Who is integral to your success?

A lot of inspiration has come from my grandad. If he hadn’t shown the courage that he did to start the business, then it could have been a very different story.

I have definitely inherited his motivation and passion for what we do and how it is done. My father has taught me a lot, too. He has been very supportive with the growth, relocation and expansion that I have done since he retired.

The whole team work so hard for the company, there's no doubt I owe them a lot. Without them, we would have nothing.

But I owe the most to my wife, Claire. She believed in my crazy ideas and together, we have invested not only financially, but with so much of our family time too.

We definitely wouldn’t be where we are now without her and she is by my side every day working in the business to ensure its continued success.

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