As a bit of a petrolhead, when I got the opportunity to be shown around the new Porsche Centre in Preston and interview the man behind the business, Paul Bowker, I jumped at the chance, writes Tracy Hargreaves. Photography: Paul Currie
On entering the brand-new Porsche Centre on Watery Lane, Preston Docks, it instantly had a warm and welcoming feel. Despite its size (43,000 square feet) and its white, crisp, clean lines, it oozes style and sophistication. Gone are the days of feeling intimidated when you walk into a car showroom. I felt at ease as I chatted away to the receptionist, who was obviously proud to work there. Something which as chief executive, Paul stresses is key to his business.
The company was founded by Paul’s grandfather, William Bowker, 100 years ago in 1919 as a transport business in Blackburn. As such, the new Porsche building is aptly named Centenary House to celebrate the landmark. William (or Billy as he was known) had a pioneering spirit and an innovative approach to the industry’s needs, and it wasn’t long before he’d assembled one of the largest fleets in Lancashire. He had two sons who also followed in their father’s footsteps and over the years the business continued to grow and prosper.
In the mid 1980’s, Paul’s father was looking at diversifying the business. Whilst out hunting for a new car, he settled on the BMW brand and ended up buying the dealership, Clock Garage in Accrington, the authorised BMW dealer for East Lancashire.
In 1986 Paul left school. “I didn’t have a passion for the transport side of the business,” he tells me. “But I’d always been interested in cars, so the motor route seemed to be the perfect choice for me.” Paul started off as a valeter and worked his way up through each department in the business. “It’s what we have all done in the family,” he says. “It helps you to experience it from both the employees’ and customers’ perspectives and to gain an insight into the challenges of a family business. All our staff have the opportunity to progress through the business. We invest heavily in them and have a focus on continuous training and development. We have staff who have worked for us for more than 30 years. It’s important we nurture them and that way they take pride in their work. This is then reflected in our high levels of customer service.”
In 1989, the opportunity arose to expand the BMW group with the purchase of Kinders Ashton Garage in Preston. Following a period of growth, the Preston dealership relocated to Channel Way, on the Docks, in 1996, which was now developed into the Head Office of the Bowker Motor Group. In 2014 Bowker purchased Southport Superbikes and relocated the business to a purpose-built facility on their existing Preston Docklands site and in 2015 rebranded as Bowker Motorrad.
The Bowker Group has now become synonymous with Preston, as well as East Lancashire, and Paul felt the time was right to develop further and diversify once again. “I’d been chasing Porsche for many years as I knew it would be a good partnership and thankfully, eventually, my persistence paid off and they agreed!” he said. “In fact, I’m told we are the first new partner Porsche has worked with in the UK for over 15 years and that’s testament to our reputation.”
The building, conveniently located on Watery Lane, took around nine months to complete, using local contractors and will create more than 30 new jobs. The design features a 35-car showroom and a 13-bay workshop. There are also two customer handover bays; two direct dialogue bays which enable service advisors to demonstrate scope of technical work from every perspective and electric vehicle (EV) charging points.
As Paul gives me a guided tour, it is clear to see that everything has been thought of, for both staff and customers, and Paul has had a hand in most areas of the project, from the design stage right through to which images adorn the walls. “It’s important that the staff benefit from the same facilities as the customers,” he says. And that shows as I take a peek at the customer toilets, which would look just as at home in a five-star hotel. For the staff there are luxury showers and changing rooms, (they actively encourage the cycle to work scheme), lockers, a media theatre for training and presentations, and a canteen overlooking the workshop. There’s also a meeting room which is available for other local businesses to use, and a 16-seater board room.
On the ground floor there is a coffee bar area where customers can enjoy refreshments and plug in their laptops, with complimentary Wi-Fi, whilst waiting for their car.
There’s also a separate office area should people want to be more private. In the centre of the showroom is Porsche’s first Shop in Shop, where you can peruse and purchase from a range of Porsche Design products including clothing, sunglasses, keyrings, phone cases, golf bags and even a cookie stamp. There’s also a children’s area to keep them entertained and for those who want their own personalised bespoke car, there is a Configuration Lounge where customers can individualise their new Porsche with a choice of everything from exterior paint colours, interior finishes, lighting and even their name on their car. The spacious workshop has all the state-of-the-art technology, with each member of staff having their own work station.
“It has been hard work,” added Paul. “But we have had great support from everyone we have worked with, including the council. I believe it’s a great statement for Preston, which as a city, is definitely on the up.”
So, what’s next for Paul and the business? “We’ve had a period of about four years where we have either refurbished or invested in some part of the business, so I think it’s time to let the dust settle and have a rest.” And is there a fourth generation of Bowker’s to take over the helm one day? “Oh yes”, he adds, “I have four children and my 14-year-old daughter has already said that one day she will run this business.”
If she shows the same passion, enthusiasm and ethos as her dad, grandfather and great grandfather, then I have no doubt she will do exactly that.