Since opening in 2001 we have sold over 22,000 cars, saving in excess of £60 million for our customers
Forces Cars Direct, a car sales business based in Lincoln, address the importance of adequate support for service leavers and what they aim to do as a business to give back to current and retired service people and their families.
The transition from military to civilian life is one of the biggest changes many of those who serve will go through in their lives. Despite the rigorous nature of daily life in the armed forces, the challenge of adapting to a civilian routine should not be underestimated. It is important that the men and women who are making this transition to civvy street are adequately supported and feel able to ask for help throughout the process. A recent report by the Armed Forces charity SSAFA which drew on interview with veterans about their own experiences highlighted several areas of civilian life which present veterans with difficulty. Financial planning was highlighted in the report as an area of particular challenge. 87% of the veterans SSAFA talked to had experienced financial problems in some form since leaving the Armed Forces.
It’s easy to see how these challenges come about: many servicepeople join the armed forces at a young age, some moving straight from the family home into military accommodation, where they then become used to the costs for essentials such as food, accommodation and tax being deducted from their salary before they receive it. This leads many servicepeople to underestimate the cost of living in civvy street. The SSAFA report makes several recommendations about how various organisations and wider society could help veterans, but the one which resounded most strongly with us is that it would considerably help veterans if there were more discount schemes offered by retailers and consumer organisations.
This is exactly what we aim to do at Forces Cars Direct. We are a business which exists with the primary goal of doing something which both recognises members of the Armed Forces for their service and helping them to overcome the considerable financial challenges they face once they leave the military. Buying a car is a very practical step for many service families and is a huge help to them in their daily lives. By making this purchase cheaper, we truly believe that we can make a substantial difference to the life of the whole family. We do this very simply: by offering discounts service people and their families when they buy a car, in an effort to make sure that the cost of this important purchase does not become prohibitive.
Our company was founded in such a way that we understand the challenges of leaving military life that our customers are facing. We were founded in 2001, five years after our Managing Director Steve Thornton left the Army. Steve joined the Army in 1990 and served for five years in 4 Regiment Army Air Core, including in the First Gulf War. During his service he was posted in Germany, in Iraq and in Canada and participated widely in Army life. A number of things that he experienced during this period inspired Steve to start Forces Cars Direct. The most important, however, was his belief that those who serve our country deserve recognition for choosing to do so. He felt a brotherhood with others who’d also served, and a strong desire to do something to overcome the problems which he and his own comrades had faced.
When he left the military, Steve was confronted with a number of the challenges that many other service people face at that time. Up until that point, the Army had been his main career, as well as a significant source of support – he was surrounded every day by like-minded people dedicated to a common cause. Steve had a long-standing interest in cars and so decided to take up work in the car trade. He found that he had a natural affinity for it – quickly becoming the top salesman at the dealership where he worked.
Another thing that inspired him to start Forces Cars Direct was that he certainly knew there was a market for a good car retailer for those who’d served. Like many who leave the Army, Steve chose that moment to buy a car. He left the dealership having experienced poor customer service and with the distinct feeling that he’d been ripped off. When he later found himself in the car trade, and with a natural affinity for it, he was determined to find a way to help others who’d served like him to avoid having the same dissatisfying experience that he had done.
Though he’d never been one to shy away from a challenge, the prospect of starting a business was daunting for Steve nonetheless. This kind of work was not something he had any previous experience of – and nor had anyone in his family had ever started or managed one before. He was convinced, though, that his business model offered an attractive proposition to customers who were deserving of a reward and that the principle behind the business was one that was worth pursuing. This conviction, as well as the values of discipline, perseverance and problem-solving which he had learned in the army – was enough to carry him through the first challenging days of starting a new company. Going forward with the business, Steve knew the value of the skills he’d learned in the Army, though they had not seemed immediately relevant to entrepreneurship. He happily recognises these skills in others, and is keen to employ former services personnel for the value he knows they can bring.
Key to the success of the business has been the relationship with motor manufacturers. Our ability to offer a discount to our customers relies upon the manufactures themselves being willing to supply the cars at discounted rates. The concept was novel at first, but with a little persuasion the obvious value of the contribution to society given by servicemen and women proved to have a powerful influence. We formed valuable relationships with a number of carmakers who were more than happy to recognise the impact given by the Armed Forces.
In the early days, the business started out by brokering tax free sales for servicepeople based abroad. Alongside expanding the business to serve customers living in the UK too, one of the most important parts of our expansion was ensuring that service leavers and ex-military personnel could also be eligible for our scheme. We wanted our business to reflect the fact that you remain a part of the military community once you’ve left the military, and that you always belong to that community. We are now able to offer discounts to both current and to those that have left the services and their families.
At this point the discounts we’re able to offer our customers are considerable. Because the discounts are individually brokered the exact amount we’re able to offer depends on the make and model. Typically, we would save £4,500-£5,5000 on an average car, however it can be up to as much as £10,000. To put that in perspective, since we opened in 2001, having sold over 22,000 cars, we have saved in excess of £60 million for the customers who’ve come through our doors during that time.
But we pride ourselves not only on the discounts we’re able to offer but also on the quality of service we’re able to provide. Knowing that leaving the military can be a disorientating experience we are keen to ensure that our customers have the advice they need to enter into a significant purchase like a car. We are able to give advice on all aspects of the purchase, including finance options. The experience of buying a car itself is changing, with options like Personal Contract Purchase – or PCP- giving our customers a greater range of choice than before, which in itself can be complicated and time-consuming to navigate. It’s important to us that every customer feels secure and satisfied with the purchase that they’re making.
Like any good business, we value our customers above all else – and we are always delighted when they recommend us highly. We have the advantage above other businesses that our customers have done something exceptional for their country. We never tire of seeing people who have given service going away with a car that will make a real difference to their life and the life of their family, as well as a saving that they can then use to help their family in some other way. While resettlement can be challenging in a number of ways, we are proud to be able to help servicepeople in a small way to get settled back into civilian life.