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The Col Crawford Story – Reflecting on and celebrating 50 years in business

3rd Generation, Family Owned & Operated, reflecting on the history of Col Crawford Motors as we celebrate 50 years in business.

Chapter 1 – The Beginning

Col worked in the Motor Industry since leaving school and had a dream to one day own and operate his own Car Dealership.
Nothing to his name and raising a young family with his gorgeous wife Pam, at the age of 33 he had the vision, passion and belief in himself to take a risk and go for it. Yes he was a true Salesman, a Marketer and an absolute Entrepreneur! Nothing was going to stop him from fulfilling his dream.
He found a Bank Manager to back him, bought a little block of dirt in Brookvale with a burnt out cottage on it (part of where the business stands today) and turned it into a used car lot, all on borrowed money.
Col Crawford’s opened for business on 7th May 1967. Only able to afford 3 cars for stock, he filled the car yard with borrowed cars from good mates. Opening Day saw Cancan girls out the front to attract attention from passers-by. It was a family affair that day with his young children Carol and Steve leaning on a 1963 VW watching on amongst all the excitement. Dreams do come true…

Chapter 2 – Bikes & Cars

Col on Bike

The small used car business grew with Col acting as car washer, yard boy, salesman and buyer. When wife Pammie had taken the 3 young children (Carol, Stephen & Sharyn) off to school she would come to work and help with the paperwork and accounts side of the business. A neighbouring property was purchased (again on borrowed money) and the small business operation grew slightly bigger.  The weekends were spent at times with Col, Pam & the 3 kids down at Brookvale, paint brush in hand, painting walls and making good the yard area where the business had expanded and making the existing shacks “new” offices.
Col was always on the lookout for more opportunity and he ventured into new vehicle sales taking on motor bikes.  In 1970 Col became a Honda bike dealer and opened up Surfside Motors that operated from another acquired lot of land that was opposite his existing site. Soon Triumph and Ducati bikes were added to the stable and for a period, motor bikes became a big part of Col Crawfords.Surfside Honda

There were the “newly invented” off road bikes (they called it scrambling in those days) that became very popular. In 1971 Honda bought to market the 750 Four, the first “super bike” on our roads. Col actually ran a bike race team for a number of years, entering the Honda and then in other years the high performing Ducati into the Castrol 6 hour race where he placed 4th on one occasion.
Col, with his used car background, would find his way on a Saturday morning once a month at Auto Auctions in East Sydney where government vehicles were put up for sale. At times he would take 11 year old son Stephen to the auctions and the “gems” Col soon discovered as the vehicles to buy were the ex Police Triumph motor bikes. Like with many things before, Col was willing to have a go with these bikes where most others wouldn’t. He found a niche market for these big, black motor bikes with that funny perspex weather shield out the front.
Due to an accident while he was riding around the bends at Long Reef, and more so, accidents that some of his customers had, Col started thinking about his future with bikes. The game changer was when Honda came to him with something on 4 wheels. So out with the Honda bikes and in with the Honda motor vehicles.

Chapter 3 – Honda & Datsun pave the way

Chapter 4When the distributor for Honda approached the bike dealers with the concept of selling 2 and 3 cylinder motor cars, on almost every occasion they were looked at as if they had 2 heads. “Honda was all about motor bikes, you have to be kidding”! But again, when Col Crawford was presented with anything, an entrepreneur thought, if only slightly interesting, he wasn’t backwards in coming forward so he decided to give it a crack.
Col was only 1 of 2 bike dealers in Sydney that took on cars and in 1972 Col was selling the Honda Zot, Honda Scamp and Honda Life. These cars haven’t gone down in history as “cars of the year” but in the history of Crawford’s they were important.

Being the predecessor to a Honda 4 cylinder car, which is now globally iconic, is one of the world’s most popular cars, the Civic.  The launch of Civic rocketed Honda’s acceptance as a car manufacturer as it did the Col Crawford business as a new car dealer. There was no need for bikes anymore and soon Col would be looking for other new car franchise opportunities. Taking on Honda in the early 70’s has Col Crawford’s as one of the longest serving Honda dealers in Australia. With Col also acquiring Datsun (now Nissan) a year later, these 2 franchises today represent over 40 years of service.

Chapter 4 2A big old plaster factory warehouse adjacent to the used car site came up for rent (Crawford’s still rents it today).

It became home for Datsun on the Northern Beaches, the Datsun 1200, 1600 and soon after the 180B and 120Y. What great cars in their day. With the engineering excellence of the Japanese products, Col’s enthusiasm and passion along with his untrained marketing skill, soon had him as a main player in Sydney with these 2 Brands.

With a “famous” marketing campaign being ‘How Will Col Do It’, his eldest child Carol, around the age of 16 -17 years old, really didn’t need people asking how her father would do it! But by gosh it sold some cars!

Chapter 4 – BMW Joins the ‘family’

Chapter 4 3So Col was off and running with a real car dealership, new and used cars. First, Honda, then Datsun, and soon after BMW, 3 Brands that Crawford’s proudly, some 45 years later, still represent today.

In this period of franchise acquisition however there were some not so successful ventures, Fiat, Rambler and Alfa Romeo being 3. Perhaps people can remember the Rambler Javelin, in its day, 1974, a seriously good looking sporty car from America. On the looks alone this 401 cubic inch engine “hot rod” would have had Col motivated about the franchise but the sales were not on par with looks and after only a year or 2, these 3 franchises were retired and focus was directed at the 2 Japanese Brands that were growing in popularity all the time as well as the German Brand, BMW.  And so for the years ahead, these 3 franchises made up Col Crawford Motors along with Col’s real forte being used cars.

Chapter 4 4

Chapter 4 5

With growth comes pressure on size so the entrepreneur went about his real estate acquisition and one of the company’s favourite stories is that it “bought a bank”, the National Australia Bank at 489 Pittwater Rd.  The bank had to be bought as Col’s used car yards surrounded it.  The purchase was one coup but the other was the swift and diligent way Col went about bringing the property in alignment for what he bought it for. With approval to do so Col moved like grease lightening to demolish one afternoon and work through the night.  Within 24 hours the bank was gone.

The property quickly became a part of Col’s car yard with National Bank customers for many months that followed turning up with deposit book in hand to put money in their account. There were regular giggles by staff as people came up dumbfounded…”where has the bank gone?”.

Chapter 5 – A Love Story

Col & PamBefore we go to much further in the Col Crawford Story, we need to tell a story within the story that has much relevance and importance to the business…

Col has many sayings and one was that, “behind every successful man there is a strong, successful woman”, and that was certainly the case with his wife Pam of 50 years. Believe it or not, Col and Pam were sweethearts at the very young age of 6 years old, they were both Bondi kids. Because of World Wars and other circumstances they lost contact. With their lives based around the beach, movies and dances they were reunited in their late teens, again at Bondi. In 1955 they were married at the age of 22. Col had a job at Larke Hoskins Austin truck division as a cadet salesperson, Pam with a clerical job and a great love for one another.

With the support of Pam, Col moved on with his strong desires to be successful, took life gambles and came up with the goods. Pammie helped him in his early days in many ways with the business until the duties of raising a young family took over.

Pam passed away in November 2005, she was an integral part of Col Crawford’s and will be remember by her family, forever loved and greatly missed.

Chapter 6 – Community Spirit

SLSCOne of the strengths of the Col Crawford business has been its connection with the community. This unsurprisingly started off influenced by Col’s affection to the sun and surf and the outdoors lifestyle he and his young family lived. In the 1960’s, a summer Sunday, if not at work, would be spent at his beloved Collaroy Beach. Col became a life member of Collaroy Surf Life Saving Club and made many lifelong friends from the surf club.

It didn’t stop there, Col was very active with Collaroy Swimming Club participating in their races every Sunday morning, Col was the 33 meter sprint champion. His real passion, surfing and being a classic long board style surfer with the latest Shane Stedman, Barry Bennett or Gordon Woods surfboard, Collaroy Point became a regular haunt for Col. Collaroy was certainly a great beach back then and still is today.

imagesFrom Col’s surf and swim connections he became involved with other local clubs and institutions. One was Warringah Rotary Club which had Col doing work with Stewart House at Curl Curl in the early 70’s. After that, with the alignment of the local Rotary Club to local charities, Col became very attached to The Spastic Centre of NSW based at Allambie and now known as The Cerebral Palsy Alliance. This association still remains exceptionally strong today. Col was Club president for 6 years in the 1970’s and in the late 70’s was voted in as District Governor of Rotary for the greater region.

More recently Col and Col Crawfords have supported the Warringah Rugby Club (The Mighty Green Rats), junior clubs such as Newport Rugby, and in Christmas 2015 we were the Gold Sponsor of Carols by the Sea in aid of Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving Club. The strong community involvement all started down at Collaroy Beach but has spread predominately on the Northern Beaches to other clubs, charities and institutions. This is something Col Crawfords is passionate and very proud of.  We will always continue to support and ‘give back’ to our local area and community.
#colcrawfordlifestylecars #colcrawfordstory #dreamsdocometrue

Chapter 7 – Some accolades we are proud of …

Col Crawford (Times Magazine)We think there is too much bragging in the motor industry about being Number 1 and the best message we have seen a retailer promote, if applied to Crawford’s would read “At Col Crawfords we are not number one, our customers are”.  That is how we feel but at the same time, in the history of the business there are some accolades we are proud of.  In the 1980’s Time Magazine, in conjunction with American Sales Master, introduced a competition for the National Motor Dealer network here in Australia, based on performance, presentation and general enthusiasm to the industry and ability as a business person to have a winner, Time Magazine, National Dealer of the Year.  In 1987 Col Crawford won it! Considering the extremely competitive and professional industry here in Australia and how Col started, let’s face it, as a little Aussie battler, this was a very cool award to win. Col received it with immense pride.

On 26th January 1997 Col received an Order of Australia, recognising outstanding achievement and service. Marelle Thorton, President of The Spastic Centre of NSW (and now known as Cerebral Palsy Alliance) nominated Col for his work with Rotary International, Sport and particularly as a fundraiser for the Spastic Centre of NSW. Narelle later wrote in a letter to Col…

“It has been said that real heroes leave only two legacies for future generations – their great name and their great example.  Col, you are one of those heroes! You are a hero to Cerebral Palsy Alliance, to kids and adults with cerebral palsy but very importantly to your own family and your community. How proud……”

Col receiving an OAM was a complete honour to him, something that made him very proud.

col-crawford-sydney-olymics-2000On a lighter note, but at the same time another great honour was around the time of the Olympics 2000 in Sydney. What a great time for this great city. When torch bearers where announced, to Col’s great surprise, he was nominated and even better, he was to carry the touch for a short distance along the streets of Collaroy Plateau, where he and Pam had their first house and raised their 3 children. What an occasion in September 2000 to see Veterans Parade lines with hundreds of people, many friends and of course family to see the spritely 67 year old take the torch and take it to the next relay post. There was an endless cheer from the masses, a sea of colour, smiling faces, a spirit that Sydney took to Homebush and other venues around the city for the weeks to follow. It was also an absolute honour to be involved in the torch relay.

As we moved further into the 1980’s, with the time Col was giving to Rotary and other community activities on an almost daily basis, the car business was left, to a large extent, in the hands of Col’s strong management team that operated with Col’s enthusiasm, passion and high standards, Col very much “looking over their shoulder”. It also paved the way for the entry into the business of the 2nd generation of Crawfords and the start of a new chapter in the history of the business. In 2003 son Stephen was recipient of the prestigious industry award, Martec National Dealer of the Year. #colcrawfordlifestylecars #colcrawfordstory #TimeMagazine #OAM #OLYMPICS2000

Chapter 8 – It began with Used Cars

Col worked for large Motor Dealerships of the time as a young teenage man, whilst doing his cadetship. These Dealerships included Larke Hoskins and then closer to home on the Northern Beaches, Heath Howell. Heath Howell Holden believe it or not was located where Lucky & Peps Pizza is now at Newport, just beside the playing fields, (the whole building used to be a car dealership).

From there Col got his real step into management with Holden themselves head hunting Col to go and join one of their larger dealers in Sydney as General Manager for Suttons Motors Chullora. Col was the youngest ever General Manager in the large Suttons Group and his stamp on the motor industry really gained momentum in this period. Col left Suttons to start his own business in 1967. This wasn’t the end of his relationship with the Suttons business as they also ran the biggest Car Auctions in Sydney and Col became a regular buyer at Auto Auctions.

In this period in the mid to late 60’s, as much as working hard and long hours were required, being with his young family was important to Col. Juggling work and family, on the occasion Col took Stephen as a 5 and 6 year old boy on a Saturday mornings to Sutton Chullora to spend the day in the truck division playing pretend driver behind the wheel of the Prime Movers for sale. Then, after Col left Suttons, Stephen on occasion accompanied Col to the Car Auctions. Steve was fascinated by the busy environment, the noise, the man with the hammer and of course all the “cool cars”.

In 1978 Stephen was in his last year of school when he was told he had an appointment to see the boss of Auto Auctions. It just so happened that Stephen attended Sydney Grammar School in College Street Sydney and Auto Auctions was in Bourke Street East Sydney, a kilometre and a half away. The meeting was really an interview and the start of Cols Succession Planning to get his son the best induction and training for the motor industry. Steve started as a junior at Australia’s leading Car Auction House and worked his way up from there. Within 2 weeks of leaving school Stephen was working at Autos, cleaning cars, fuelling cars and parking cars for the Suttons executives that worked in their head office which was just across the road.

What an experience to be involved with 2 auctions a week, see hundreds of cars get sold and mix with the colourful personalities of the Motor Trade, the car dealers, the back yard dealers and the private buyers. The 5 years at Autos was the perfect preparation for a career in the Industry. In 1983 Cols Senior Managers who were running the Brookvale operations called Stephen in and laid it down, “ time to resign, you are starting here in 2 weeks”. Well in view of the job satisfaction, promotions, the auctioneering that Stephen was now doing, it wasn’t necessarily Stephen’s plan for an immediate departure. It seemed like déjà vu though, when he was told to go and see the boss man of the Auctions in 1978, and now stage 2 of his own career was to begin.

As a Used Car Buyer and Valuer and with his experience from the Auctions, Stephen joined Col Crawford Motors. The concern of being seen only as the bosses son were quickly wiped away when it was apparent he was in high demand from many around Sydney in helping price up cars and closer to the business at Brookvale, being able to source important stock for sale. All was going well in his new role before it was to happen again – “tomorrow when you start work, you are the Used Car Manager”. #colcrawfordlifestylecars #chapter8 #colcrawfordstory


Chapter 9 – The passing of the baton

As mentioned in an earlier chapter, Col was personally very involved in Rotary and the ‘big picture’ Motor Industry stuff.  This had him leave a lot of the day to day operations of the business to his Senior Management. It was around this time that Stephen was promoted to the Used Car Managers role at the age of 24, which was 1984.

Col was very active in the business but in other areas as well.  It was a busy place at Col Crawfords Brookvale with Col at the time having 2 gentlemen overseeing the operations that were Stephen’s immediate bosses. One was in charge of Sales and his name was Robbie Gaha. Rob owned and now is part owner of Brookvale Mazda. The other was Allan Walker, a very sharp thinker, with an accountant background, who also became a mentor for Stephen. With Stephen’s rise through the company and ability, with it being logical that one day he would take over, both Rob & Alan gave Col notice. Almost as unexpected as Stephen being pushed into his various roles, both Senior Managers said their goodbyes. Allan stayed with the company for 12 months whilst Stephen was elevated to Assistant Dealer Principal, a title that had never been heard of then and has never been heard of since. He had 12 months to learn more than just Used Cars.

Stephen as a 26 year old found himself head of the car dealership, Dealer Principal. At this time Col made a conscious decision to ease back on his other activities to spend more time at the Dealership but Stephen quickly gave him reason to perhaps reconsider this move. Whilst it was a ‘Dad & Dave show’  a memorable day in the history of the company was when both Col & Stephen flew to Melbourne as a consortium had just been given a license to import a new brand of car to Australia, a car from Korea that went by the name of Hyundai. Crawfords was to be the first Hyundai Dealer appointed in Sydney, it was quite an honour.  They both attended the meeting with great excitement. Other than the business opportunity the other fascination was a senior player in this consortium, the America’s Cup hero, Mr Alan Bond.  We were appointed with 3 other Dealers as the first Hyundai Dealers in Australia. On the way home in the plane however, that afternoon, reviewing all that Bond Corporation wanted Crawfords to do to represent this ‘unknown little Korean franchise’, the decision was made, the phone picked up the next morning and the franchise handed back. Some 12 months later, Crawfords were approached again by Hyundai, this time with more realistic requirement.  From then (1986) we traded as the Representative for Hyundai on the Northern Beaches.  We are now celebrating 30 great years as a Hyundai Dealer.

Col & Stephen continued to attend Manufacturers Annual National Meeting together. One of the last ones that they attended together was funny and very memorable, one they chuckle about often.   With both of them sitting in the back row of a Conference Room listening to one of the Managing Directors presenting in his broken English and trying to stay interested.   It was slow, it was boring and they both started to inappropriately muck around.  Soon the other delegates in nearby seats were falling off their seats humoured by the antics that were going on from both Col & Stephen who then were being reprimanded by some of the Manufacturers staff. The presentation went on however, slow and boring, so much so that Col fell asleep which lead to some quiet snoring,  which in turn led to nearby delegates falling off their seats again. At the end of this conference the conclusion from Col was, “I don’t need this anymore. I’m not coming to one of these again. Your it.

1986, Col at 53, well deserved, retires and Stephen as a 26 year old was left to enjoy the highs and lows of running the family business.

The great thing is, 30 years later, put Col & Stephen together and they will still have fun.

#colcrawfordlifestylecars #chapter9 #colcrawfordstory #familybusiness

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Chapter 10 – Being part of the team

Col’s childhood and upbringing, with its numerous challenges, were likely major contributors to the man, the person and the business entrepreneur that he grew to be. Life lessons also contributed to his business success and his involvement in the Surf Club scene as a young man and then later in the sport of rowing also shaped him. Col won 2 National Surf Lifesaving titles in the team swims, 1951 Scarborough Beach WA & in 1952 in Wollongong and was very active in rowing regattas in the mid 50’s representing Sydney Rowing Club. It was the team sport and the club environment that assisted him with the mindset that “you are only as good as the people around you” and “you are only as good as your weakest link”, sayings that he has always used and still uses today, especially with his grandchildren.

As a 26 year old taking over the business, with the background of the Car Auctions and what he had learnt about the business and industry, Stephen had a base to take on the new role he now had. He too however found it a real asset to be involved with team sport and a sporting club. In this case it was rugby and the Warringah Rugby Union Club which he played for at a senior level for 13 years, between 1984 and 1997. In the company’s induction meeting even now, Stephen uses the analogy of a sporting club and business, how they are run and the importance of each person involved. A successful club has many and varied positions but it is how the role in each position is performed that will impact the success and running of the club. It is one thing for the players to be performing on the field but what has it taken to get them out there in condition and with the skill to perform and what else has happened off the field to have supporters and members turn up and enjoy the experience? The issue is, you are as only as strong as the people around you and in all cases, if each job role is performed to a high standard there is every chance of success and that goes for business as well.

Another “life lesson” of great importance that such a club (the right club) can teach everyone that is involved, is it doesn’t matter who you are, your background, what you have achieved in the past, your profession – nothing – if you are club person, if you perform your role well, regardless what it is, if you contribute and you have passion you are equal, your contribution is equal to all others in the club. The club needs people on the sausage sizzle and cleaning up the grounds afterwards as much as it needs strappers and physios. And the same goes for Col Crawford’s. We need heads of departments, we need marketing and financial controllers but we also need apprentices, yard hands, warehouse workers and all of them contribute to the overall operation.

So as a young man taking over, such values were certainly reinforced by his rugby and sporting involvement as to was the development of people.

Another core strength of the business moving forward would be identifying talent and developing it – much like a sporting club and something that goes hand in hand with the theory of having strong people around you. Stephen embraced this as Col had in the past and there are now a wealth of senior people with the company that started as junior’s many years ago. Stephen reflects back to his rugby days and recalls a number of his “boof head rugby mates” that all of a sudden became employed by the Australian arm of an international money market company. Why were these guys employed? The answer being team work, willingness to (train) develop and be better, setting goals and objectives and planning to achieve them. Some of these old footie mates remain with these businesses and are ultra successful. In closing, we think this theory and what Crawford’s has embraced as part of their business culture has real merit. Further to this, the Crawford’s have always loved their sport!

#colcrawfordlifestylecars #colcrawfordstory #familybusiness

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