Stratstone was founded in 1921 on the basis of offering a personalised, unrivalled service to customers who expected the very best. From humble beginnings to becoming the UK's largest luxury automotive retailer, the story of Stratstone is one of great success, made possible thanks to relationships between key partners and customers.
After almost a century of proud heritage, Stratstone is proud to still represent the values of its founders to this day, offering an unparalleled level of service across a range of premium manufacturers.
Undecimus Stratton began a love affair with cars in 1903, after becoming manager of Daimler's London Depot, and in fact won the first Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb in 1905 with a 35hp Daimler.
Shortly after the end of WWI in 1921, Undecimus Stratton began to create his own venture with Daimler's Commercial Manager Ernest Instone, and took control of Daimler's London Premises on 27 Pall Mall under the name Stratton-Instone.
Ever ones for showmanship and entrepreneurial flair, their dealership soon became renowned for its inimitable style. At 11am every day, a butler would serve champagne and oysters to those on the premises. They were one of five special dealers appointed by Daimler - a precursor to the motor distribution system which is now in use across the world.
Quality with Style
The Stratton-Instone dealership worked closely with prominent coachbuilders, introducing their own custom modifications to Daimler vehicles, and promoting their own exclusive line of motors that exuded luxury.
By 1928, the group had showrooms on London's iconic Berkeley Street and Store Street, with distribution centres UK-wide from Leeds to Bournemouth. Stratton-Instone became synonymous with high society, and the rich and famous frequented Daimler for all their motoring needs.
By 1932, both founders had passed away. But Stratton-Instone was only heading onwards and upwards, and the reigns of the business were taken up by Joseph Mackle. Mackle was once an apprentice engineer at Daimler who thanks to his astute character had worked his way up to become managing director.
He renamed the business in the same year to something more familiar- Stratstone - combining the names of its two founders.
The Royal Warrant
On Stratstone's first day of trading in 1932 the company was awarded with a royal warrant to supply the king with a 20/25 Daimler. However, this wasn't the first time that Stratstone has been linked with the Royal Family, and in fact it was borne out of a relationship with Stratton many years before.
In 1903, Stratton was invited to provide chauffeurs for the King, the quality and discipline of which impressed King Edward and earned the respect of the Royal Household. Years later, the King asked Stratton to find him a car exclusively for town use - a tailored service we now expect from our dealerships today.
Stratton's excellent reputation for service grew, and was soon providing cars for the Monarchies of Russia, Germany, Spain, Japan, Sweden and Greece - building a reputation for the Daimler as the 'Car of Kings'. In fact, King George V asked Stratton to teach his son, The Prince of Wales, how to drive.
Business at Stratstone surged following the launch of the Light 15 Daimler, a new Daimler model aimed at attracting a broader range of clients. The client list at the Pall Mall showroom was always growing, patronised by a list of increasingly rich and famous clients including the Emperor of Japan and Lord Lansdale, the famous boxer (who only ordered yellow cars).
Business continued on a high into the late 30's, with cars becoming like fashion accessories, built to be unique and customisable. However with a recession of the British Economy on the horizon, Mackle took the decision to sell Stratstone in 1936 to Thomas Tilling. Business continued to grow, until 1938 when leases were not renewed on their Pall Mall and Euston Road properties.
When WWII broke out in 1939, all the group's remaining vehicles were transferred to a disused chicken farm in Hertfordshire, which was then reinforced with concrete walls. Mackle and company expected business to dry up over the war, but quite the opposite happened.
Vehicles were needed urgently by the army, and Stratstone quickly converted their larger cars into ambulances, whilst selling their smaller cars for use with the police. Their help with the war effort kept Stratstone stable through the war, even though operations came to an abrupt halt in 1945 when a stray bomb hit the farm, destroying all the vehicles in storage.
Laying the Foundations
After the war, business resumed as usual for Stratstone. Retaining its ambitious nature, the group began selling Volkswagen cars in the London area. By 1960, more than 1,000 Volkswagen cars were being sold every year whilst there were only two available Daimler models remaining in dealerships.
In 1961, Stratstone made a decision which would change their future forever. Mackle signed a distribution agreement with Jaguar, laying the subsequent foundations for success.
Within two years Stratstone was already achieving record sales thanks to their new partnership. Bolstering this even further, they took on the Land Rover franchise too - setting in stone manufacturer partnerships which still stand strong today.
The atmosphere at Stratstone showrooms was still something to behold. Between 11am and midday champagne was still served, staying true to the time-honoured tradition which had served the business so well in its infancy. The atmosphere resembled that of a Gentleman's Club, with team members wearing bowler hats and images of the company's royal connections adorning the wall.
James Smillie was promoted to Chief Executive of Stratstone early in to the next decade. Smillie joined the company in 1956 as an accountant but through hard work, and having an eye for what the customers wanted, he surged his way through the ranks. His co-directors all had more years of service with the company than Smillie had years of age, but that didn't stop his ambitious plans.
His hospitality was second to none, and often took clients including the late Sir Bobby Moore to the Mayfair Hotel's champagne bar after closing a sale. However, such luxuries were not to last. The country was experiencing rapidly rising inflation and Stratstone were finding it difficult, taking tough measures in order to remain stable. In 1973, Stratstone set up a fleet sales department to supply limousines to top companies, embassies and foreign governments.
In 1982, Smillie made the biggest decision of his career. After a last minute call at 5.55pm on a sunny Friday evening in July from Mercentile Credit, he just acquired enough equity to mount a management buy-out of Stratstone at the last hour. For the first time in 46 years, Stratstone was once again a private and independent company.
A new Image
After a tough start to the 1980's Stratstone began to pick up, and through in to 1986 business was thriving. With the backing of John Egan, Jaguar's then-chairman, Stratstone helped to put Jaguar back on the map as a luxury retailer. Stratstone was one of the first Jaguar dealerships to meet these standards, and was the first dealer to sell over 1,000 cars in a single year.
Egan Said: "When I started we only sold 10,000 cars in the world and the fact that we were selling 1,000 through one dealer only four years later gives you an idea of how we got on and how Stratstone did."
The time then came to upgrade Stratstone's facilities. In 1988, a former bottling plant was converted into the largest and most advanced servicing centre in Britain. The £2.5m facility housed 24 individual work bays, covering an area of 279 square metres and occupying two floors with retail and trade counters. It was able to service up to 50 Jaguar, Daimler and Range Rover cars a day.
A refresh of the Stratstone image, work also began on the Berkeley Street showroom with décor that shared in the vision of the modern, high quality products it represented, but also reflected the elegance of an illustrious yet bygone past. This Stratstone style is something which is maintained even to this day.
In 1992, Stratstone gained national coverage. The company grew, through acquisition, to become the largest luxury retailer in the UK.
Stratstone's acquisitions continued in to the early 21st century, and gained 32 dealerships from Lex Retail Group, consolidating the company's position as the UK's largest luxury automotive retailer. This was further solidified with the acquisition of CD Bramall in 2004. By 2005, Stratstone was the largest supplier of Jaguar vehicles in the world.
In 2010, Stratstone opened their first two Triumph motorcycle franchise points in Leicester and Wolverhampton, and a new Harley-Davidson franchise point in Stoke as their motorcycle coverage expanded.
Today, the Stratstone brand proudly represents 13 of the world's premium automotive manufacturers. A focus on quality service and strong relationships with our customers is a caveat which has not been forgotten and still serves the company well today.
We deliver fantastic products nationwide, in our own unique and stylish environments. Stratstone has national coverage and this scale affords the group great opportunities to share its best practice and expertise of the luxury and specialist car markets - meaning you're never too far from the Stratstone experience.
A lot has changed over the years, but some traditions remain the same. At the company's West End showroom on the last Friday of every month, champagne is still served to invited guests and clients.