SKYACTIV, stormy weather and Shetland’s strongest man: life at Mazda’s farthest flung British outpost.
Jim’s Garage has something that marks it out from other Mazda dealers in the UK. It’s the most northerly Mazda dealership in the country. Chris Manson, its General Manager, reveals how the wheels turn on Shetland.
“It’s fair to say we get our fair share of bad weather in Shetland. We’re closer to the Arctic Circle than we are to Mazda UK headquarters in Kent; as far north as St Petersburg in Russia or Anchorage in Alaska.
When the weather’s bad, it’s really bad. We regularly get hurricane-force winds of 100mph and rain that drives in so hard it hurts your face.
It means the lovely new Mazdas that our customers have ordered can be held up at the docks in Aberdeen before being shipped 225 miles north, to Lerwick. But our customers don’t mind; when you live in Shetland, you’re used to such things.
Most of those customers are on first name terms with the team behind Jim’s Garage. With their support, the business has grown from its humble beginnings.
My father, Jim Manson, bought an independent garage in June 1983. Then, it was a general service and MOT workshop. Jim’s Garage took on its first franchise in 1992, and now boasts five brands. We began with four people, and now there are 74 colleagues involved.
Jim’s Garage also has a fuel station on site, offering attendant service. We like to offer that personal touch. It means our customers can stay warm and dry in their car and it helps customers who might have any mobility problems.
Mazda joined the family in 2006. And when I say ‘joined the family’, I mean family: there are now three generations of Mansons working across the business.
But that seems to suit Mazda’s operational style extremely well. Of all the brands we have partnerships with, Mazda feels the most human and open. The people there understand the very particular challenges that we face as a car dealership that’s 225 miles from the mainland. And they help us to overcome those.
Even though my father is 62-years old he’s still working hard, running the business and helping out our customers. So several nights a week, he will drive our breakdown truck and head off into the inky dark night to rescue someone that’s hit trouble on their travels.
Jim’s grandson, Jordan, is the first of the third generation to work with the business. He’s 16-years old, and helps his grandfather with breakdown recovery and also lends a hand in the workshops. He will hopefully start on a technician’s apprenticeship shortly.
Even over the short 11-year period that Jim’s Garage has been involved with Mazda, there has been a definite leap forward in terms of its cars.
Our customers tell us that the design of the latest Mazdas is really striking. They stand out from the crowd, while the quality of the interiors is up there with the premium brands. Little wonder that Mazda enjoys a nine per cent share of the market here.
It’s also been interesting to watch Mazda’s engineers buck industry trends with SKYACTIV. Competitors have been fitting smaller engines to their cars and trying to force more power out of them. Mazda has gone for larger engines which seem to be less stressed: we certainly see great reliability from them.
Another big advance is technology. The infotainment system, Mazda Connect, and ability to pair a smartphone – well, it’s all a far cry from my day as a young driver. Then you’d have to stop at a payphone to call a friend and let them know you were running late or lost!
The most popular models we sell are the Mazda2, the CX-3 and the CX-5. The SUVs in particular are proving a hit, and they drive so well despite our challenging roads and weather, especially with four-wheel drive.
Before those came along, our best-selling model was the Mazda BT-50 pick-up truck. Farmers especially loved it for its go-anywhere dependability and load-anything practicality. They’re all still going strong. We have 10-year old cars still coming in for servicing and they rarely require anything other than routine maintenance – despite the hard life they lead.
When we’re not going about the day-to-day business of looking after existing customers’ needs, there will be tourists visiting the Shetlands who might need a repair carried out on their car. Then they can get back to spotting killer whales and touring our beautiful islands.
Naturally, we’re always looking for ways to reach drivers who haven’t experienced the Mazda brand. We sponsor my little brother, Jonni Manson, who is not only Service Manager at Jim’s Garage Mazda, but also winner of Shetland’s Strongest Man contest.
We’ll report on his local competitions on Facebook and follow him at those venues. Sadly we don’t get to travel to the more exotic places he’s competed in, like Australia…
We enjoy supporting the Rotary club of Shetland, which plays a very active role in the community and makes worthwhile donations to worthy causes throughout Shetland. We stage our own motorshow, which gives everyone the chance to look at all manufacturers’ cars under one roof. We’ll meet people who might not normally come to the dealership, which can be fascinating.
We’re also up to speed on events like Black Friday: Amazon’s not the only one coming up with special offers for customers! For the past two years it has proved very popular.
Given the weather we experience, the super little Mazda MX-5 roadster hasn’t historically been one of our more popular models with drivers on Shetland. But since the latest RF, which features a folding solid roof, arrived in the showroom we’ve had a lot more interest.
I’m never too busy to head out on a test drive in one of those!”