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Autobarn founder’s secret of success

Barn party: Autobarn founder says fun built the business.

Retail car parts legend focuses on having fun, hating rivals – not getting rich

16 Apr 2013

THE man who built the Autobarn and AutoPro retail franchise chains from nothing has a simple recipe for success: have fun, but hate your competitors.

Garry Dumbrell made the candid remarks during an acceptance speech at the Automotive Aftermarket banquet dinner last week after he was elevated into the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association Hall of Fame.

Asked for his secret of success, Mr Dumbrell said it had nothing to do with wanting to be rich.

“If you concentrate on money, you never have any. If you wake up and work for money, guess what, you’re going to get none. You should wake up and have fun,” he told the 700 banquet guests.

“And never meet your competitor because, when you wake up, you have got to dream you’re running over him.

“You never meet your competitor because you might like him ... You’ve got to try to kill them every day.”

Mr Dumbrell established the Allbrells parts retailer in the Melbourne suburb of Northcote in 1977 with an initial investment of $5000.

Within eight years he had bought the Dynamic Auto chain from Repco with business partner George Kallinikos.

“When George and I bought Dynamic Auto from Repco, that was an unbelievable time in our lives. We did it with no money, none at all,” he said.

“When we woke up the next day, we had $861,000 in the bank – not that I remember the number – in 1980-something. I said, “Shit, George, how long has this been going on?“Then we had 22 stores but we couldn’t make any money. That’s what Autobarn started from. That kicked on,” he said with a degree of understatement.

80 center imageLeft: Autobarn founder Garry Dumbrell

He later sold Autobarn and focused on several other businesses, including a Wynn’s distributorship, the Bodytech car care range and the Australasian distributorship of Eagle One products, subsequently sold to Valvoline.

“In 2005 I was having lunch with … George and talking about Autobarn and he said, ‘Well, why don’t we mop the shares up? “So by September that year we had mopped the shares up, with a little bit of aggro along the way, and we won the battle.”

Autobarn was then combined with National Parts and Autopro into what became Automotive Brands Group (ABG), the largest distributor and franchise operator in the $5.6 billion Australian automotive products and aftermarket industry.

ABG has annual turnover of $400 million and a 7 per cent market share.

Mr Dumbrell and his family had a horror run in 2008 and 2009 which led to a major reappraisal of his business activities.

His son Lucas, brother of 2012 Bathurst 1000 winner Paul, became a quadriplegic in a motor racing crash in 2008, and then Mr Dumbrell himself was diagnosed with cancer in 2009.

Lucas is now in his fourth year running a V8 Supercars team under the name Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport.

In 2012 Mr Dumbrell sold a 75.1 per cent share in ABG to Metcash for $53.8 million. He still controls Avea Insurance Ltd, one of only two privately held general insurance licences in the country.

Mr Dumbrell told the audience that the Dumbrell name was not about to depart the industry just yet.

“Don’t think the Dumbrell name will disappear, it won’t. We’ll have an investment in this sector for a long, long time,” he said.

“It’s what I have grown from. Everything in my life comes from this room.

“Everything I have done. Every house I’ve bought or trip I have made has come from this room. It’s as simple as that.”“Being in the Hall of Fame? I have been in many halls, but not that one.”

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