"Customers often say I must have a favourite car but I always say my favourite is the one I am holding the cheque for and looking at the boot as it leaves the yard," jokes Bryan Lambert, whose business, AllKars, has been named Motor Trade Association Retailer Business of the Year for Northland.
He has looked at the boots of about 20,000 cars since he started the company in 1988.
The joke belies his serious attention to getting it right for customers, which he says sees them coming back, car after car, and bringing friends and relatives with them. The aim is to please and, he says, sometimes he has to stand back while a customer lets heart rule head.
"I've seen people do such crazy things in buying because the vehicle makes them happy," he says. "But a good deal is a state of mind and if the customer is happy, that is a good deal for him or her."
Lambert emigrated to New Zealand in October 1980 and was a car salesman in Whangarei before starting AllKars. The business is still in the same place, but double the size, on the corner of Reyburn and Robert streets.
Surprisingly, because he was a truck mechanic in his home country, there are no trucks or vans: "I'd have stayed in England if I had wanted to be a truck mechanic. It's a great thing to change your vocation when you emigrate - that way you don't make comparisons."
The business had been supported by an extremely loyal customer base. Some extended families had bought 10 or 12 cars. AllKars had been especially appreciative of this sort of loyalty over the past two or three years of recession.
"It's the customer base that has kept us going," he says.
His son Lyndon also works in the business, and the recent award was a first.