The next time you’re passing the Jack Barclay showroom in Berkeley Square stop for a moment, peer down and take a closer look at its main doors. It’s the subtlest of things and you could well miss it. Neither of the doors are properly aligned – one is hanging a bit lower than the other. This is no oversight but a wilful collaboration in maintaining the showroom’s historical connection to the historical move to the Square in 1953. It’s been that way for a long time and while Bentley has gone from Bentley Boys to a Diesel Bentayga, Jack Barclay won’t be giving up the vestiges of the old days for modernist uniformity any time soon.
Luxury London spent an afternoon at Jack Barclay Bentley and were keen to hear how the pace of change with new product and investment at Crewe is being translated and filtered down to the customer experience at one of London’s most iconic and arguably best located car dealerships.
“Jack Barclay is part of HR Owen but we’re still a separate trading business and the world’s oldest and most famous Bentley dealership,“ says Mark Brown it’s recently appointed General Manager. “We have customers that drop by from overseas when they’re staying in London as they are part of our family. Jack Barclay is the place to buy a Bentley and the number one Bentley dealer in London.”
Located on Berkeley Square in Mayfair – the square’s original layout dates back to the 18th century with famous former residents including Charles Rolls and Winston Churchill. In fact we’re told the very building that Jack Barclay now occupies was originally the site of the hospital where Queen Elizabeth II was born. Between 10 and 20 cars are sold every week, all to different demographics and customers; the Continental GT is frequently configured in all colours and specifications whereas the Mulsanne remains a car to be driven in.” Times are also exciting for Bentley owners right now with the prospect of a brand new Continental GT next year and Bentayga SUV with a 4.0-litre direct injection V8 – a real Bentley first.
“When I arrived weeks ago I was asked by management to do a number of things – including taking time to watch and observe. My role as General Manager may well bring in tweaks but in the end they will be small ones,” says Brown, “come with me and let me show you around.”
We are given a tour of the building which offers a display on two floors – the ground floor for new cars and the subterranean display in the basement hidden from pedestrians walking by. “People will come to us just to have a Jack Barclay number plate on their Bentley. We have a team of 6 sales people, receptionists, a business manager, a sales manager – myself – and four chauffeurs, “ shares Brown. “The chauffeurs are there to facilitate VIP hire such as dropping a customer to the airport. We will do everything to facilitate the customer – even if it requires staying here until 8pm to host a private viewing.”
While we’re walking around we’re taken into the original wood panelled boardroom where John Donald Barclay actually did business. It has been moved from its original location but lovingly rebuilt and sympathetically recreated into a new part of the building. Next, we walk down steps and into the basement full of previously cherished Bentleys. We involuntarily let out a gasp – “I’d be disappointed if that wasn’t your reaction,” smiles Brown. “All of the cars for sale down here are almost indistinguishable from new – such is their condition.”
Taking a close look at the paint under the showroom lights he does seem to have a point – only the keenest eye could spot a flaw. “We go so far as to valet these cars twice a day.” While Brown is talking we hunker down and glide a hand under the front spoiler (these always get scuffed) and sure enough not a ripple or abrasion is felt. Around 12 cars are displayed with a floor lift accessing the main ground flood. The cars range from Flying Spurs, Continental GT and Convertible GTCs - all cars being parked on fabulous original terrazzo floors and entombed by walls covered with pictures of historical Le Mans races and the famous Bentley Boys. It’s here and upstairs that a buying cycle of 10 minutes or years often begins.
So how do customers buy their cars? We speak to one of the showroom hosts: “Finance is important, the rates are attractive and we welcome everyone into the showroom. We never distinguish or make assumptions between new visitors as every one of them may be a potential customer.” A case in point - hear of an 19 year-old that walked in and bought a brand new Bentayga.
It’s clear that Jack Barclay is still wowing Brown. “Our service centre and storage facility is cleaner than some showrooms. When for instance did you ever hear of a mechanic using and tool and cleaning it before being put back? Take our ‘handover’ – (collecting a new or pre-owned car) that takes three hours and involves champagne, an umbrella and flowers.” (Although presumably the last one is not for male customers).
Next, we’re shown into the customer car configuration room. This is the place where a car’s hide, paint and trim is chosen with sound advice from the team. Just because you can configure a Bentley in any sudden hue or hide, doesn’t mean you should do.
“Tweaks, quite small ones,“ says Brown finally. This seems to be future for Jack Barclay Bentley and if in time a hybrid-engine powered Bentley glides silently out onto Berkeley Square we’d wager things will still be done in the old way – possibly a bit better – for a long time soon. After all, there are plenty of photographs of John Donald Barclay hanging in the old boardroom and odds are, he’s keeping a watchful eye on things.