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He’s had to wait five years till he was old enough – but now 26-year-old Phil’s in the fast lane as a classic car dealer 

He’s had to wait five years till he was old enough – but now 26-year-old Phil’s in the fast lane as a classic car dealer 

He took less than five years to go from a minimum-wage dead-end job at 20 to building a £350,000 art and antiques dealership. Now, at just 26, Phil Mires has taken just five months to become a successful classic car dealer, with sales worth tens of thousands of pounds under his belt.

Working tirelessly through the pandemic to reach his goal, Phil, from Chertsey in Surrey, has already netted £50,000 from his cars business alone, and is now offering two rare Italian classic Alfa Romeos, with a combined retail value of £40,000 among retro and classic marques via his PM Antiques & Collectables website: a 1983 Alfa Romeo Alfasud 1.5 Ti Green Cloverleaf and a 1983 Alfasud 1.5 Gold Cloverleaf.

“The Alfasud is considered one of Alfa Romeo’s most successful models with over a million examples manufactured between 1972-1989, yet it is believed fewer than 100 registered ‘Suds are left in the UK,” says Phil. “I sold another Alfasud only last month and these current models are in amazing condition. The Gold Cloverleaf has had no mot advisories recorded in the past 15 years and featured in the February 2000 issue of Auto Italia magazine.”

He also has a 1988 Monza Red Lancia Delta HF Integrale 8v.

“The Lancia Delta is best known for its World Rally Championship career in the late ’80s and early ’90s when it became an icon of the Group A era, winning the WRC constructors’ championship a record six times successively from 1987 to 1992,” says Phil.

“The unrivalled performance and durability of the four-wheel drive Delta HF Integrale made it a cult classic in an instant. My original UK-supplied Integrale is of low mileage and has been cherished all of its life.”

It comes with a documented timeline of service, maintenance and ownership records dating back to the point of registration, something every purist craves to see.

Phil, who prefers to buy his cars privately, has tapped into his father’s expertise as a classic car collector when it comes to assessing the merits of potential purchases. “My father is now retired and knows a lot about classic cars and he would do them up as a young man. He’s owned many classic Italian cars and he still loves them.” 

Too young to set up as a classic car dealer until this year

Having caught the classic car bug himself, Phil had to wait until the end of last year to branch out into dealing because he was just too young.

“I turned 26 in November and that finally opened the door. Up till then, I just couldn’t get the trade insurance to deal in cars because of my age, but I have been making up for lost time ever since.”

Having already had considerable success dealing in a wide range of art, antiques and collectables, Phil was able to plough some of his profits into the car side of the business rather than borrowing to fund his expansion.

“I have had quite a bit of success over the past couple of years, including one or two really memorable sales, such as a collection of Swarowski crystals, and some really valuable classic antiques, and this means that I have been able to divert money into the cars without seeing any fall-off in the business’s turnover or profitability,” he says.

“In fact, although dealing in classic cars is much more demanding because of all the paperwork and engineering and bodywork checks, it is also more profitable, so I am expecting the value of the business to climb more rapidly now.”

Starting at the beginning of this year, he bought nine cars and has already sold five of them.

It’s all a far cry from Phil’s life just six short years ago when he found himself stuck in a dead-end, zero-hours contract job on minimum wage.

Making a New Year’s Resolution to change his life, the then 20-year-old Phil scraped together £2800 from working overtime and cashing in savings he’d built up from buying and selling at car boot sales and launched an antiques and collectables business on ebay.

Over the following five years he built a huge 1300-item range online via his website, ebay and social media.

“It’s been a dream come true,” says Phil, who started by offering items for around £10. “I supplemented my income by getting a job as a porter at a local auction house so that I could plough any money I made back into the business,” he says. “Then I started helping out with cataloguing and valuing, and by then I’d well and truly got the bug.”

Eventually, Phil went part-time at the auctioneers to concentrate on building up his own business. And last year he moved to running his own business full time.

“I love it all, whether it’s a valuable piece of art like the Lowry drawing worth five figures, a retro movie poster available for a few hundred or a collectable toy figure for a tenner,” says the young entrepreneur, who left college at 18 after studying maths, physics, law and design. “But the cars are where I really see my future. 

The lessons of lockdown and building a business from scratch

“Over lockdown, I have learned that having an online presence is essential. I have been able to fulfil orders and my turnover has not been affected, as people have been saving money and spending it on collectables.”

Lockdown may have been fine, and Phil’s come a long way since he started, but it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

“I have had numerous setbacks and delays over the past six years but I wouldn’t class any of these as disasters, more annoyances – especially when they are out of my control. In an ideal world it would’ve been nice to have had my website set up years ago but time limitations wouldn’t allow for it. I got there in the end though.

“It’s amazing to think that just six years ago I was earning £5.25 an hour as a general operative at a golf club, with very limited hours over the winter. When I deciding to start my business I had absolutely no clue where to begin because I had no previous experience or business qualifications. I’d never even had a ‘proper’ job and as I had no relatives with a self-employed background, guidance was incredibly limited.”

Throughout school and college, he had no idea what career pathway to take, so he chose a wide range of A-level subjects to cover all bases.

“I did maths, law, product design and physics, hoping that I would find something in one of these subjects to give me an idea of what I wanted to do, but that never happened.”

Inspiration finally came one day from an unexpected quarter – tidying up at home.

“I was clearing out some cupboards and found a load of old VHS tapes from my childhood. I was about to chuck them out when I thought of looking at whether they might be worth anything on ebay. I was amazed that some titles were fetching £5, £10, £15 or more. Suddenly the cupboard of old videos was worth over £100. I think that’s what first got me thinking.”

Phil soon found that no one else wanted these old VHS children’s videos at car boot fairs and charity shops, so he spent his weekends buying them up and selling them on ebay.

“I’d buy them for 10p-50p each and sell them on ebay, often for £10 or more. I remember having to test the videos to check their playing quality and whether they’d been recorded over. That was how I started to build up a nest egg that eventually allowed me to launch the business.”

Success has not come easily though.

“You certainly have to work hard, but the results show it’s worth it. My work schedule over the last few years has been manic – especially when I also had a full-time job. I would generally work 9-5 Monday to Friday as an auction cataloguer/valuer and run my business for 5 or 6 hours before/after work, as well as the entire weekend. Understandably, this has had a detrimental effect on my social life. Now it’s better because I can dedicate all my working day to the business.”

Phil has also ploughed all the money he makes from the business back into new stock. 

Hard work and reinvesting profits are key to success

“Before, I lived off the money I earned from my PAYE job whilst re-investing any business profits into more stock – an accumulator effect. I’ve never seen the point in withdrawing my business earnings only for it to sit idle in the bank earning very little interest. Re-investing in more stock is a far more lucrative option. Obviously I would set finances aside for tax returns and other upcoming expenses.”

Now though, as success has increased, he has been able to pay himself a decent salary.

He says he gained the work ethic, along with the focus, from his grandad.

“He grew up during the Second World War and told me all about what it was like to live off rations, with only an orange for Christmas. When you think about it, we haven’t got it half as tough, and if you don’t waste what you have, it’s amazing what you can build.

“I’m not saying it’s been a bed of roses, but I knew I had to do something to get out of the rut and turn my life around and the answer turned out to be right in front of me.”

He has always loved the hunt for the unusual and the special, which is why he spent so much time scouring car boot sales, but it took him a long time to realise that with a little effort and experience he could make a successful business out of dealing in art, collectables and, now, classic cars.

“I suppose I have learnt that it’s no good waiting around for something to turn up; if you want to change your life you have to do it yourself. You have to be prepared to put the work in, but if you are focused, you will find that you can make a go of it.”

The lockdowns of the past two years have had a major impact on young people trying to find work, so Phil has decided to share his story to inspire other people like him who are wondering how to kickstart their careers.

“When you consider what I have been able to do over the past few years without any help from anyone else, I can’t see why I shouldn’t go all the way. And that goes for a lot of other young people like me too. A lot of the most successful dealers started as auction house porters or by selling from stalls in local markets. It’s a bit like doing an apprenticeship and is definitely the best way to learn.” 

Phil Mires’ five top tips for success?

  • Hard work and self-discipline. Put in the time and effort. Be prepared to work unsociable hours and go without holidays. Jobs won’t get done by themselves.
  • Patience and determination. Business is an everlasting marathon, not a sprint. Remain determined that you’ll achieve success in the long haul. There will undoubtedly be challenges on the way but that’s just life, a learning curve.
  • Time and lifestyle management. Plan ahead to ensure that you are effectively optimising your time. Maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of sick days. Time is money.
  • Don’t sit still – you’ll get left behind by your competitors. Assess/raise your goals and ambitions regularly. Always look ahead for ways to improve and evolve.
  • If you’ve set yourself a budget, stick to it. Don’t get carried away by the heat of the moment as this jeopardises your profit - it’s easily done at auction. If you’re easily led, leave a commission bid instead.

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