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‘Bitza’ trades cars for fishing

Friday, 1st July, 2011

GOLDEN YEARS: Retiring car salesman Ray Bitmead is looking forward to spending his free time fishing on the Yorke Peninsula. GOLDEN YEARS: Retiring car salesman Ray Bitmead is looking forward to spending his free time fishing on the Yorke Peninsula.

After 39 years of serving the people of Broken Hill, car salesman Ray Bitmead is ready to relax and enjoy the good life.

His dealership, “Bitmead Motors”, was recently sold to Far West Auto and will be used to house the business’ new Isuzu dealership.

The change allows Mr Bitmead to bow out of the local “car game” with which he’s been synonymous since the early 1970s.

Life could easily have turned out much different for Mr Bitmead however. He began his working life as an apprentice fitter and machinist on the North Mine.

Turbulent times on the mine meant he was laid off after completing his trade in 1972, but as one career path came to an abrupt end, another was waiting just around the corner.

“I was only out of work couple of weeks, then I saw an ad in the Barrier Miner that there was a salesman wanted at Argent Motors,” he said.

Mr Bitmead got the job and, as he put it: “the rest is history”.

He worked as a salesman at Argent Motors under the ownership of Bill Provis and Kevin Astill until 1977 when the business went to new owner John Williams.

Mr Bitmead worked at Williams Ford for another eight years before striking out on his own, buying Hannus Motors in Oxide Street and rebranding the dealership under his own name in 1985.

“It’s been a very big learning curve for me, meeting all the people and starting up my own business,” he said.

“And turning a second hand show into a fairly decent car yard - it’s been very rewarding in that area.”

Mr Bitmead, now 59, said he still remembers the very first sale he made in his yard, a transaction that was a mix of cash and barter that secured him new signage for his business.

“I sold a red 1977 Mazda 929 to Ronnie Hill... There was a bit of give and take in the deal, a bit of bartering.

“We did a deal on the signs that are out there, and they’re still there. He was a very good sign writer.”

Times have changed since Mr Bitmead’s early days in the business, and he said the most notable development over the years has been the advent of computer technology.

“Obviously technology and internet were pretty big. When you first started off the opposition was basically Adelaide, the big dealers like Stillwell Ford.

“These days you’ve got the internet. You’ve got to sharpen up with that competition out there.

“It’s like anything - the more competition there is the sharper you’ve got to be.”

Cars themselves have also come a long way, and Mr Bitmead couldn’t help but laugh when remembering the simplicity of some of the first cars he got onto his showroom floor.

“The cars were fairly basic back then... I remember I had a two-door Ford Escort, manual, and there was only an AM radio - no FM radio!

“No power steering, no air. Things are a fair bit different now.”

Almost 40 years of watching the car industry evolve has left Mr Bitmead ready for retirement, but he admitted he was eyeing the prospect of life after work somewhat cautiously.

“I’ve run my race, I suppose, in the car game. You do get a bit tired after 39 years,” he said.

“But you ask how I feel... you can’t explain it. It’s like going for your first job - you’re very flighty, it’s like you’re very nervous.

“You’re going into another chapter, another phase of your life.”

Those nerves are sure to subside before long, and Mr Bitmead said he would spend his newfound spare time travelling Australia and pursuing his favourite pastime.

“I’ve got a bit of a passion for fishing, as everyone knows, so I’ll be doing a bit of that. My boat only gets used twice a year so I’ll give it a bit more of a run now.

“And I just needed to have a look around Australia while I’m able to, I didn’t want to do it when I’m 70. I want to be able to climb in and out of a boat.

“I’ve also got a little bit of interest in going overseas, but I can do that later on. I’m not going to do everything in five minutes.

“I’ll just cool my heels, smell the roses and regroup and have a look around before I get too old to do it.”

Mr Bitmead said he would also join Legacy and “help out a few of the old people around town and put a bit back in to the community.”

His retirement ends a career in car sales that is almost certainly the longest in the city’s history.

“There’s probably been blokes in the car game for that length of time or more, blokes like Wayne Lee, Don Clisby and my very good mate John Williams, but a lot of that time would have been in spare parts and management,” he said.

“My whole 39 years has been on the floor and face to face.”

Such a long period of success in sales cannot come about by sheer luck, and Mr Bitmead said his uncomplicated approach to business and a focus on the customer had been the key throughout his career.

“It gets down to the basics. So long as you present your product well, your site is right and you have good presentation.

“It all goes hand in hand, and if you do all that right and look after the customer, you’ll get a result in the end.”

Mr Bitmead thanked the public for their support and said he wished Far West Auto the best of luck in their new venture.

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