SLSHOP – A history lesson in our heritage as SL enthusiasts
12 years ago SLSHOP was little more than a father and son team indulging in a hobby, a driveway operation focused on buying, improving and selling the R107 SL. With a keen interest in classic cars, three generations of Bailey’s had varying levels of involvement. Sam was still working in the corporate world, while his retired father took on the day to day dealings with the cars. Young Jake was enlisted on car-cleaning duties.
Not satisfied with anything but perfection, the small team had soon built a reputation… and a small inventory of parts. As the reputation grew, so did the demand, and it wasn’t long before the fledgling company was at a crossroads.
During one sunny weekend Sam took an SL down to the Ragley Hall Classic Car Show with some business cards and flyers, and a chance meeting with Bruce Greetham would follow.
At the time, Bruce was recovering from a life threatening injury, taking some time out to establish what was important… and making the decision that his passion for classic Mercedes-Benz cars should be the driving force for a new career direction.
A mechanic by trade, Bruce was no stranger to Stuttgarts finest – he had been building award winning Mercedes-Benz cars prior to the chance meeting with Sam. Having owned a series of big Benz coupes, Bruce was well known in the Mercedes-Benz club not least for his concours winning W124 Coupe.
Bruce had two decades of experience as a mechanic, and was also at a crossroads – recovering from a life threatening injury meant Bruce was taking some time to establish what was important, and had decided that his Mercedes-Benz passion should be the driving force of a new and exciting career.
With Sam at a crossroads unsure whether to quit the corporate world and dive into his SL hobby full time, and Bruce looking for his next automotive opportunity, the timing couldn’t have been better. Much to the relief of many thousands of future SL owners!
The pair sat down to discuss the possibilities and soon after The SL Shop began to bloom. Working from farm buildings at Inkberrow, Worcestershire, the SL Shop as we know it began to take off. It wasn’t long before the accumulation of parts lead to the launch of The Parts Department, although back then the term ‘parts department’ seemed a little grandiose… the joke still stands that it was one man in a shed!
For the next few years Sam, Bruce and a small but growing team dedicated themselves to the SL, quickly expanding to become the go-to destination for SL servicing and restoration. What began as a one ramp operation quickly became a three car workshop, with the showroom also growing in size as the business took over more and more space on the small farm. The shed in which the parts store began was now all but a memory, with three office staff and a full time warehouse team required to fulfill the worldwide orders.
The restoration of Bruce’s 500SL, the ever increasing reputation and the growing stature of the business meant lead times were getting longer. The SL Shop became known for the question for perfection, and demand had increased as a result. With the workshop, showroom and parts department all needing more room, and no further space to expand at Inkberrow, a big decision would follow… Should the business remain niche, stay small and carry on creaking at the seams, or was it time for a bold new era of SLSHOP, a giant leap into the future?
In 2017 The SL Shop moved from Inkberrow to Drayton Farm, becoming SLSHOP in the process. This new ‘forever’ home outside Stratford-Upon-Avon offered all the space necessary for expansion, and a proper purpose built showroom with room to grow – just what Sam and Bruce had always wanted.
The new showroom now gave the cars the display they always deserved, and all other departments got much needed breathing space. For the first time an entire workshop was dedicated purely to Pagoda restoration, in a building larger than the original R107 workshop at Inkberrow! The extra space allowed for introduction of a classic car storage business, and more ramps meant more capacity. The now well established parts store has grown to 8 staff in superbly equipped offices, handling calls and emails from all around the world on a daily basis – a far cry from the ‘one man in a shed’ beginnings…
The backbone of SLSHOP has always been motoring passion and great staff choices – a core team of people have been involved since the very early days.
Having the right team at the helm has helped to ensure consistency, quality and depth of understanding, and is a reason customers return to SLSHOP time and time again. Along with Sam and Bruce at the forefront, lifetime staff members include Jack and Paul in the parts store, Russell in the service department and Callum & Simon in the workshops. By finding, training and keeping great team members, SLSHOP has gone from strength to strength. The expertise, knowledge and experience of the core SLSHOP team is infectious. SLSHOP staff are engaged and interested in the workings of the business and genuinely engaged with customers and their cars.
With the launch of the Experience department SLSHOP was able to focus on the core interest of all classic car owners – getting out and using them! Now with a busy calendar of trips and tours, this really is a business that helps owners get the very best out of a car.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for SLSHOP, and Sam is happy to share the stories of mistakes made. Hiring staff that weren’t the right fit, expanding the business in the wrong areas and chasing the wrong sort of customer were all par for the course. The team had two shots at launching a hire business but damaged cars and rising costs meant it was shut down for good in 2019. Each lesson learnt has gone on to contribute to the successes elsewhere within the business. By constantly refining what they do, SLSHOP has grown organically, taking a good team of staff and a dedicated customer base along for the journey.
There are no plans to expand the physical size of the business, but further refinement of the skills and offering on site are in constant development. New products, new services and more involved restorations keep the team busy and in demand. The launch of SportLine in 2017 heralded a new era for SLSHOP and introduced a new type of customer, whilst magazine coverage of both R107 and Pagoda restorations ensure there is still a queue for big builds. The reach of these large restoration projects has now gone worldwide, with SportLine customers enjoying cars in four countries spanning three continents!
In 2019 SLSHOP launched SportLine Zero, whilst riding the wave of Pagoda popularity with a number of high profile, complete restorations. The Pagoda workshop that once seemed but a dream is now a fully functioning independent team, busy with 1960s cars from Mercedes-Benz and building what the editor of Mercedes Enthusiast Magazine called ‘the finest 280SL I have ever driven’.
Through a challenging 2020 the team have emerged stronger, with more cars sold than ever before. In a tricky marketplace and an obviously difficult time, SLSHOP have more than weathered the storm and come out victorious – largely thanks to the loyalty of our excellent customers, and the reputation built over the past decade.
The workshops remain busy for maintenance and restoration, with a number of exciting ‘big builds’ soon to reach the pages of classic car magazines. Bruce and the showroom team have found new homes for more SLs than any previous year, and we continue the quest for quality in everything we do.
From factory perfect restorations, dramatic SportLine improvements a racing car and even an electric SL, the SLSHOP have gone from strength to strength.
With 2021 being the 50th anniversary of the Mercedes-Benz R107 SL, SLSHOP are leading the way with a calendar of celebrations and a special 350SL to tour the country. SLSHOP are charging into the future determined to share their SL passion, to keep more of these fine machines on the road and to continue inspiring owners to see more, drive more and do more. We hope to see you along the way.