The Donford Group is an independent group of companies in the automotive and related industries with its head office in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
It is a privately-owned and managed business, founded by Wallace James Philp in 1946, which grew to become known as the Selfords Group. Its name change to the Donford Group more recently, is a mere continuation of the rich history of this Group in which the Donford name already featured prominently over many years.
The philosophy of our business is based on two primary principles – integrity, and a sincere belief in building meaningful relationships with our stakeholders, namely our suppliers and principals, staff, and customers.
For us, the responsibility of such affiliations lies with each individual member of our workforce. To realize this, we select and employ only the finest available human resources in the labour market, and we play an active role in offering guidance to ensure that each employee understands, and is in accordance with, the Donford Group’s manner of conducting business. We furthermore invest heavily in the individuals whom we employ, and offer growth and career opportunities within the Group.
Our approach of being a people-focussed business within our industry has led to the recognition we’ve received for our performance and growth over the years, and for the high standards and consistency of the service we offer.
Until today, the Group retains its original visionary and innovative outlook, entrepreneurial drive and spirit, flexibility to anticipate and adapt to change, and a focused and hands-on approach in terms of service delivery.
THE HISTORY OF THE DONFORD GROUP
Wallace James Philp, in the early 1930s, moved from what was then known as Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to Cape Town in South Africa. Work during those depression years was scarce, and he knocked on doors trying to find employment. Read more below.
90 YEARS OF HISTORY
A Determined Beginning!
Wallace James Philp, in the early 1930s, moved from what was then known as Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to Cape Town in South Africa. Work during those depression years was scarce, and he knocked on doors trying to find employment.
His love for cars made him force his way, by way of speaking, into a Ford dealership in Cape Town. Although being told they did not have a job for him, Wallace walked into the dealership one morning before the manager arrived, cleared a table and sat down. When asked what he was doing there in spite of the fact that there was no vacancy, the sincere reply was: “I am here to sell cars. And you do not have to pay me for doing it!”
This clinched the deal. The Holmes Motor Company had a new employee – Wallace James Philp!
A Fresh Start in Stellenbosch
The Holmes Motor Company opened a branch in Stellenbosch in 1938 and offered Wallace the only position of salesperson at the branch. The business, regrettably, closed down soon afterwards with the outbreak of World War II, as car manufacturers’ focus shifted to armament manufacturing. The supply of Ford motor cars from the USA dried up.
Wallace bought the assets of the Stellenbosch business for £100 – a hefty sum of money at the time – and continued to repair motor vehicles. At the end of the war in 1945, the Ford Motor Company offered him a sub-dealership in Stellenbosch. For this, Wallace established a purpose-built motor car dealership in Markstraat (Market Street) in the town (where the Jaguar Land Rover dealership is currently located) and called it “Ford Sales and Service”.
An interesting fact is that Markstraat – the street which the new building faced – derived its name from the fact that it led to the Saturday market (mark, in Afrikaans) which was held on the Stellenbosch Braak (the town square) every Saturday. This street was closed in the mid-1960s when Alexander Street – being a larger thoroughfare – was built behind the dealership. The main entrance to the dealership then had to be moved to the opposite side of the building to allow the dealership to face the other way and be accessible from Alexander Street.
A car dealership with core values
Wallace would not settle on merely running a car dealership – he had a dream to build a business for generations to come.
Being the person he was, he established his business on two profound principles – integrity, and entering into sincere relationships with all players involved – those who supplied him, those who worked for him, and those who bought from him.
These fundamental values set the stage for Selford Motors to become synonymous with the history and growth of Stellenbosch, and paved the way for a family business with outstanding growth in the decades that followed.
The Second Generation
The second generation
Wallace’s son – Donald Wallace Philp – joined the business in 1946 when he returned from the war. Eight years later, Wallace one morning in 1954 unexpectedly announced he was retiring from the business, handed over to Donald, and walked out without ever coming back.
For Donald, who did not have any managerial experience, taking over the running of the business was a daunting task. But he made it work and aligned his new responsibilities with his other career as a professional single-seater motor car racer (which, by the way, he concluded as a South African champion).
The business grew exponentially and Ford offered him their Somerset West franchise in 1962, and the Paarl franchise in 1978. He kept these two new businesses under the Selfords banner and named them Selfords Somerset West and Selfords Paarl respectively.
Ford, fuel and a fresh name!
An important element of a motor dealership at the time was to have a dedicated area where used cars could be displayed and sold. The building in Alexander Street was not suitable for this purpose and Donald started looking for a location away from this dealership where he could trade used cars.
In 1972 he came upon a warehouse near the Stellenbosch Station on the outskirts of the town. It belonged to what was then known as Stellenbosch Farmers Winery and was located at what later became the corner of Dorp Street and Adam Tas Road, where Shell Dorp Street is situated today.
Donald did not have the money to buy the building, but via his and his father’s connections with Shell, managed to convince this fuel industry player to buy the building, set up a fuel station and give him the right to sell their fuel while also selling used cars from the same premises.
Part of setting up the business, was to find a name for it. Again it was not difficult to do so. Donald’s name was promptly combined with the Ford name and the name of the fuel which he would be selling. A new household name for Stellenbosch – “Donford Motors Shell” – was born!
BMW becoming part of the landscape
In 1974 BMW offered Donald a franchise in Stellenbosch which he positioned at the Dorp Street location. Although still a Shell filling station, the emphasis was now on BMW and the name changed to “Donford BMW”. Although this was now a BMW dealership, Donald continued to also sell second-hand Fords from here.
A third generation family member coming on board
Donald’s son – Mark Wallace Philp – got to know the business as a young man. In fact, Donald allowed him, while studying at the Stellenbosch University, only one university holiday per year (which coincided with their family holiday) while, for the rest, he was compelled to find a job somewhere to keep himself busy and more often than not, found himself looking to be employed in the business.
Mark’s love for the business grew and he joined Donald in 1982. He cut his teeth at Selfords Paarl, and when he took over the reins of this dealership later that year, the experience he gained during the preceding months and also during his student years, equipped him for the task that lay ahead. He spent nine years in this position.
A time to consolidate
Mark saw the need to strengthen the upper echelon of the business and in 1992 Leon Potgieter joined the group as shareholder and co-director. His key responsibilities were with Donford BMW in Dorp Street, together with its Shell retail outlet, while Mark’s involvement remained with the Ford dealerships, also taking care of the Group’s financial and asset management responsibilities.
In 1998 the Group introduced the Land Rover dealership in Stellenbosch (Land Rover was part of BMW at the time). The Group also saw the need for bigger premises for the Dorp Street business, and in 2003 developed a custom-built facility on the corner of the R44 and Webersvallei Road in Stellenbosch. This development accommodated the BMW motorcar dealership, and later expanded to also include the BMW Motorrad franchise which opened in 2008. These new premises also allowed for setting up a second Shell service station in the Group – Shell Stellenbosch Square – adjacent to the BMW dealership.
In November 2014 the Group opened Donford Motorrad Cape Town. This dealership became an international benchmark, being BMW Motorrad’s first ever flagship dealership worldwide, based on BMW Motorrad’s new and innovative brand positioning campaign, “MAKE LIFE A RIDE”. In fact, the opening of the dealership also served as the launch for this campaign.
The Group further expanded when Donford BMW Somerset West and Donford Approved Repair Centre entered the Group’s fold in 2016.
Today both partners share in the Group’s responsibilities and activities, ensuring its culture of integrity is maintained, and that all decisions are guided
A golden thread.
The Donford and Selfords Group has come a long way since Wallace James Philp in the 1930s made a determined move to become part of the motor industry landscape in Cape Town, and later specifically in Stellenbosch.
But although times and the industry have changed over the years, one thing remained constant – the determination and dedication of three generations of the Philp family in succession – and with Leon Potgieter who joined more recently – to make a success of the business and to offer their stakeholders only the best.
Brand names have come and gone, but the golden thread that runs throughout the years is the philosophy of the business which granddad Wallace James Philp laid down when he started off – integrity, and building meaningful relationships.
And by constantly making sure their employees like their business first, those who steer the business managed to make sure their suppliers and customers over the years also fell in love with – and remained devoted to – the Donford Group.
For all your Motoring needs
Welcome to the Donford Group’s employment and recruitment website. Here you will find information about career opportunities, vacancies and job offers that are available at our group of companies in the automotive industry in Stellenbosch, Somerset West and Cape Town.