Words: Clive Goldthorp Photography: Simon Davies/Pegasus Photographics and Honda (UK)
My local Honda dealership, Two Mills Honda Limited, ceased trading two weeks ago – just as my wife and I were about to book our 09/59 Honda Jazz 1.4i ES and 11/61 Honda Civic 1.8i EX GT in for their Annual Services and, in the case of the former, an MoT. Our current Hondas are the 13th and 14th to have been owned by our household since 1987, so we consider ourselves to be part of the ‘Honda family’.
We had known that the company’s Franchise Agreement with Honda Motor Europe Limited t/a Honda (UK) was coming to an end on 31 October 2012, but had received an email dated 24 October 2012 stating that the company would still be an official Honda Authorised Service Centre – the subsequent and sudden closure of the business therefore came as a real shock to us and, no doubt, a considerable number of the other Wirral-based Honda customers who have bought Hondas from the company over the years.
The site at Two Mills has, in fact, been home to the Wirral’s Honda dealership for over 40 years – every Honda model from the original S800 Coupe and Roadster to the current, MY12 Civic has been sold from there. Indeed, back in the day, the dealership was one of only a handful chosen to sell the NSX. However, the Potteries-based Regional Dealer Group, which acquired the Honda dealership in Chester a few years ago, will be opening new, multi-million pound Honda and Hyundai dealerships at Cheshire Oaks early in 2013. The two locations are just five miles and ten minutes apart – from Honda (UK)’s perspective, that appears to be too close for comfort…
Admittedly, neither the Regional Dealer Group concerned nor Honda (UK) are likely to put all the factors behind the decision to terminate Two Mills Honda Limited’s franchise into the public domain for reasons of commercial confidentiality. However, the company’s happy and loyal customer base might be forgiven for thinking that their views count for nothing – we are, after all, supposed to be members of the ‘Honda family’ so what, if any, steps did Honda (UK)’s Head of Dealer Development, Nick Campolucci, and his colleagues take to consult and engage with Two Mills Honda Limited’s customers before making the decision to terminate the company’s franchise?
The issues of the Wirral Globe and Wirral News published on the 31 October 2012 both carried advertorials about Two Mills and included an extract from a letter sent by a customer, Jane Milne, to Honda (UK)’s Managing Director, David Hodgetts, as follows:
‘The staff were genuinely friendly, knowledgeable, respectful and courteous… I have come to appreciate the support of extremely professional, highly-trained staff who have provided me with truly excellent service … The staff of Two Mills have repeatedly demonstrated that they value me as their customer.
‘The relationship they have cultivated with me over the last 11 years is testament to the culture and values the Two Mills team have worked extremely hard to create, develop and maintain… They certainly know how to go the ‘extra mile’ for their customers.
‘They are always happy to help and I know I am in safe and reliable hands. Two Mills have become so much more than just a car dealership – it is more like popping in on long-standing and trusted friends who care.’
Honda (UK) presumably has a CSI Dealer Ranking and one therefore wonders how Two Mills Honda Limited scored in relation to, say, the Honda dealerships operated by the Regional Dealer Group referred to above but, as Jane Milne’s letter so eloquently emphasises, those statistics do not tell the full story. Most of Two Mills Honda Limited’s past and, until two weeks ago, current customers would almost certainly endorse Jane Milne’s sentiments simply because the Directors, Paul Hawkins and Mark Lambe, and their staff invested so much time in developing enduring relationships with the company’s customers.
All successful relationships, be they personal or professional, are based on trust – the Directors and staff of Two Mills Honda Limited earned the trust of their customers who, in turn, trusted Honda (UK). However, the events of earlier this month will have left many of those customers with the impression that Honda (UK)’s decision to terminate Two Mills Honda Limited’s franchise was a significant factor in the company’s subsequent closure and, as such, constituted a breach of that trust…
Moreover, many of them may, like me, believe that, in this context and especially in these challenging economic times, people – customers and employees alike – are more important than premises. Indeed, as most Honda owners are probably wise enough to have learned, all that glistens is not necessarily golden.
Honda (UK)’s decision therefore risks alienating the Wirral’s loyal Honda customers and severely eroding, if not completely eradicating, the trust they had in the Honda marque – trust which may well take a long time to re-build. Indeed, when Adam Jackson of Great Meols, Wirral posted that ‘without Two Mills, there is no Honda’ on the Two Mills Honda Facebook page, he may well, one suspects, have neatly summarised the opinion of many of the company’s now former customers…
Nick Campolucci, Honda (UK)’s Head of Dealer Development (left), provided AROnline with this comment about the closure of Two Mills Honda Limited: ‘We have had a long and enjoyable relationship with Two Mills Honda. The last four years have seen some unprecedented challenges in the economy and the car industry has felt these as hard as any industry. We have been in discussion with Two Mills about the future of the Honda marque in Cheshire for more than three years. We have looked at multiple set ups and structures for representing the brand in the best possible light from both a customer’s perspective and that of business viability. The decision to change a long-term sales partner within our Franchise is never an easy one to make as we always look to our existing dealers for expansion first.
‘However, at Honda we need to plan and manage the current and future aspirations and trends of the customer whilst being able to create a viable opportunity for each of the business partners we work with. In this instance, the decision to relocate and change the Sales Franchise operator was taken in consultation with all the current business partners.
‘We planned to continue our relationship with Two Mills through the Service Franchise and were confused when we heard the news that they had decided to close the business. We wish the team at Two Mills all the best for the future and advise customers to visit our website Honda.co.uk/cars to locate their nearest dealer for Sales and Service.’
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