Taking the cars to the customer if they don’t come to you is just one way of creating business. However, missed opportunities happen all too often as our Mike Humble witnessed only recently.
The sad thing is though it’s just oh so very simple to get it right.
A newly-appointed MG dealer proudly displays their wares in a busy County city. Great idea, even greater opportunity, too. But such as shame it was breathtakingly poorly done. It’s just not good enough
Once upon a time, long ago, your typical dealership on a Saturday was not far short of being as busy as a supermarket the day before a bank holiday. Thanks, in part, to the Internet, showrooms are much quieter as more people browse and ponder online.
We still, of course, visit the gin palaces to test drive and hammer out, but footfall traffic as it’s known in the trade is vastly reduced these days. To sell cars or even just to create an interest dealers often resort to different tactics. So, if the customer traffic isn’t coming into the dealership the answer is simple – take the cars to the customers.
One of the most effective ways of doing this is by renting a small bit of floor space in the town/city centre or shopping arcade and hey presto… all the customer traffic anyone could dream of. This idea is not new, of course, and dealers tend to be reluctant to sign up to the notion (they hate spending money to make it).
How it works
Trust me, it works – if, that is, you put in a little effort and can live with sore feet for a day or two afterwards. But if you have an unmotivated salesman who cannot work unsupervised and would rather lock the car doors and hide in Costa all day then it’s all been a waste of time.
I used to love the outdoor events. Armed with a wad of business cards, some pens and an A4-margined notepad attached to a clip board you basically spoke to anyone who showed an interest in the car. Having done this in unglamorous places such as shopping centres and as big as the NEC, I’ll tell you, with hand on heart, honestly there’s no better way of banging the drum and creating a path straight to your desk in the showroom.
A weekend of manning a dealer pitch in a busy shopping centre once gleaned me over eighty contacts on my pad. Out of that number about twenty confirmed appointments were made and 10 bought a car – good going that is!
The missus and I recently visited Canterbury – a city we both love to trudge around. She does the shopping while I visit my favourite sweet shop (Barrett’s Jaguar) and chat to Harry Wilkinson their affable trainee salesman – if he’s not too busy, of course. During our recent visit there, we noticed that a newly-appointed MG dealer had one of these aforementioned rent-a-pitch sites right smack bang in the centre of Canterbury’s pedestrian shopping walk.
This rather scruffy looking chap who I mistook for being a browsing customer was actually the man running the pitch. Bereft of product knowledge, cards, a pen or a notepad it made no sense as to why he was there. You don’t have to know it all… just look the part and take down details for someone else from the company to follow up via a cheery ‘phone call soon after – how simple is that?
The other half groaned and muttered something like, ‘oh lord, I’m going in Marks’ see you in a minute,’ and left me outside in the sunshine. The city centre was heaving by this time but I noticed there was no salesman around and the cars were unlocked – not ideal.
I opened the door of the base model GS and a mature chap in well-worn cords, trainers and a hoodie hopped out of the other side, walked round the back and sat on the open boot floor looking rather bored. Mentioning something banal as one man says to another stranger, it transpired that he was the person manning the site. But when I asked him a quick question about the car things took a turn for the worse.
Dressing down for the occasion
In a rather over-familiar manner, he told me the GS was available in three engine sizes of 1.1-, 1.5- and a 1.7-litre diesel (that’s news to us all, eh?) and I was advised to steer clear of the diesel unless I did big mileages – an old Peugeot engine so he told me because in his words not mine, ‘it clanks around a bit’.
Now okay, fair enough, product knowledge is a sticky subject, but if he didn’t know the cars that well then all he needed to do was take down the names and numbers of potential customers met on the day and tell them a salesman will get back in due course – that’s how it’s done, you see.
But he didn’t, not to me or the nice-looking couple who I slid away from to let him ply his craft, nor the affluent looking older man after that – what a waste of time and money.
This nice-looking couple made all the right noises about being in the market to buy. He never bothered to note their names or numbers despite the couple asking all the questions
Eventually my long0suffering better half came out of the store and we retired to a nearby coffee shop where we sat outside basking in warm sunshine. I noticed he continued to sit there perched on the tailgate happily ignoring curious passers by unless they spoke to him first.
Now before some of you foam and bleat on about MG bashing, this is not the case as I have seen our local Ford dealer spectacularly ignore folk in our own shopping centre in leafy Horsham quite regularly – not to mention other dealers being guilty of the same failure. As the saying goes; people buy from people, you only get out what you put in so far as sales or success matters.
Another mountain to climb
However, MG Motor has a much bigger mountain to climb than other brands. In the eyes of the general trade scene they are a laughing stock with an image of cheapskate advertising and patchy aftersales support. Regardless of the closure of Longbridge, so far as car production is concerned, most of us with a sensible head don’t want MG to fail and fade into the pages of history.
That said, witnessing such apathy and poor practice from the coalface like the dealers themselves who, for the record, invest substantial sums of money for the privilege of selling the brand, it’s getting ever harder to fathom in terms of viability – and difficult to recommend as a new car purchase.
And that’s a real shame too. The trade should and needs more Harrys and fewer, er, oh, that other chap never did tell me his name!
Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications
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