Not a single day goes by when I don’t receive an email from yet another automotive recruitment specialist telling me about exciting or not-to-be-missed sales opportunities in the motor trade. After a few decent years selling cars, I bowed out of the new car trade in 2007, when times were very much different to how they really are now. Main Dealers always put on a brave face when times are tough and right now, trust me, times have never been more critical for the car dealer either new or used.
People often ask me why I don’t go back into the trade and the stock reply I give to anyone who asks me is that ‘wild horses wouldn’t drag me back into a Main Dealer showroom.’ I moved from car sales into PSV sales which initially was a good choice after re-locating to leafy Sussex but, once the recession took hold, everything ground to a halt almost overnight. It was heartbreaking to witness, as I really did find my niche in the bus and coach game making many good friendships and a few bob along the way.
My heart goes out to the many good men and women I know on the floor who face greater uncertainty on a day by day basis in the volume car trade. Oh, yes, I know a good few shysters too, but some thoroughly decent folk work in the trade who actually care about what they do and how they do it and the main reason for walking out of the truly epic Vauxhall Dealer I once worked with was mainly because the satisfaction simply wasn’t there any more.
However, a true insight into just how bad the game is right now came my way literally just the other week. Horsham is a small yet fairly affluent borough, possessing Audi, Citroen, Ford, Mazda, Peugeot, Vauxhall and Volkswagen Dealers along with prestige metal such as Aston Martin, Bentley and Land Rover within the parish. But some truly alarming news came in the form of a text message recently informing me that queues of transporters were pulling out new cars from our Vauxhall Dealer, which had just gone bust.
Stevens Vauxhall was a family-owned concern who bought themselves out of the Evans Halshaw stranglehold back in 2000 – they made a very good name for themselves locally running two sites in Horsham and nearby Crawley taking on a Chevrolet franchise a few years back. It came without warning or rumour either, which was most strange to me as I know plenty of people in the right places to hear reliable jungle drums. Equally worrying was the fact I almost became their Van sales specialist a little while back.
Family-run dealers are, on the whole, brilliant, relying on their good name and customer service rather than pumping out high numbers while churning and burning sales staff. I knew of a chap who ran a Lada franchise some years back and, when Satra Motors pulled out of the UK, he went over to Kia with equal success – why? Well, because the consumer was buying a piece of him more than a piece of Korean consumer goods.
Unfortunately, the smaller Main Dealer has high overheads in volume brands such as GM or Ford and most are pressured into ordering high numbers from the makers which they are liable for after 90 days in stock, so their sales staff have to be bright and their pencils ultra sharp in order to survive. Is going to Massive Dealer Co PLC just to save £500 worth it when your local family outlet can supply you with a smile, good service and the ability to remember your name when you come back to trade in?
Some of the best run garages I have ever known are small to medium enterprises that have managed to make good money and enviable reputations simply by doing the right thing when it comes to looking after the customer – after all they are King. Sell your integrity and sell yourself first and then the orders just come rolling in. It’s very much like politics really in big dealer groups – they operate with little or no long-term strategy as the Dealer Principals tend to have a shelf life in any one outlet of about as long as the latest girl band.
Just as you get a good solid Dealer Principal (yes, they do exist), they are poached to a flagging site to work their miracles elsewhere and the whole thing deflates like a party balloon. I have said it before, and I will say it again, now is the time to buy if you are in the market place but, for heavens sake, try to deal with your local guy if you can. Going to the big boys may save you a little bit but you will pay in other ways, either through dismal customer service, false promises and staff turnover on a weekly basis.
Internet sales are on the increase, but nowhere near as predicted, simply because people like to buy from people and it will be a very long time before everyone clicks for a car. Let’s face it, we like to haggle for a deal and yet we all complain about having to do so. However, by supporting your smaller dealer, you can have a good scrap for a cheap new car and still leave as friends – but do so while you have chance, use ’em or loose ’em, it’s that plain!
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