A typical ’80s Skoda outside a typical ’80s Skoda Dealer
Words and Pictures: Mike Humble
Once again the time has come to search for a new car, not mine I’m pleased to say – I’m more than happy with my Rover 25 – but for my long-suffering other half. Fairly recently she burst into the house like a tornado, clutching a computer print out of the list of cars she can choose from to replace the trusty Golf Mk5 TDi company smoker she currently hacks around in. Nothing on list set me on fire: Golf Blue Motion, Golf Match, Toyota Auris, Seat Altea, Seat Leon, Renault Megane, Astra and the Skoda Octavia – see my point?
My other half is not the most informed person mechanically, but she does know what she likes and is a damn good driver having spent many an hour in the past tearing around the likes of Donington Park and Mallory Park in various Lotus cars. Sensibly, the Renault and Toyota were dismissed straight away even though she had no idea what an Auris looked like. The problem is, she is very brand orientated, the merest mention of the Blue Oval badge or anything Korean that rhymes with beer is certain to make her pull various grimmacing faces. In the past, we have always had a decent car or two on the drive including two Land Rovers, Saabs, a Passat and an Audi A4 Sportline Avant.
Going through the list, I had to go to great lengths to convince her that Skoda no longer make a rear-engined car with wonky handling and that a Seat is not just something you sit on to eat your dinner. Funny how things change over the years, once upon a time, driving and owning a Skoda Estelle or an FSO Polonez was the only thing less appealing than drowning. In today’s market, I don’t think anyone makes a really bad car. Skoda and Seat are now fully honed products with VAG backing and marques such as FSO, Lada and Yugo have long been recycled into bean tins and razor blades. Mind you, in the case of MG Rover, it was not so much as bad cars but bad management, adverse press, Parliamentary dithering and general public apathy that caused the inevitable.
Getting back to new cars, we narrowed down the list to a Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and the current Golf Mk6. Obviously, we needed to pose as retail customers so we could drive the cars and as, we both jump in and out of each other’s motors, a mutual agreement had to be reached. We visited a nearby Skoda outlet which is also a multi-franchise site including Seat and were met with a site that looked like a bomb had hit it. It took five minutes to find a parking space and almost 20 minutes before someone spoke to us – and that was after I instigated contact.
The sales person looked nothing like a salesman should look like and I should know. Wearing cruffy shoes with a dirty fleece he made no attempt to get us exited about the cars, take our contact names or any other type of traditional salesman techniques. To cap it all, my missus was that non-plussed, she walked off signalling it was time to go.
A Vauxhall Dealer was called on to see the Astra, a car of which I personally think deserves to do well. Walking into the showroom the Sales Manager and one of his Sales Executives were dealing with what we in trade know as a screamer, a customer with a complaint. Rather than deal with a situation like this in a private office over a coffee, they chose to vent their spleens in the middle of the showroom floor on a Saturday afternoon. We were attended to by another Sales Executive and I jokingly mentioned that it sounded like his colleagues were having fun to which our Sales chap replied that, ‘we sometimes have to deal with tos*ers like that.’ Needless to say, we walked away.
Following this abysmal demonstration in customer care, we decided to visit another Seat Dealership within our home area to be met by two Sales Executives, one of whom was a trainee, and who finished off each other’s sentences. Upon asking for a test drive in a Leon TDi, we were offered a drive in a petrol version as they both, and I quote, ‘drive the same’ – amazing but true. Heading north, we visited a very large Volkswagen outlet near Gatwick. The premises were smart, well lit, modern and everything you would expect of a VW Dealer. After walking through the doors, we were given a few minutes to get our bearings before we were spoken to – text book!
A test drive was arranged in a car of our choice, a Golf Match 1.6 TDi, and that lasted a good half an hour. We explained that we were only at the browsing stage and no pressure was put upon us to ‘do a deal today’ – once again textbook. The Salesman phoned the following Monday for our thoughts and, in a way, I felt sorry for wasting his time as the Golf would be coming from a leasing company and not from a Dealer. Speaking as an ex-Sales Executive, they demonstrated a top-class balance of listening to our needs and matching it to a product. My other half has since ordered a new Golf 1.6 TDi.
One thing has crossed my mind: these current times are so hard in Car Dealerships but the attitudes we saw didn’t reflect this. If I was still involved with car sales (and I may yet again) I would be fighting for business. There is an old sales cliche that goes ‘people only buy from people’ with the exception of the aforementioned VW Dealer, the level of presentation and customer focus was complete rubbish. Dealerships and their staff need to be more polished than ever to sell cars – even in the days when I was on the pitch and the market was buoyant, we were geared up to offer a damn good level of customer care and professionalism whilst still making good money for ourselves.
Some of the so-called Sales Executives at the premises we visited couldn’t be even bothered to seek our business and only one asked for our names and introduced himself. Evidently, they must be selling that many cars they don’t need any more business. If that’s the case, I want a job there right now. My personal thoughts are that a lot of Sales Execuitives and Managers are showing defeatist attitudes – that isn’t exactly going to drive the motor trade out of recession is it?