In a blog published a little while ago, I mentioned how the manufacturers could benefit by playing a much bigger involvement with dealers. Some of you might not know this, but it’s a process that already happens with some of the big groups. Ford and Peugeot’s Dagenham Motors and Robins and Day dealerships are both run by the manufacturers. In some cases, these centrally managed dealers fill the gaps in the network where an existing outlet has collapsed or closed down. Even our much missed MG Rover Group had a sprinkling of Phoenix outlets up and down the land.
My own area, West Sussex, has certainly gone through some turmoil so far as dealerships have been concerned. Our local and expansive PSA dealer folded last year never to be replaced, and the family-run Vauxhall and Chevrolet showroom in Horsham and Crawley ran into financial difficulties and folded without warning. Being a fairly affluent commuter-land area, I have been surprised that these dealers have not been re-franchised, but it just goes to show how cautious and financially restrictive the trade currently is. I for one would not be chomping at the bit to open a Peugeot showroom right now.
Forget what you might hear about the motor trade booming. Yes, it’s picking up nicely, but the incentive to buy is purely on a cost or need basis, with margins so thin that profit levels will soon be gauged with a micrometer. It will be some years to come before people start chopping and changing their cars on a whim, as they did pre-2008, and so far as the brands and dealerships matter, big changes are ahead. Only the fittest or strongest will survive. Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom – those customers who are in the market to buy have never been in a better situation.
For those not in the know, selling cars is a tough old slog regardless of the state of the economy. It requires the patience of a Saint; a hard nosed attitude towards balancing profit with discounting and the ability to let rejection wash over you. Standards have slipped over recent years, as more experienced staff have left the game, only to be replaced by corporate droids in ill-fitting suits that, just a few weeks back, were selling mobile phones. Staff turnover is so high that one dealer group I know issues its sales staff with blank business cards, so they can write their own name down to save on printing costs.
But getting back to the crux of this blog, I recently drove the new Vauxhall Insignia EcoFlex at a test event, and came away reasonably impressed at the way it handled, drove and felt in terms of build quality. Sure, it’s not the most exiting or heart stopping car, but its best described as an ideal antidote to the Mondeo and in terms of fit and finish – closer to the Passat or anything German that GM have produced since the Senator of old. The aforementioned Vauxhall dealer that folded has very recently re-opened in Crawley under the GO! brand so I was keen to see how it works.
Unlike the dealer groups mentioned earlier, GO! is a fairly new brand, so one would expect it to be pin sharp, Bristol fashion and more on the ball than Alan Shearer ever was. Both my own and ‘er indoors’ company cars are due for a change, so the visit, as I was passing, was kind of relevant. Besides, I like to see how other sales staff work their patter, and maybe pick up one or two ideas from their sales banter. The exterior view was great with plenty of used stock neatly parked in slanted rows looking like colour-keyed soldiers standing to attention – and not a helium balloon in sight either – lovely!
I parked the car and wandered inside to be greeted with a cheery ‘hello’ from a member of the back office team. The showroom was large, well-lit and, right away, I felt at ease and impressed with the impeccable display of new metal on show. The dealer mock plates were perfectly applied to the cars rather than badly stuck on with double sided tape, and none of the dreaded black dust or broken brochure racks to spoil the overall ambiance – both personal pet hates from my time of working on the floor. I found the new Insignia on display and set about having a look-see around the car going into full browser mode.
Just as I would have done, a sales chap came by and asked if everything was okay. I rebuffed his advances with a patented reply and continued browsing. The man in question was cheery and smart looking, so after a few moments of further door and boot closing, I sauntered over to his desk to ask a question or two about the car before I left. After doing so well initially, the wheels fell off, so to speak, when it quickly became obvious he was lacking in the all important product knowledge. This would have been acceptable, had I asked something cryptic, but it was a simple query about the car’s CO2.
The question related to the class leading 98g/km 140 CDTi engine, which he seemed to know nothing about. This is criminal when you consider this model to be the key weapon in the Insignia’s armoury in the battle against the Mondeo and Passat Bluemotion. It got worse when he asked if my enquiry was about the Insignia or the ‘new’ Insignia – this confused me, as I wondered just how many Insignias they were selling. Another question was asked about the trim level of the car in the showroom – again, he couldn’t answer this and had to quiz a nearby colleague who seemed to take delight by answering in a loud voice from his desk.
Despite my being aghast at the lack of the most basic of knowledge, I felt sorry for the salesman in question. Obviously, he had been recently recruited and thrown in at the deep end somewhat, but he could have saved some face by explaining this right from the start. That way it wouldn’t have looked so crushingly embarrassing. It seems that despite challenging climates dealers continue to spectacularly fail, owing to a lack of sufficient training. And even though I wasn’t in the market to buy, would anyone else, or more importantly, YOU have continued your line of enquiry with that dealership?
The overall experience has be as near to 10/10ths in a car dealership, and you would be simply staggered at the reasons people give for not buying. When I used to chase potential customers on the ‘phone, I would ask why they opted to buy elsewhere or another brand. The answers that came back would range range from me being too pushy, or because they thought the dealership parking was awkward. There was even one occasion a potential customer chose not to buy from me because our coffee machine ran out of sugar – and I’m not joking either!
In a nutshell, its all about the experience and level of customer focus that wins the business, no dealer group or individual salesperson is ever going to be perfect. Sure, everyone wants a deal and wants to be treated with care and respect but if the most basic of the ABC’s are being missed out in terms of staff training, you may as well pack it all in and go home. This is a real shame, not just for supporters of British-made cars like the Ellesmere Port produced Astra for example, but every person who plays their part in the creation from the parts suppliers to the boys and girls on the tracks.
Its been said before, and I shall repeat it again – you never get a second chance for a first impression!