As car dealers prepare to reopen on June 1, TV presenter and former car dealer Paul Cowland, believes the role a showroom plays in the car-buying process could never be more important. In this guest blog he tells us why
Finally, a small spark of light at the end of what has felt like the longest tunnel. Once again, we’re allowed to open our factories and our showrooms and invite workers and customers back inside, where they belong.
But what does that actually mean in a world where we have bought so much online for the last few months?
Where is the consumer confidence going to come from while employment is uncertain, and what role does the dealership really play in this modern ‘click and collect’ society?
After all, as several manufacturers and switched-on used car retailers have shown, as the ultimate consumer durable, your next car can be ordered with no more hassle – or emotional stimulation – than a box of dishwasher tablets. And no doubt delivered with the same sense of ceremony.
I think that dealerships are facing a pivotal moment. And what we all do now, or worse still, don’t do, could have a huge effect going forward.
When I train sales teams, I hear all the time that ‘It’s all about price. It’s all about the monthlies.’ That’s true, to a point of course. Going forward, we’re all going to be more price conscious than ever.
But that’s not to say that we should all drill everything down to its lowest possible sticker figure in order to get things moving.
If I asked you whether you’d prefer your next holiday to be in an elderly caravan on a deserted, windy coast, or bathing in the lap of luxury in a comfortable resort with sun, sea and service on tap, I think I can guess your answer.
Price is always the secondary factor, if the overall experience is right.
So ask yourself? Is your overall experience right? Unlike the aforementioned dishwasher tablets, for the vast majority of buyers, cars carry that emotional attachment far beyond a level that mere detergents could ever hope to reach.
So don’t expect to sell them the same way.
The experience that your potential customers will get as they come through the door – or not – will make them realise that what dealerships offer is truly unique. And now really is the time to leverage that, learned colleagues.
Car buying should be a fun activity. Scratch that, it should be the most fun activity in retail.
For the punter, it’s a chance to treat themselves to a life-affirming trinket that means something to them, that rewards them for their hard work, which makes them feel good every time they drive it, and that makes their life better or easier in some way.
Whether that’s raising their Instagram profile a notch or two, or just making it simpler to take gran to the bingo. Whatever the motivating factors are, find them, and help your customers to choose and buy a car that does exactly that.
Can a website delve into the innermost thoughts of a customer and precisely devise what they need? The size of their drive? Their precise driving style? The legroom demanded by their rapidly-lengthening teenage offspring? No, but a great dealer can.
Let me give you another example.
We’ve all consumed a little takeaway over the last few weeks, I’m sure – much of it delivered from establishments that also normally offer a ‘dine-in’ alternative. Dishes are usually priced at the same figure in either case, but go to your favourite restaurant, once this is all over, and see how much more you spend.
You’ll add wine, starters, that rather lovely dessert that keeps winking at you, and then top it all off with a tip.
What does this tell us? Well, for starters (pun intended) we’re back to that whole ‘Experience > Price’ argument, proving that we’re all happy to dig a little deeper for ambience, service, advice and well-informed, nicely delivered upselling.
So ask yourself when you get back? Which one are you going to be? A takeaway or a restaurant?
The world may have changed a lot in the past nine weeks, but fundamentally, people haven’t. Yes, they now know the instant gratification of convenience, and the instant shiver of pleasure that a quick ‘deal’ can bring, but under that, they still want a warm greeting, product knowledge and the specialist touch that only a professional outlet can provide.
Dealerships can still offer a point of difference to the online sales model, but only if you take every element of what makes a dealer visit special and turn it up to ‘11’.
So polish those pot plants, upgrade to a socially distanced coffee solution, think of clever, warm and interesting ways to engage the hordes of pent-up customers just itching to get behind the wheel of something new.
But most of all? Put the FUN back into the whole process.
I can’t stress that part enough. Make that day of car shopping in your dealership the best day out your customers have had all year. It’s how the job can – and should – be executed, every single day.
With public transport feared by many, the car industry is potentially facing an open goal for both new and used operations. Do your prospects want to ride the bus? Or do they want to ride in their own air-conditioned, pollen-filtered quarantine bubble?
We all know the answer to that question, so let’s make sure we’re putting the basics in place to enable our customers to answer it.
Further up the brand offering, people are frustrated, they want change, they want a little light relief and something exciting to alleviate the boredom and worry of the last few months. I say, let’s help them find it!
Good luck, my friends!
Paul Cowland is a TV presenter, ex-dealer principal and currently advises on strategy, marketing and sales training to several major automotive brands