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Businesses that have used lockdown as an excuse to shed staff may come to regret it

Time 8 months ago

The paradox of the current sales surge in the automotive industry and ‘heartbreaking’ job losses being suffered across the sector was highlighted by Umesh Samani and Jim Reid when they appeared on Car Dealer Live.

Sumani, current chairman of the Independent Motor Dealers’ Association (IMDA), and former IMDA chairman Reid told host James Batchelor how July had been roaring successes for them both, but they also reflected on the impact of the pandemic on jobs, highlighting the contrast between booming sales and jobs being shed.

Reid, who owns Inverurie-based Jim Reid Vehicle Sales, said the pandemic had made his business look at things differently, and that although everyone was now back, some roles had had to be altered slightly.

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He added: ‘I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, and when you see the amount of redundancies there has been in this industry it’s really heartbreaking, it’s terrible, when you consider we’re on this crest of a wave. It’s unbelievable that we’re selling this amount of cars within our industry yet there are so many redundancies in the sector.’

Batchelor commented on how some businesses had said lockdown had allowed them to invest more in online technology, putting a question mark over actual people doing jobs, which he said he struggled to get on board with and wondered if some businesses had perhaps used the lockdown period as a bit of an excuse to get rid of people.

Reid said that with online sales it was possible that a sales person was being laid off but a driver was being taken on, making a net zero regarding the number of people but there would be a reduction in wage as the driver would earn less than the sales person, saving the company money.

But he also made the point that if more cars were being sold online, there should be more people still involved with the actual sale of the vehicle, such as driving, cleaning and logistics.

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Samani – who famously is a one-man sales operation at his dealership, Specialist Cars in Stoke – said all his workshop staff were now back, and he agreed with Batchelor that some businesses had used lockdown as a way to shed staff.

‘I think a lot of businesses have realised they can probably work on 75 per cent of the staff now. Everybody’s working harder, and I think the employers are probably expecting some of the staff to also not moan and whinge and probably step up a little bit because they’re scared for their jobs.’

He added: ‘I think everybody’s probably being more efficient, there are probably better systems in place as well, so I think it’s a combination of all of it, but I’d say sadly there are going to be a lot of casualties out there as well, so I think they’ve got to just be careful that they don’t streamline too far back because then customer services suffers and then the business suffers.

‘We still hear stories of dealers not getting back to customers for service, repairs, sales, whatever, so if they’re not careful yes we’ve got this massive sales surge but in reality sometimes it’s got to balance out, doesn’t it, and those staff may need to come back but it might be too late for some of the employers.’

Both Samani and Reid were founder members of the IMDA and Samani emphasised how the organisation could help and support dealers, especially with all the redundancies in the motor industry.

‘We’ve got the support of [automotive charity] Ben,’ he added. ‘So staff out there who might just be feeling a little bit down, Ben’s out there to give support.

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‘We’ve also got a couple of guys from the IMDA who can help, even if it’s just a conversation. Jim and I are both here as well, so if somebody ever wants to talk about anything, we’re here to help and support anybody who’s out there.’

Watch the interview in full – during which auctions, test drives, the struggle to get stock plus the impact of local lockdowns were also among the topics discussed – by clicking on the main image.

See all of our Car Dealer Live interviews by clicking here

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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