Car dealers remain positive despite third lockdown shutting showrooms

Time 10:18 am, January 5, 2021

Car dealers have been thrown into another national lockdown only days into the new year period that many hoped would save their sales. 

As of today (Jan 5), the whole of England has gone into a national lockdown similar to that in March 2020 – but this time car dealers can continue offering click-and-collect to customers.

With the government confirming that dealers can continue trading to some extent, the response has been fairly positive so far.

Chief executive of Marshall Motor Holdings Daksh Gupta said: ‘Happy new year, happy new lockdown! The latest lockdown is clearly disappointing for so many key stakeholders in our business, our customers, colleagues, shareholders and business partners to name a few.

‘However, we have to appreciate we are at war with a serious pandemic that has got stronger in recent weeks, these are unprecedented times.

‘We have to look at the positives. We now have a number of vaccines in our armoury that’s already been approved and being administered.

He added: ‘We are heading towards the spring hopefully weather will be on our side and reduce the infection naturally. We have a Brexit deal and as an industry we have proven we are agile and nimble.

‘Yes, it’s frustrating, life is at times but if you focus on the positives of which there are many we will get through this.’

Many dealerships have turned their businesses around in the last 10 months, and feel in a good position to carry on trading online.

Director of used car dealership Motor Connect, Stephen Corwood, said: ‘With the recent lockdown announcement we are hoping that we can still perform a click-and-collect and click-and-deliver service. This is a safe way to transact.

‘The biggest impact we will wait to see the result of is consumer confidence, and what impact the tiers and stay at home message will have. Especially with people being told not to travel outside of district or tier.’

Paul Hendy, CEO of Hendy, added: ‘We believe that our ability to transact online, with click-and-collect or home delivery, will still provide an outstanding customer journey and experience, such that we can maintain a significant number of sales, at what is historically a very busy time of the year. Database management, renewals and retention will be pivotal.

‘Our workshops, bodyshops and parts centres remain open and bookings are holding up – again, at a traditionally busy time of the year, with the need to stay safe and within service intervals.

‘Crucially the requirement for MOTs and winter checks is a must for those customers who may only be doing limited mileage currently.’

Boss of used car dealership Car Quay, Jamie Caple, said: ‘Whilst we’re all feeling the disappointment about last night’s announcement, we must take solace that our entire industry is in the same place.

‘As an independent dealer we are more nimble than the bigger sites or PLCs, and not as burdened by the huge overheads that they are. We will be ok!

‘So once again we need to use this period of inevitable slower sales to enable us to catch up on our adverts, site, preparation or photographs and make sure our internal processes are as good as they can be so that once the doors officially reopen we can absolutely maximise every opportunity that presents itself to us.

‘We’re genuinely all feeling good and happy and healthy, which is actually the most important thing.

He added: ‘Honestly, we’re all very excited and motivated for the year ahead, on a personal level I’m waking up extra early and can’t wait to get to the Quay!’

Chris Wiseman, MD of Wessex Garages, which has dealerships in Wales and England, said: ‘Like most dealer groups we were expecting a nationwide lockdown at some point.

‘Experience with our Welsh businesses and our online navigator team has been part of a continuous improvement in processes and systems.

‘As with the past 12 months we learn to adapt to the new normal with a huge emphasis on click-and-collect and distance selling regulations.

‘Having a strong regional representation, great brands and excellent reputation is the key to giving customers confidence in this new way of transacting during unpredictable times.

‘Together with the role out of the vaccine I am hopeful that we can come out of this mid-February with a strong order book for March.

‘Wherever possible our colleagues are working remotely or from hubs and as always, the dealers that are flexible and can adapt quickly will come out on top.’

Operations manager John Marshall from SW Car Supermarket shared his thoughts on the new lockdown, and said: ‘Remember your customers and market are still there, albeit we have to deal with them differently.

‘Keep your business operating well with robust and fluid procedures, and change those processes as and when needed to improve efficiency.

‘Look after your staff and they will endeavour to look after your balance sheet, and remember this is temporary.’

John O’Hanlon, chief executive of Waylands, said: ‘The prime minister’s statement came as no surprise to us.

‘Given the surge in cases around the London and the South East, we believed a full lockdown felt inevitable.

‘However, as motor retailers the government guidance allows us to continue to open our workshops and to operate click-and-collect sales (whether digital or on the telephone).

‘We have worked hard to ensure that we have the ability to look after our aftersales customers safely, and to make our digital offering for Sales as easy to use as possible.

‘We will ensure our contact strategy and our customer journeys are still relevant and being focussed on relentlessly.

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‘But the acid test for our success in Q1 will come from our customers confidence.

‘Are customers still willing to buy new and used cars now or will they put off a purchase until there is more certainty? Will they be happy to have their cars serviced or will they delay until Lockdown is over?

‘Only time will tell. The more goods news the better (e.g. a successful roll out of the Covid vaccines and a falling R rate). In the meantime, we will continue to monitor enquiry rate and workshop booking to fully understand demand for Wayland’s dealerships.’

Rebecca Chaplin's avatar

Rebecca has been a motoring and business journalist since 2014, previously writing and presenting for titles such as the Press Association, Auto Express and Car Buyer. She has worked in many roles for Car Dealer Magazine’s publisher Blackball Media including head of editorial.

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