Hendy Group is readying itself for June 1 as the day when dealerships are allowed to reopen in England, says boss Paul Hendy.
The date isn’t written in stone as yet, of course, but appearing on Car Dealer Live, Hendy said the group hadn’t heard anything to the contrary, although he cautioned that, likewise, it hadn’t heard anything to confirm it.
‘We are preparing and readying ourselves for 1st June. There’s obviously lots to do in terms of preparing forecourts, cleaning cars. moving vehicles around, etc, so we will carry on as if 1st June is the date.’
But he added: ‘Of course, that’s for England. Our dealer colleagues in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may have alternative dates.’
However, with Hendy service centres having reopened to the public as of May 18, Hendy said he really hoped that June 1 would now be the big day for showrooms.
‘We all know showrooms are, in the main, a big physical space and they can be made bigger by removing vehicles to create enough distancing. We can of course manage the number of people across the threshold.’
He pointed out that the public were now used to this way of entering buildings and waiting their turn, as the same procedures had been brought in elsewhere, and he added how important it was to get the automotive retail trade back up and running as soon as possible. ‘We’re a big part of the fabric of the UK and business, aren’t we? We need to get running again. It’s crucial.’
Established in 1859, Hendy Group, which had the first Ford dealership in UK, now boasts 60 showrooms and represents 19 manufacturers across the south coast, with 1,850 staff and a turnover approaching £1bn.
Hendy said that although Brexit had effectively put the brakes on the last quarter of 2019, there’d been a real positive momentum during the first quarter of 2020 – ‘a great mood, a great spirit’ – with the group on target for everything until the pandemic struck.
He said that driving past the dealerships to check they were properly shut and secure as lockdown came into effect ‘was an emotional time because it was so surreal’, adding: ‘I think we were all a little numb with the speed and the shock of it all.’
But the automotive industry’s renowned resilience soon rose to the fore and the group began sorting out how it would operate under the restrictions.
Hendy praised his team, saying: ‘They’ve been brilliant, they’ve been amazing, and worked incredibly hard to put us in as good a position as we possibly could be as we seek to now emerge from hibernation.’
During the period, it has had four workshops open looking after NHS and care workers, predominantly around commercial vehicles.
It also ramped up online activity, particularly with used cars and commercial vehicles, taking a number of reservations and deposits and starting to do home deliveries within the past two to three weeks, now managing 30 a day.
‘I’m pleased to say that with everything crossed if we emerge on 1st June with the physical locations open that’ll be good news, but on Monday, probably similar to many of my colleagues, we opened a number of our workshops.
‘There’s a real good mood and spirit about that people generally now want to get back at it and try and get this behind us and get going again.’
He told how they’d been carefully navigating uncharted waters so they could emerge as strong as possible and ready to go, saying the amount of work involved in reopening all the businesses after effectively pulling down the shutters overnight was ‘quite amazing’, having to ensure there was enough demand, for example.
Work over the past fortnight had included thorough deep-cleans, he said.
It’s now looking to deliver the ‘significant order bank’ that it had pre-lockdown by the end of May or the early part of June.
But when things get back to normal, Hendy doesn’t see home delivery being the norm for the group. He acknowledged there was initially a need for them, but he was keen for people to come to the group’s premises for the physical experience, thrill and ‘the whole theatre’ of a dealership, which he said he didn’t want to lose as people were making a significant purchase so should be treated accordingly.
Preparations for reopening had been aimed at overwhelming people, rather than underwhelming them, including bringing in PPE such as screens and sanitary stations plus one-way systems and appointments.
‘It’s ingrained in us to ensure that our colleagues are safe and that our customers are safe, so that confidence can return to everybody in working in what will be the new normal, however long that may last.’
Hendy said they were seeing fantastic demand in their workshops – already into the first week of June, which he said was encouraging – and the wholesale arm was starting to ignite again too.
He felt there would be a bounceback, with manufacturers injecting the necessary stimuli, but clearer guidance was needed. Pent-up demand as people came to the end of finance agreements on vehicles would help too.
Citing the USA as an example, he said dealers there were experiencing unimagined demand as people emerged from the crisis.
Over here, people making appointments were showing serious intent. ‘As the sun comes out for the summer, it could be a good time for us, and I think we all deserve that.’
However, the financial recovery would take some 18 months to two years, Hendy reckoned. ‘We’re all going to be a bit battered and bruised. For ourselves, we will survive, but regrettably that won’t be the case for everybody, and that’s a tragedy, that’s very very sad.’
He also predicted a deep recession but said that in itself would create plenty of opportunity.
The crisis would also accelerate the bricks versus clicks conversation, Hendy said, adding that he thought the future would bring a blend of both.
And in a rallying message to staff, whom he thanked for their forbearance, he vowed: ‘We’re here to not just survive, we’re here to thrive and get back to enjoying long, healthy and fulfilled careers.’
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