Bristol Street Motors boss Robert Forrester donned a disguise for ITV show Undercover Big Boss last night (Aug 12) to find out whether the dealer group was truly in the position he could see in the data.
The CEO might have started with the importance of data in his business, showing off his league tables for everything from the number of appointments to cars being processed, but as a company known for the importance of its people, it was clearly a big deal for him to see what they really thought.
While watching Forrester dressed in a bad wig, jumping from the back of a van and calling himself the ‘Wild Man of Gloucestershire’ was exactly what ITV was made for, there were some hard truths for him in the business and there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house by the end of the show.
That was equally balanced by a number of cringeworthy moments watched through fingers and a general disbelief that no one spotted who he was.
The film crew followed Forrester, who became Tom the history lecturer looking for a career change, not long after dealerships reopened following lockdown.
Although the show focused on a few individuals in different roles in the business, it also demonstrated how much change there had been in the industry and the challenges dealerships faced after lockdown.
He shared the screen with car salesman Jevon, van salesman Lee ‘The Van Man’ and valeter Terry, who would each be showing him the ropes.
Forrester didn’t particularly shine as either salesman or valeter, with Lee commenting: ‘He’s not a born salesman but I think if you left him with me long enough, he’d be less sh*t’, while Terry said he ‘didn’t believe he’d worked a day in his life’ and probably sat ‘with his feet up at a desk’ usually.
From day one, Forrester was faced with the harsh reality of what it was like for salespeople working for him.
Vauxhall salesman Jevon shared that the targets and numbers Forrester loved so much had put him under incredible pressure earlier in the month, leading to him tearing up over tea with the undercover boss and explaining how he was considering ending his career at Bristol Street.
He had to take on some of the pressure himself as he tried to sell his first car, and Jevon explained once the customer left that they’d call that ‘burning customers’ in the trade.
Next, Forrester learnt about how to sell vehicles from videos in the post-lockdown world.
Top van salesman Lee put him through his paces on video and got him to show a little bit of flair.
However, it wasn’t all smiles, and while Lee was praised for his innovation on video in the highly competitive age of online selling, he was also scolded for his bad language and sexual innuendo in the showroom.
Terry the valeter put Forrester through his paces preparing cars, and wasn’t about to slow down for the newbie as he explained they’d be prepping two days’ worth of cars in one.
Not only was it the most difficult physical challenge for Forrester but he had to face up to the daily mental challenges for valeters.
The subcontractor explained how difficult it had been, never knowing if this would be his last shift from day to day with no job security, and about his money struggles not only through the lockdown but since losing his partner two years ago.
At the end of the show, the chief executive did come clean to his employees, which was greeted by varying reactions.
The final heartwarming scenes showed Terry getting the recognition and appreciation from colleagues he was hoping for, as well as money to put towards a home for him and his son.
You can catch up on the show on ITV Hub to find out exactly what changes he decided to make and what the Bristol Street colleagues had to say when they found out their trainee was actually their big boss.
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