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I’ve got three more staff in sales than I had to cope with demand, says Luscombe Motors boss

Time 11 months ago

Lockdown didn’t halt customer interest or sales for Luscombe Motors. In fact, it proved to be the very opposite, said the Leeds-based business’s founder when he appeared on Car Dealer Live.

‘We were astounded by the amount of interest there was of people wanting to buy cars and people who were happy to buy them without coming to the showroom,’ said Robin Luscombe.

‘So we were delivering cars on a flatbed, or we did a couple – but not many – click-and-collects. And then the end of May it was very very busy.

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‘We were closed at weekends but we were selling cars online to people who were inquiring over the weekend – online, telephone calls, emails, Zoom calls, WhatsApp calls, etc, etc – and then since Monday (June 1) it’s been manic. In fact, we’ve got three more staff back than we had on sales in May to cope with it. It’s been good.’

Luscombe has 40 years’ experience of the industry and established his company in July 2010 as a Suzuki dealership.

Since then, it has garnered numerous awards, including being named the manufacturer’s top UK dealer four times. It has also grown, adding Mitsubishi and, latterly, MG franchises to its portfolio, recording a turnover of £26m in 2019.

What was the secret of Luscombe Motors’ success, asked host James Batchelor during the live broadcast on June 9.

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‘We just try to do everything pretty well, whether it’s retention, or parts, or accessories, or used cars, or new cars – we just try to keep all the plates spinning,’ said Luscombe, adding that the company’s ethos wasn’t to sell a car to a customer but to help the customer buy one. ‘People don’t want to feel like they’re being sold a car.’

He agreed that cars nowadays tended to sell themselves as they were so well made.

‘There are no bad cars now,’ he said. ‘Cheap cars used to be bad cars but there are no bad cars – even the budget brands still make great cars. It’s just a matter of does the car suit the customer – is it the right size, shape, style, colour, price?’

And he made the point that if it’s a new car the buyer doesn’t need as much confidence in the dealer, whereas if it’s a used car then a massive amount of confidence in the trader is needed.

Luscombe said they’d noticed a lot of interest by customers during the lockdown as they’d been demonstrating the safety measures they were taking, such as sanitisation. And he foresaw a lot of demand as people sought to avoid using public transport.

But he also predicted there would be fewer dealerships as an economic result of the pandemic. And although next year wouldn’t be as good for Luscombe Motors as, say, 2016 or 2017, he didn’t have any fear of not making a profit.

While discussing the balancing act involved with supply and demand, Suzuki’s popular mini SUV the Jimny was brought into the conversation.

‘The Jimny’s been brilliant for us,’ said Luscombe. ‘We don’t take orders for them, we sell them when they’re here. It’s very unusual for Suzuki to be in a position where you’ve got a car where demand massively outstrips supply.

‘They’re selling at a premium. I’m selling second-hand ones more expensive than list price. It won’t last but it’s nice while it does. It’s like being a Range Rover dealer a few years ago – it’s our turn, so we’ll have a go!’

The business opened its doors to MG on June 1 – postponed from April 1 – and Luscombe was full of praise and optimism for the brand. ‘It suits where we are in the market, it suits my customer demographic perfectly. It’s a good car, it’s an affordable car.

‘And of course we’ve got a full EV. Leeds is going like most major cities, pushing towards EV. The Chinese EV technology is probably as good or better than anybody else’s, so it’s a perfect time. It’s a good addition for us.’

But he confessed that he wasn’t a big personal fan of electric cars, admitting to being more of a petrolhead as a motorcyclist.

He said: ‘I don’t think the electric cars are going to take over the world because I don’t think it’s the right technology for the long term.

‘But for the next 10 years we’re going electric, and it’s been good for us with the Mitsubishi PHEV, and I’m sure the MG electric car will be excellent. Neither of my other two franchises have a full electric car, so it fits perfectly with the range.’

However, although there’d been a lot of general demand during lockdown, there hadn’t been enough to get the entire furloughed workforce back just yet.

And Luscombe made the point that it wasn’t simply a case of how much business had to pick up that dictated getting everyone back, but the space within the workplace that he has to have for them.

‘We’ll just let it naturally evolve and get back to where it was,’ he said, adding: ‘I think. I hope. Who knows? You’ve got to plan for the worst and hope for the best.’

While discussing technology, Luscombe emphasised how the industry had to change  – a face-to-face may not necessarily be in the showroom now; it could be a video call. Or there may not be a face-to-face at all – it could be email or a phone call.

That type of evolution within the industry could mean, as Batchelor said, the difference between making a sale and not making a sale.

As such, extensive training of returning Luscombe Motors staff was taking place to get them used to the new way of working and to change their mindset on interacting with customers.

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What had happened over the past three months had given the business a major opportunity to reinvent itself, said Luscombe.

See the broadcast in full by clicking on the main image.

You can watch all of our Car Dealer Live interviews by clicking here.

John Bowman

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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