Car dealerships throughout Scotland are today reopening their doors for the first time in 14 weeks.
Despite not being specifically listed as being allowed to reopen by first minister Nicola Sturgeon, showrooms are part of phase two of the easing of lockdown in Scotland.
Businesses can now welcome back customers as long as they adhere to new social distancing and health and safety guidelines.
It will come as good news to the country’s large network of franchised and independent dealers and car supermarkets, who up to now have only been able to offer click-and-collect services.
Businesses have had to remain shut for longer than showrooms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, though.
Wales gave dealers the green light this time last week, while businesses in Northern Ireland reopened three weeks ago.
Many Scottish dealers expressed anger that their businesses had to remain shut while dealers in England welcomed back customers on June 1.
One of those dealers was double British Touring Car Champion and Volvo dealer John Cleland.
Like many other dealers in Scotland, Cleland’s business – Clelands, in Galashiels – had brought back furloughed workers in readiness for trading to resume on June 19, but was dismayed at the lack of clear guidance from the Scottish government.
Speaking today to Car Dealer Magazine, Cleland said: ‘Whilst we have been successfully trading via our online solutions during this time, nothing beats the face-to-face interaction with customers and Scotland lags England by one month in this area.
‘Used cars sales and aftersales have not suffered – in fact we have just had two of the most successful trading months ever due to all our staff understanding what it takes to survive this pandemic, and working closely with our customers to meet their needs.’
Cleland admitted new car sales are taking ‘considerably more effort to get back up and running’ but with customers now being allowed back into showrooms, Clelands will now ‘start to see a shift’.
Cleland added: ‘This has been the most challenging time of my 43 years in this business and I am proud of my team having worked to get us through this period of uncertainty safely and profitably.
‘Now we just need to move on and get back to some form of normal.’
Jim Reid of Jim Reid Vehicle Sales, based in Kintore, Inverurie, told Car Dealer it’s good news his business can finally open, but dealers need to grasp the opportunity to move with the times.
‘It was fantastic to open the double gates to the site today,’ he said, ‘but we need to take this as a golden opportunity to change for the better.
‘During lockdown dealers learnt how to sell cars digitally – we all need to use these newly-acquired skills and develop them for the future.’
Scottish Motor Trader Association (SMTA) chairman, Sandy Burgess, told Car Dealer Magazine: ‘We are open for business, at last! Happy days!
‘Our members can now get back to the day job and start contributing to the nations economy which we are all aware, has had a heavy battering of late, the recovery will be long and very difficult with many good people losing their jobs as a result but we are on the up, we are at last in control (or at least the same level as the rest of the country) and more importantly we are upbeat!
‘The steps taken by dealers to ensure that all the correct protocols and processes are in place, providing security to all working in or visiting their sites is testament to their resolve in ensuring the very highest safety standards are in force.’
Burgess added: ‘Our industry is blessed with dynamic and forward thinking people who can and will make the very best of the situation and push for growth, it’s the way this sector operates and this puts us in good stead for the future.’
The SMTA had expected showrooms to reopen on June 19 or 22 and had written to the Scottish government pleading for clarification.
But on June 19 it materialised that dealers would have to remain closed until June 29.
Speaking of the decision at the time, Burgess told Car Dealer Magazine: ‘It shows a total lack of respect for the industry at all levels, as they have not spoken to or communicated with any business in our sector before reaching this incomprehensible decision!’
Car Dealer will be reporting on this story throughout the day.
If you’re a business in Scotland, we’d love to hear from you. Email [email protected] to add your voice to this story.
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