‘It’s not about profit – it’s about survival and everyone’s well-being.’
Those were the words of Simon Miskin, managing director of Sportif Citroen in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire when we caught up with him this week.
In common with countless other dealerships across the land, Miskin has more or less put his business into hibernation for the foreseeable future. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, his sales operation has closed and his workshop will shut up shop from tomorrow – although a skeleton staff will remain on call to look after the needs of key workers.
These are, of course, tough times for everyone – but Miskin was appreciative of the support coming from various quarters which has cut advertising costs and created some breathing space where rents and business rates are concerned.
He’s also hopeful of being able to sell cars online (with deliveries only taking place when the current lockdown period is over) and was in the process of setting up associated finance facilities with Black Horse when we chatted to him.
Collections and deliveries
Miskin is clearly a man who leads from the front, manning the service desk with a couple of colleagues in the company’s last few days of operation for the time being.
He told us:
‘I’m the leader of this business so why should I be at home when I’m asking my staff to come to work? It doesn’t sit well with me.
‘We’re doing a lot of collections and deliveries today and we’re getting through the same amount of work as we do on a normal day. But on Friday I have to stop. It has to come to an end. I’m not going to risk it any more.’
Miskin, who along with his team enjoyed a double triumph at the 2019 Used Car Awards, would seem to take an optimistic view of the time it will take to beat Covid-19.
He told us: ‘Let’s hope we’ll be up and running again before too long. The longer it goes on, the danger is that we use all our cash and cash is key to us at the moment.
‘One thing I must state is that the PSA Group [Citroen’s parent company] has been very supportive. They’ve done all they can to stop costs coming into the business.
‘The Citroen dealer council has had meetings every day with the board of directors at Citroen and it’s been a proper open book. They have done everything they can to help the network cope with what is a very difficult situation.’
Miskin also had praise for the Eurig Druce, pictured, the managing director of Citroen UK.
‘At every stage he’s been very upfront with me,’ Miskin told us. ‘His phone is on 24/7 and anyone can contact him at any point. He’s shown support to everyone and it’s clear that he’s in it with us.
‘The one thing I appreciate as a part of PSA, and in my dealings with Eurig, is that everything has been transparent. I sleep better at night knowing that some of the suggestions we have made have been put in place and that he’s not just talking the talk.’
Miskin had praise for the government too, noting the contrast with the approach taken during the 2008 financial crisis when it seemed only wealthy bankers were offered help.
His view is that Boris Johnson and co. are doing a good job on the whole but could be a bit clearer with their statements.
He said: ‘I’d like more information on the furlough scheme; I’d like more information on people who are self-employed and I’d like more information on people who have got rented properties. Having said that, the government is dealing with many millions of people and industries. All they can do is take one step at a time.’
Miskin was also appreciative of his staff: ‘I’ve got a fantastic team here which I have had for the last 25 years. My staff turnover is literally zero. When something like this happens, you suddenly realise that the team you’ve got – who are even willing to risk their health to help the business – are amazing.’
And looking ahead to the end of the pandemic, he said:
‘We’re all going to be very busy. It’ll be a bottleneck situation with everyone wanting their cars serviced and MOT’d at the same time and we’re going to have to get lots and lots of stock to sell to customers. The main thing will be to get up and running as quickly as we can.
‘But for now, the sooner we shut down the better. I’ve been running dealerships for the last 20 years. I went through the 2008 situation – this is far worse. One thing you learn from times like these is, if you can get through them together, you’re a stronger team as a result.
‘We’ve got to be positive. If we can ride this storm out, we’ll be OK in the end. It’s going to take time to repair – it may take a year to get back on our feet again but as long as we have a business to come back to, that’s all I care about. It’s not about profit, it’s about survival and making sure everyone is OK.’