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Car Dealer Live: Vertu Motors boss not worried about lockdowns

Time 8:01 am, October 8, 2020

Vertu Motors boss Robert Forrester isn’t worried about a second national lockdown and says his dealer group is working hard to make staff and customers feel less anxious about purchasing a car.

In an exclusive interview with Car Dealer – which you can watch in full at the top of this story – Forrester believes the economy can’t afford a second national lockdown.

And even with tightening restrictions in the North East of England where pubs and restaurants could be shut from Monday, he believes retail business won’t be affected.

‘We have had limited number of Covid cases across the group,’ Forrester said.

‘Not in every dealership, but we did temporarily close a sales operation about three weeks ago for a few days, and a number of our competitors have had the same.

‘There was always going to be an upsurge in cases as the weather got cold.

‘We’ve been lucky. I was with some people yesterday who have just come back from Covid – most people had felt zero symptoms and one person had felt quite poorly, but they’re all back now.

‘I am not particularly worried, largely on the basis that the government cannot afford to take drastic action.’

He added: ‘I’m in North Tyneside and Newcastle is one of the hotspots, but probably because 80,000 students have decided to land and are going out.

‘They’re students – what are they going to do? And is it right to tell them not to go out? We need to get perspective back and I think there has been a lack of perspective and continues to be so.’

Forrester said Vertu’s dealerships are set up for tightening measures should they come into play, but doesn’t think they will have any impact.

He said: ‘You might get a dealership close if there is a plethora of Covid-positive cases and Public Health England may take some action, but I think that will be very localised.

‘I actually don’t think retail business is likely to be affected by stringent restrictions.

‘But who knows? I wouldn’t have predicted a lockdown in March.’

Forrester said he would ‘be concerned about the economy’ should a wholesale lockdown occur and has set up his business to cope with such measures using digital solutions.

‘We’ve used technology to make our sales processes effective online at home as it is in the dealership, our cost base is lower and people are really working hard within the business,’ he said.

‘We supported people massively during got lockdown by paying 80 per cent of average earnings, and I think people have come back to work highly energised.’

The Vertu chief executive did admit that there is a split between people who are anxious about the disease and those who ‘are fed up with the whole thing and would like to move on’.

He said: ‘We’ve got to be there for the people who are anxious – both colleagues and customers – and say we are wearing masks in showrooms and we are taking temperature checks.

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‘We are about to produce some more customer facing videos which we will utilise to make the anxious 50 per cent of the population less anxious about coming into a dealership.

‘The media have down a phenomenal job in scaring people witless.’

Forrester was speaking on the day Vertu announced its half year results which showed a huge rebound.

It bounced back from the national coronavirus lockdown to post a £4.7m profit and revenues of £1.12bn.

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James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer. In October 2021 he became Car Dealer's associate editor.

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