Proton’s dealer development manager, Simon Parker, is a realistic kinda guy. The attraction of the Proton franchise? ‘It’s probably the easiest franchise out there to run. And that’s not just because we’re all really nice people! It’s because our demands from dealers are realistic.’
And the good news? Proton is looking for more dealers to impart this warm glow upon.All this is music to our ears, of course. After all, how much time and effort can we sometimes find ourselves putting into the colour of the customer waiting room, or layout of the newspapers? There’s none of that with a Proton franchise. ‘We simply let dealers get on with the business of selling cars and making money,’ says Parker. ‘They don’t have to worry about mystery shoppers or getting the plants just so in the showroom. Our aim is to impose very little ongoing costs on dealers.
‘Our levels of sales is sub-3,000 a year. It’s easy to get carried away with demands if you’re a manufacturer. But, the person who knows best is the dealer. Makers who are trying to be dealers? The graveyard is littered with them. It’s a different skill.’
The dealers currently signed up clearly like this. If you want evidence of satisfaction, look to Proton’s results in the NFDA survey. Consistently, over the past decade Parker has been with the company, Proton has been in the top handful for fairness and administration of warranties, for parts prices and for technical training. Field sales and marketing is another strength, and Proton even came top in several categories in 2006. This is, according to the NFDA, easily a top five company for satisfaction. ‘This is not down to sales,’ says Parker, ‘but how we treat our dealers.’
Parker is overseeing the Malaysian maker embark on a major UK dealer recruitment drive. Numbers currently total 77 (with 19 more service and parts outlets), but more are needed and it’s the appeal of the offer which gives Parker confidence that new recruits will be drawn.
‘Overall, we have a really low cost of entry. This is something that can be more than covered in the first year of operation. All we ask is that dealers always hold four cars in stock, that they take an initial parts order of £500, and order some essential special tools. And even here, we can offer additional support on margins in the first year to make doubly sure it’s all covered.’
Proton will sort out frontage signs for you – ‘and this is a substantial £8,000 expense for us’ – and provide all the training you need. ‘All technical training in the first year is free, and there are only two mandatory courses, covering airbags and brakes.’
The company also provides point of sale material, full service and marketing support, a call centre, database marketing – all you need to become a professional-looking franchise dealership. In terms of expenditure by you, the company reckons you can be up and running as a Proton franchise for an investment of less than £8,000 – and this includes all start-up requirements, parts stock, tools and diagnostics.
As for technical considerations, Proton runs a helpline. This is manned by an expert team, which dealers can call with any specific issues. The guys on the other end of the phone will run thorough, step-by-step, the problem, helping the dealer resolve it.
Proton’s team know the cars like the back of their hand, and are keen to impart that knowledge on retailer technicians. ‘And if that still doesn’t solve things, we’ll send someone out,’ says Parker.
The big question, of course, is how you make money with a Proton dealership. ‘Simple,’ says Parker. ‘You sell cars. On our models, there is up to a £1,000-£1,200 retained margin on offer. The trick to best exploit this? Use all of the services we provide.’
New cars are coming to help here, too. Soon, Proton will be importing a seven-seat large MPV, and there will be a replacement for the Savvy later in 2009 or early 2010. Next year, there will be another mid-range C-segment four-door: this is called Saga, and can be viewed on Proton’s parent website, www.proton.com. (‘But we may well rename it before it arrives in the UK,’ says Parker…).
Parker also admits Proton is currently restricted through not being able to offer either diesel engines or larger petrol engines. ‘We are looking to acquire a diesel engine, and should have something along for 2009.’
What sort of franchises will Proton consider? Parker admits the brand works best on its own: ‘But we do find we work well alongside Hyundai franchises. Compare the Gen2 with the i30: we can do one for £7,000, whereas the cheapest i30 is £10,500. This is a big difference – indeed, one of the successes we’re currently having is from Hyundai Accent buyers of three or four years ago. They go back to the Hyundai dealer, and are given £500 for their Accent, then asked for £9k to get anywhere near an i30! Proton dramatically cuts that cost to change.’
TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT PROTON’S OFFERING FOR DEALERS CALL 07900 133 426