Devonshire Motors dealer principal Nathan TomlinsonDevonshire Motors dealer principal Nathan Tomlinson

News

With car showrooms set to be shut until April, let’s stop worrying and get into a ‘March mindset’ instead

Time 3 months ago

As news car dealerships look set to be closed for the critical 21-plate change in March, car dealers have spoken out.

Yesterday, the bosses of Cambria and Lookers spoke of their concern that it looks likely to be April at the earliest dealerships are open again.

Leaked reports on the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown, set to be revealed next Monday, suggest schools will return on March 8, non-essential retail will reopen in April and hospitality could follow in May.

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Devonshire Motors boss Nathan Tomlinson and Wessex Garages MD Chris Wiseman today write for Car Dealer on their thoughts about the news and how car dealers need to start thinking about getting into a ‘March mindset’ instead.


Nathan Tomlinson

Dealer principal, Devonshire Motors

I think this is a really interesting topic, for me it neatly summarises the limitations of a broad brush approach to decision making.

An open showroom is clearly a much safer and more structured retail environment than a supermarket. The ability to set appointment times and control footfall is infinitely better.

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The March situation isn’t just as simple as being open or closed though, and while test drives are indeed a key factor you also have to consider some other elements of a traditional Q1.

Many dealerships rely on manufacturer supported incentives and events to stimulate additional sales in and around March.

At this late stage, and with current restrictions, it’s not quite so straightforward to provide an injection of urgency or excitement for consumers to respond to.

With that said, I do think that we’ll enjoy a healthy bounce once we are able to operate without one hand tied behind our back.

So maybe the way we have to go about this is to let go of the tradition which surrounds March and set a course towards ensuring that we get the ‘March effect’ as soon as possible.

That means getting businesses open and fully functional, but it also means a collaborative approach to a programme of marketing and retail support which encourages and stimulates consumer interest.

Honestly, I think it’s time for the government to start getting a bit more into the detail now. We’re nearly 12 months into this situation, nothing is new anymore.

What was a fantastic strategy a year ago seems to be having more and more impact and collateral effect, whether that’s in terms of physical health, mental wellbeing, job security or any of the many societal nasties which almost everyone seems to be suffering.

Is a poor Q1 going to absolutely devastate the automotive sector? No, of course not. But, it will certainly impact the financial health of many businesses and as a result it will place more jobs at risk, sooner.

What I think is really interesting, though, and again underlines the need for decisions to be based on detail rather than for effect, is that we are just a few short years away now from a total ban on the sale of ICE powered vehicles.

If we expect consumers to learn about and adopt new technology then we have to give them all the time and tools they need to gain experience, understand and evaluate.

Every day, week and month we lose now is critical in the race to convert an entire generation from the only thing they’ve known, to something completely different.

Chris Wiseman

MD, Wessex Garages

Not opening showrooms back up in early March will of course be very damaging for both dealers and manufacturers alike.

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I am hopeful that the NFDA and SMMT along with the brands themselves are lobbying the government and highlighting the safe environments we have across the industry, particularly in main dealer premises.

At the moment the click and collect model is working for our existing customers who are prepared to trust the reputation of the local dealer and are familiar with the brand, but we are losing conquest business where demonstrations are essential.

All of the brands will have new models which need exposure in showrooms and on the road and dealers need a chance to secure crucial March bonuses, however these won’t be available if the manufacturers don’t hit their own volume commitments.

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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