Quality over volume is a phrase that resonates throughout Norton Way’s purpose-built corporate sales facility in Arlesey, Bedfordshire.
Richard Siney, the group’s operations director, and a dedicated team of fleet specialists work permanently at the site. All of them follow the same customer service mantra, said Siney.
“The most important thing is customer focus and if you’re going to do the job properly – whether that’s for the dealer group or manufacturer – you need to be driven by your customers’ needs and wants.”
That drive paid off for the corporate sales team. Operating since 2004, it won the 2017 AM Award for Best Fleet Operation.
“You need to find out what is important to them and then you need to deliver what they deem as being important. All of the systems and process that we have at Norton Way, in the fleet department, are all there to meet the requirements of the customer,” said Siney.
In monitoring performance, he focuses on customer retention and customer satisfaction.
“If we were ever foolish enough to concentrate on volume, the quality wouldn’t happen,” he said. “The focus is on quality at every stage of what we do. There is no chasing of volume.
“We are aware of the volume we do, we are aware it makes us a market leader for many of the brands we deal with, and that brings economies of scale for our customers.”
This year, the corporate sales site has processed more than 5,600 units, with more than 1,000 passing through in September alone.
The site is responsible for almost a quarter of all Mazda fleet sales in the UK.
Corporate sales account for 35% of the group’s total turnover and 10% of its direct profit. In 2016, corporate sales revenue dropped by 0.8%, but group revenue rose to £213 million, from £189m, thanks to an increase of 23% in retail sales and 12% in aftersales.
“The volume was never the goal and we would much rather have a reputation and continue having a reputation for being at the quality end of the market than for anything else. It’s just the cornerstone of everything we do,” said Siney.
Norton Way supplies almost all the major leasing companies in the FN50 list compiled by AM’s sister title, Fleet News, and Siney is proud that the dealer group has achieved perfect or near-perfect satisfaction scores with them all.
It often achieves 100% scores with the UK’s two largest leasing providers, Lex Autolease and LeasePlan.
Zenith reports similarly impressive numbers and Norton Way regularly picks up ‘Zenith 7’ awards, which recognise seven 100% CSI scores in a row – achieved from end-user feedback following delivery.
Siney said: “Zenith measures everything – every phone call, every email and every transaction. We’ve been a supplier to them for a long time and last month, after six years of effort, we moved to number one in their league table for the first time.
“There is no commercial benefit for being first rather than 10th, but it’s hugely important for us. It’s not our view on us, it’s not our manufacturers’ view on us, it’s our customers’ view on us.”
In corporate sales, Norton Way produces higher sales volumes, higher profits and higher customer satisfaction scores than any other individual dealer in the UK for both Mazda and Honda, he said.
It also represents Nissan, Peugeot, Škoda and Kia – holding factory-approved fleet specialist status with all of them.
Upon arrival at the Arlesey site, it’s clear to see why Norton Way chose to keep fleet work out of its retail sites. Rows upon rows of new cars are neatly lined up, awaiting processing or ready to be delivered. There is an almost constant flow of vehicles either entering or leaving.
Siney said the cars usually only stay on site for one night, allowing the centre to achieve maximum throughput each day.
Each vehicle undergoes a pre-delivery inspection (PDI), gets fitted with number plates and then gets a full valet. At each stage, the car is inspected. Before the driver sets off to deliver it, they must sign a final inspection.
“Once the driver decides to leave the site with the car, it is their responsibility,” said Siney. “If the customer is unhappy when their car arrives, then the driver must deal with it – we don’t allow the driver to simply shrug it off and leave without resolution.”
Norton Way Corporate Sales is not just a fleet processing centre, though. The company views it as a fleet service provider.
Siney said: “We view this operation as quite distinctly different from a car dealership. We are very proud of our car dealerships – we are a dealer group and we aren’t shy of being a dealer group. But we realised that being a fleet dealer was no longer enough, we needed to be a fleet service provider.”
New car supply is the core part of the business, but as so many of Norton Way’s customers have additional needs, the business decided to support them with a full suite of fleet services.
“It may be that we’ve got a customer who has a demand to move vehicles from a logistics point of view, perhaps to reallocate vehicles.
“Also as part of their in-life service, they are going to want servicing, maintenance and service checks, we have no problem with doing that.
“When it comes to end-of-life vehicles, it may be that we just offer a logistics process. but we might also be proactively bidding for certain people’s vehicles as well.
“We look at the whole picture from a fleet service provision: what do our customers require and how can we help them? Often that will include vehicle supply, but it
may also be funding, in-life maintenance, end-of-life route to market and/or purchase. So it’s a cradle-to-grave fleet proposition,” said Siney.
When he first joined Norton Way 21 years ago, the fleet department was operated as a bolt-on to the retail sales team.
The business realised that, at the time, about 60% of the new car market was business sales of some form – whether to local businesses, national businesses, rental companies or contract hire firms.
“In the early days, we weren’t spending 60% of the effort in that sales channel. We wanted to grow as a business and we wanted to be successful. Our goal was to be upper-quartile in everything we do and clearly fleet was part of that,” said Siney.
The business recognised that to do fleet ‘properly’, it needed to be a specialist. At the same time, workshop efficiency was going up, but profitability was stagnating or declining because it was so busy doing internal work rather than focusing on external, fully chargeable retail work.
One of the first developments in the fleet arena was to move all internal PDIs out of the retail workshops, so the retail service managers could become completely accountable for retail hours and fleet happened off-site.
The first facility was opened at Letchworth, for fleet PDIs. Within a few years, the volumes grew to the point where the business outgrew it.
Siney said: “We were able to leave that site and move here . We turned that site into a used car prep bay – so now used car prep is not going through the retail workshops either.”
Complete with offices, the Arlesey site gave Norton Way the opportunity to put its fleet team back on the same site as the cars, which Siney said was hugely important.
“You must not lose touch with the finished product. If you separate the office from the product, it doesn’t gel as well. It works really well having the full-purpose facility,” he added.
The space on the site is utilised to allow as many vehicles as possible to be processed in the shortest possible time.
It’s not a glamorous site, like the group’s new GWR Kia dealership in Brentford, West London, but it is entirely fit for purpose.
“It’s not a secret to our customers,” Siney said. “They are aware we have this purpose-built facility and while it’s not designed like a conventional showroom, they are welcome to visit it and many have.
“They understand that it’s the smartest way of preparing a fleet vehicle. It’s not smart to do it from a retail facility. What they are interested in is the right car, arriving at the right address, at the right time, with minimal disruption and a quality handover. We achieve that with very robust processes and very passionate, skilled people.”
Serving more than one customer
Customer service is a broad term, especially when dealing with fleet sales where there is always more than one person to please.
“We totally understand and respect the role that the contract hire companies and the funders have. They all have their own service-level agreements (SLAs) and we understand they are important and we will be very compliant at meeting those.
“It’s equally important for us to have very strong end-user relationships too,” said Siney.
It’s not uncommon for a corporate customer to change their funder, but Norton Way wants to ensure that the customer stays with it and remains their preferred partner, so it works very hard at end-user relationships.
Among the fleet team at Norton Way is a full-time demonstration vehicle administrator. His job is to ensure existing and prospective end-users get proper access to the cars they are interested in before they make their final choice.
Siney said: “We have to recognise the driver. When they are looking for a new car we need to get the right car out on demo and ensure he or she is comfortable with it via the handover.
“If we look at how things have changed, there is so much new technology in vehicles you can’t just give someone a car and expect them to understand it. When you do a demo, it’s important to do a quality handover. Otherwise, you invest the time and money in doing the demo, but you don’t get the sale out of it.
“That’s a cornerstone of the repeat business we get and the reputation we have with our customers.”
Norton Way works with businesses whose fleets range from one or two cars, all the way up to blue-chips with thousands of vehicles.
“We look at all the sales channels,” said Siney. “We have an interest in small and local businesses, we don’t forget the importance that supplying locally has from an aftersales perspective.”
Although vehicle supply comes from the Arlesey site, servicing is carried out in the retail dealerships, where the staff are trained to deliver the same high level of customer service.
Finding new business is the responsibility of Norton Way’s field sales team. Their job is simple: find incremental customers.
Siney said: “It is important that we support our manufacturers by opening up new channels for them. We also have to maximise the scale of the relationship with any existing customers.
“The field team have got to create relationships and they have to sell the brand of Norton Way.
“They’ve got to understand the customer and understand if we can meet those customers’ requirements. We will walk away if we can’t.
“We’re not afraid to say we can’t do something if that’s the truth.”
Once that relationship is established, the account managers build the long-term relationships and handle all customer enquiries, which include quotes, lead times, availability and even details such as the boot volume of a particular model.
A member of the field team and the relevant account manager attend quarterly reviews with customers. The field team supports what should be happening while the account manager has a view of what is actually happening day-to-day. This gives the business the best chance of continuing to meet the customers’ requirements, believes Siney.
So far this year, Norton Way has invested in additional corporate account managers and Siney said all are home-grown.
“We’ve never imported someone from another dealership. We deliberately choose non-motor-trade people with a customer service background. We don’t have a difficulty training them, but they need to be the right customer service people.”
He also plans to expand the field team this year: “We’ve added new franchises to our group and we want to make sure that we are maximising the opportunities that those new franchises and new products give us.
“There is a strong demand from the fleet market so we know a bigger team will be busy and be successful.”
Additionally, investment in technology will help Norton Way to further improve end-user satisfaction. The business is looking to implement a tracking system that will give real-time updates on delivery times.
Siney said: “Investing in that technology and in our people and their training is hugely important and that’s the only way we will meet next year’s trends.”
As for the future of the corporate sales site, Siney believes it will continue to provide growth.
“We’d love to outgrow this facility, not from an empire point of view, but because it would reflect upon that we are doing the right job for our customers. That’s how we get busier, customers come back and buy more from us and we do that consistently well.”
Having left university and completed a 12-month graduate scheme in the motor trade, Siney worked for Honda. He was involved in setting up its fleet department, before joining Norton Way.
“I’m 110% behind the fleet department. My reason for getting up in the morning is fleet. Working with people in this marketplace is where the buzz comes from,” he said.
Turning a single Honda dealership into a £213m-a-year dealer group
Norton Way Group was founded following a management buy-out of a single Honda dealership in Letchworth in 1989.
David Grainger, Norton Way’s managing director, grew the business, adding Mazda and Peugeot franchises to the mix. He also opened Chiswick Honda on the site of the old Honda UK head office.
In 2008, majority control of Norton Way Group was transferred to Japanese group Marubeni Auto Investment, which is part of one of the largest companies in Japan, and which also owns a second UK dealer group in the North West, RRG Group.
Grainger said: “We had grown the business quite significantly and we realised if we wanted to go bigger we needed a good backer.
“To us they are like a bank. If we want to do something, we go to them and talk it through. I still run the business like I own it and we still own all the properties.”
With new backing, the expansion quickly continued. The group added Škoda and Nissan franchises and opened a third Honda site in Wimbledon.
The most recent investment was GWR Kia, a flagship 41,000 sq ft showroom in Brentford, west London. Since opening in 2016, the site, which is owned by Kia but operated by Norton Way, is already among the UK’s 10 best-performing Kia dealerships.
Norton Way, which started with just seven people, now employs 470. This year it is on track to produce profits of more than £3m, with new car retail sales growing 7% across the group.