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Should automotive retailers try to tempt high street managers?

The recent spate of high street retail brands entering administration or drastically reducing their footprints has meant shops such as Mothercare, Homebase, Toys R Us and House of Fraser shedding lower- and middle-management jobs.

According to Guy Liddall, the managing director of Motor Trade Select, there is still a shortage of management candidates in the motor retail industry, so could this pool of high street talent be a solution for dealer groups?

Unfortunately, explained Liddall, it’s not quite as simple as that: “There are absolutely some transferable skills, but this is more possible on the shop floor level as a sales executive, or service adviser, as they can be fairly similar to another retail environment.

“However, when you get to management level, unless they get a lot of support at their induction it can be a tricky transfer and most struggle.”

Karl Davis, the managing director of Coachworks Consulting, said there has always been a healthy cross-fertilisation between other retail sectors and automotive, but this is usually at two extremes – frontline staff or board level.

Davis said: “It’s more challenging for middle managers coming out of a high street store and looking for something suitable in the automotive retailing sector, where buying skills and technical under­standing are a prerequisite for positions such as sales and service managers.”

Liddall said the difficult bedding-in period can lead many dealers to recruit those with specific experience at management level.

He said: “I’m sure a Formula 1 driver could fly a 747, but I wouldn’t want to be on the first flight and that’s the view of a lot of dealer groups that are recruiting for management roles from outside the industry.

“At dealer principal level, you have new, used, service, parts and bodyshop to manage and there are very few other retail management jobs that prepare for that level of complexity.”

For those dealers considering focusing on recruiting at management level from outside the industry, Liddall advised dealer groups to look at their strategy.

He said: “Are you looking for a like-for-like short-term replacement? Or do you want to bring in a fresh perspective that will take some time and investment?

“The biggest danger is the lack of experience and I’ve seen managers from outside the industry lose the respect of their teams as they can be made to look a fool very quickly.”

TrustFord has a number of positions within the group that are held by those from high street retail, including Sainsbury’s, Argos, DFS and Barclays. The roles are across levels, including board and leadership roles, including HR, IT and marketing.

Stuart Foulds, TrustFord’s chairman and chief executive, said TrustFord doesn’t currently have dealership managers from high street chains that have recently gone out of business, but he would welcome applications from them.

Foulds said: “We recruit all roles, including those in management, both on experience and behaviour.

“Good communication, speed of service and the highest standards of customer care are crucial elements we look for. Though not limited to those with a retail background, these behaviours are often found in those who have worked on the high street.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), said raising awareness of the sector and attracting talent from outside the industry is vital for the future.

She said: “High street retail positions usually offer lower salaries and less exciting long-term prospects compared with the automotive industry.

“The same benefits that are there for those starting their career in automotive retail are available to more senior people. These include a unique potential for career progression as well as a number of perks that are also often exclusive to our sector, for instance, owning a car.”

Davis said it was important that the skills required for middle management level are learnt at an operational level first, including vehicle sourcing and technical expertise. He said these skills are not likely to be possessed by those managers from high street stores.

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