##Fred Maguire(1)--left## Fred Maguire is a man with a mission: “Most UK motor retailing business in the future will be in the hands of five or six top dealer groups. It is part of Lookers' strategy to be one of them.”
He was confident the market area approach favoured by Ford, Renault and others would be successful, despite being blamed for some high profile dealer group crashes. “In Cheshire we're making the Wirral market area approach work for Vauxhall – it takes cost out of the business without affecting the customer,” he said.
“The key is to get the back end of the business right. Every outlet needs a profit-responsible person to drive the business and run it like an owner-driver.”
The hard-working Ulsterman – 60 hours is a “short working week” – is driven by the need to make Lookers “the best that it can be with the resources we have”.
Mr Maguire joined Lookers in 1996 when the group acquired his Belfast-based Charles Hurst dealer business. He set out a clear strategy for the Manchester dealer group 18 months ago, which included building strong partnerships with manufacturers.
“Trust is important – manufacturers need to have the confidence that our commitment means they can forget about us, knowing that we will do our bit,” he said. “Every staff member knows they have a part to play and no part is more important than another.”
His personal motivator is training, which led to the development of a call centre in Liverpool last year. “You can't survive without a continuous training programme in all areas of the business,” he said.
Set up to create customers for life by centralising servicing bookings and proactively seeking work, the call centre helps staff training by identifying when a customer hasn't been dealt with properly. “It can identify the area of concern, the dealership and person involved and the training need,” said Mr Maguire.
##Fred Maguire(2)--left## “Lookers' new car sales have been running 25% up on last year in a market that is down. In September, we lost a week and a half, but we are still 16% up on last year, like-for-like. Aftersales is up 20% year-on-year, which is driven by our call centre.”
Mr Maguire is the “champion of the causes”, but he recognises the team drives the schemes forward: “It's not a one-man show.”
He is deeply religious, describing himself as a “born-again Christian”. “Church life drives my standards in business; it's set me up well,” he said. “I'm trying to lead my life according to my beliefs. If someone else has different standards, it's up to them to justify those standards.
“I've convinced myself that I'm the best at what I do. It's a position from which to be shot down – I must meet these standards. When I can't keep my word and do what I say, it will be time to walk away from the business.”
Until someone is ready to “take the business beyond the point that I have”, Mr Maguire will continue to drive it forward, looking for new opportunities to improve customer service standards.
##Fred Maguire(3)--left## These include internet developments. In September Lookers website – www.lookers.plc.com – was named top dealer site by Autowired. Mr Maguire, though, ruled out any move to sell online.
“We won't sell to the customer without them having a demonstrator first. If we want to fulfil customers' needs, we have to check that it is the right car for their needs – that can't be done if we sell online,” he said.
“I regularly check out retailers in other industries and I am encouraged by how good the motor industry is in comparison. We shouldn't need to sell online.”
|'When I can't keep my word and do what I say, it will be time to walk away from the business.'|
The growing presence of dotcom operators like Virgin Cars was creating an opportunity for dealers. “If they create an awareness of the motor industry then it is up to us to take advantage and capitalise on that,” said Mr Maguire. “Dotcom companies will come and go. The good will survive, but dealers will still exist – we've got the experience and the customer base.
“The motor trade has been guilty of surrendering its natural business to parts factors and fast-fits.. Now it is aware and has put everything in place to ensure this doesn't happen again. We are now taking our business back.” Manufacturers had now addressed the pricing issue, but it was “up to us to tell customers about the good deals – the ball's in our court”.
Mr Maguire believes that the industry would not fully settle down until the end of next year. Some dealers may fall by the wayside, though this would “make the industry stronger”. But it is clear he is confident Lookers is well-placed to continue profiting.