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AM autumn conference: Toyota reacts to 'damning' customer views of showroom experience

'Damning' customer opinions and the growing threat of the emerging dotcoms forced Toyota GB to seek innovative ways to improve its dealerships.

The result, branded Toyota Retail Concept, is now being rolled out to its dealerships, with the company reporting increased customer satisfaction and sales.

Gary Birney, Toyota GB personnel and training director, outlined the changes at Automotive Management's autumn conference, 'Beyond Block Exemption', yesterday.

Customer research had found Toyota dealerships and their staff, “insulting, intimidating and nerve wracking” and women in particular said they had been patronised. The sites were not child-friendly, there was no consistent décor and customers felt they were being forced to make inquiries to dealer staff.

“These were damning findings,” Mr Birney said. “Customers were telling us, 'we love your cars, but hate the way you sell them'”.

Toyota GB's response was to copy styles from other retail sectors. The Toyota Retail Concept, sees sales staff banished from the showroom, a host welcoming customers at the door, automatic front doors, childrens' play areas. On-screen negotiations are carried out in “full view of the customer”, mimicking the travel agent set-up.

Eight outlets have now been revamped, with another 30 to finished by the end of this year.

“The evidence from customers and dealers is extremely positive,” Mr Birney said. And while he would not say how the new retail concept had affected profitability he said “customers enjoy the new retail experience, while dealers are selling more cars”. The biggest problem was meeting the demand from the dealers wanting the new retail concept.

  • For complete coverage of the AM autumn conference see the October 12 issue of Automotive Management.
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