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Used car dealer survey: our mystery shopper visits Derby

Used car dealer survey: as part of a series of features for AM-online, assessing the standards of customer service at dealerships across the UK, our mystery-shopper, 'shiny shoed, but not wearing a tie', visits six used car retailers in Derby, Pavilion Motors Peugeot, Arriva Renault, TC Harrison Ford, Co-Op Motor Group Seat, Inchcape Toyota and Pentagon Vauxhall.

“Car manufacturer pressure for bigger and better dealerships is very evident in Derby. All six premises we visited were large, new and very impressive - one hopes that the impending abolition of Block Exemption will leave sufficient profit to pay for them. Most could, however, have benefited from more investment in training.

So, is it essentially up to the prospect to buy, or the sales staff to sell? No one wants a market-trader approach but surveys repeatedly show that prospects generally feel intimidated when visiting a car dealership and that unease can deepen for the used car buyer in such impressive surroundings.

There really are people who are reluctant to ask about finance for example, and many dealerships who seem equally reluctant to bring the subject up. Some are also reluctant to sell cars, so why choose that way of life?

Next month we might visit you to buy a new car for a company. Will you be ready?

WINNER Dealership: Pavilion Motors
Franchise: Peugeot
Overall score: 65%

“Dealerships come big in Derby, and this Peugeot site was certainly no exception – it even had a separate used car showroom. Most of the stock was, therefore, under cover, which is just as well since at least one of those orphaned outside had apparently just finished a rally. The indoor stock was naturally clean and tidy and carried white-washed engine sizes on the windscreen - a good idea, since Peugeot doesn't go for that sort of badging. But why not go the whole hog and give a description of the car and its options as well?

A smart young salesman hove gently alongside and we chewed the fat on models and their relative merits. When I blanched at the prices (I practise that) he came up instantly with a suggestion of finance. Fancy selling finance with used cars! Why don't more dealerships consider doing that? He explained PCP plans quite well but seemed surprised that I should be so perverse as to think about alternative methods. But he brought up the subject – so, medal awarded.

Bringing finance into the open left us free to explore a higher price range, and we did, though he cleverly tackled the more expensive models in a way that left him free to backtrack. He gave me his card, asked my name and phone number – and wrote them down before trying to make an appointment for me to bring my wife along for a test drive. Well done. Then to round it off, he suggested an even nicer model to stop me escaping. I was taken off to see it, the car was open and I was invited to try it for size. All very simple sales techniques, but ones so often forgotten by sales staff tha,pt probably sell fewer cars. Without the right sales foundations, how can one securely build a sale?”

Dealership: Arriva
Frranchise: Renault
Overall score: 43%

“I prowled the site, but the salesman was more interested in the newspaper than me – after all, it was Monday morning. So I braved the bear traps and ventured indoors. I asked the receptionist for guidance and she pointed to the newspaper. The salesman turned out to be a most friendly chap who advised me on all the new Florida theme parks and rated them against Euro Disney. But we didn't get very far with selling a car. I asked about the engine size on my target model and at first he seemed reluctant to brave the Derbyshire sunshine to show me. When we did move out he was knowledgeable about his stock, which was clean and well presented. Then, as I had expected, he zeroed in on a model £1,000 above my cash resources.

He asked how much I had to spend, and I told him. He reiterated the undoubted values of his more expensive target and I asked a few questions, but we remained firmly rooted to the spot. I thought we might approach one in my price area or even peer in the window, but no. It would have been rude to have walked away from him so I never saw how nice that car might have been.

I mentioned several times about signing such a big cheque as holiday time nears, even for such a lovely car. I counted 27 signs offering finance, but perhaps he hadn't read them. I was too shy to ask, so I promised to think it over and left. I do not know who he was and he never asked my name either. Another sales opportunity wasted.”

Dealership TC Harrison
Franchise: Ford
Overall score: 58%

“I reckon I've seen the largest Ford dealership in the country, and one of the most spectacular. I drove around the site for a mile just to find an entrance. The used car stock looked new and only an odd rain spot spoilt a potential Presidential Parade. This TC Harrison claimed to have more than 500 used cars in stock and I believe them. But such a high volume, even where the cars are sensibly grouped by model, is a daunting sight. Why not put some information in the car window, or have a word-processed stock list to unconfuse a poor prospect? Even the salesman was uncertain about the current stock.

There was a separate used car showroom where the manager quickly summoned a coffee-drinking chap for me. I would have loved one myself, but then I was only a mere customer and apparently did not qualify.

Has someone in Harrisons's management read something on American sales techniques? I often criticise dealers for failing to offer finance, but here it was thrust upon me before we even talked cars. Out came a faint photocopy and the salesman carefully transcribed the figures on to a four-page booklet. It seemed I had to sign that I had seen it and its unexplained comparisons but, curiously, was not allowed to keep the booklet. I agreed to sign but pointed out that neither the plan nor the amount of finance was relevant to me - but it seemed he only had one set of figures to work from. This is how customer antagonism builds up.

Only after the booklet signing did we see any cars – all of which were locked and lacked information despite the salesman's valiant attempts. Perhaps the management should buy the second volume of that USA salesmanship manual?”

Dealership: Co-op Motor Group
Franchise: Seat
Overall score: 45%

“In order to comply in with the apparent by-laws on Derbyshire-style dealerships, this was the best Seat premises I have ever visited. It was another brand new site with adequate parking, though a surprisingly small used car display. The showroom salesman was affable and quite willing to brave the growing wind to tempt me with his wares. He immediately homed in on one that fitted my description but had to agree that it was of neither a colour nor a trim level to set the pulses racing.

Next to it, however, was a much more interesting model - complete with my ideal list of goodies. Surprisingly though it was dearer and I drew my breath in sharply – I'm getting quite good at that. I sobbed about the problem of writing such a big cheque when the baby needs new shoes, so instead of offering finance to bridge the gap and try to close a deal, he told me he was sympathetic with my problem and sailed away to find a cheaper model. And that he did. Moreover, he took the trouble to find the key and unusually I was invited to look inside – though, naturally, not to sit in it.

I baulked at its obvious replacement front wing, so we wandered away again. I admired that dearer model once more as we passed by but repeated my unwillingness to sign such a large cheque. So, like the good chap he was, he took my phone number to let me know if he was successful in finding a cheaper car with four good wings. I got my first visiting card of the day here, but if only they sold finance, surely they might sell a few more cars?

Dealership: Inchcape
Franchise: Toyota
Overall score: 35%

“All of the six dealerships this month were large and plush by any town's standards and that certainly included Inchcape's joint Toyota/Lexus operation. Up I drove and a salesman instantly popped out of the showroom to snap me up. I was invited inside only for him to become visibly annoyed that I would not, or could not give him a specific shopping price, only a specification. He suggested instead a new model at £18,000 upwards – with an emphasis on the “upwards” and quickly lost interest when I suggested a three year old might fit my second car needs better. I learnt that such a model would be £10,000 “upwards” (that must be the Toyota buzzword this season) as he led me over to the far side of the showroom.

There in the distance he pointed out a neat row of RAV4s. While he said he regretted the dealership had nothing to suit my requirements I was, apparently, free to inspect what stock there was. Then he turned away and I was dismissed. I had been there less than a minute. I dutifully followed instructions and there in the front row was an almost-pristine example at just £7,495. Why was he not interested in selling it to me? Why did he think I might not have been interested in that even nicer £11,000 model? And why would anyone in car sales feel the need to look down his nose at a customer. My wife had inspected me before I left home: my shoes were clean, indeed they were new that week, and my car was but six months old and cost £19,000. So why was he so superior? I know -I wasn't wearing a tie!”

  • Dealership: Pentagon
    Franchise: Vauxhall
    Overall score: 52%

    “Yet another large Derby-sized dealership on a roundabout and with separate used car premises. The new Corsa was everywhere, so I targeted one. Out popped an enthusiastic young salesman who was delighted to show me what they had. He half qualified me but stopped almost before he had started and then set his own budget for me, lower than I would have done. But perhaps his cars were cheaper, I thought, until he told me that was the bottom of their price range.

    Enthusiasm goes a long way and it nearly won out here, but not quite – there were just too many steps missing from the sale. He had found out what I wanted the car for, but not a realistic price, and which prospect would insist that they wanted to spend more money? He was also too keen on putting his own viewpoint forward – not everyone will agree that the new Corsa is little better than the old model for example.

    No cars were opened for me to see, though he bustled about energetically. We looked at several, though always being taken to the older models despite he fact that I told him I liked the new one better.

    He had apparently decided that I could not afford more, and finance never entered the conversation except when he told me that some customers opt for a new model because of zero rate finance. So why might I not have been tempted? I suppose finance is only available on new cars? Otherwise he tried so hard, and even scurried off to find what was available in the rest of the Pentagon group, but only found one that was even older and with a still higher mileage. Perhaps, like many sales staff, he should listen more, ask a few questions and wait for an answer before supplying one himself. Perhaps, like many sales staff, he should listen more, ask a few questions and wait for an answer before supplying one himself. But please keep up the enthusiasm.”

  • The Franchise Dealer Survey is commissioned by AM's sister title AutoTrade and appears in the November issue. To subscribe call Helen Thorpe on 01733 468259. (October 19, 2001)
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