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GT gives Broughtons a lift

VW Group's investment in Bentley will be crowned by the launch early next year of the Continental GT. The carmaker recognises that by launching a £110,000 Bentley – the Arnage is the next step up at £150,000 – it is pushing the marque into a new market sector competing head to head against Mercedes SL55 AMGs, top end BMWs and Aston Martins.

“The Continental GT will open a new market for us, so we will need to go through the process of finding out who the customers are,” says Robert Foster, managing director at Bentley specialist Broughtons of Cheltenham. Broughtons has build a comprehensive customer database which contains, in addition to the usual contact information, details about its customers' leisure pursuits. Then it puts on events to match their interests, such as aviation days or trips to Le Mans. “It's all about personal relationships and gaining trust. We have a very high retention rate above 80 per cent,” says Foster.

For him, it's a question of recognising the differences between selling volume and prestige. “We are not car dealers, we are suppliers of luxury goods,” he says. “There is a real differentiation. Volume cars are purchased because people need the transport whereas they buy a Bentley for the lifestyle experience. And that means they expect a different experience at the showroom.

“Our competition is not other car dealers, it's second homes, race horses and yachts. So we need to understand what our customers want in order to be successful.”

Patience is a byword: “A first time buyer can take up to nine months to make the purchase decision.”

Broughtons will open its third Bentley showroom early next year in the Thames Valley, adding to premises in Cheltenham and Byfleet, Surrey, and is close to signing a contract for a fourth site. The multi-million pound investment has been made despite a difficult three years relying on sales of the Arnage and two-door Continental. “We made the investment because VW made the investment in Bentley. The product was old technology before VW took over, and we could quickly see its ambitions.”

Foster is confident the new GT – “unmistakably a Bentley” – will make it worthwhile. The order book is already full for the next 18 months, worth roughly 400 cars, which will fuel significant growth next year. Turnover will rise from £35m this year (2002: £32m) to £53m in 2004, and to £60m in 2005.

Economic issues are the biggest threat to those targets. Block exemption is dismissed – “we have high penetration, so new entrants are not a problem” – but an economic slide could affect sales of the GT.

Broughtons has developed strong relationships with other carmakers through its used car division, including Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche. Foster does not rule out adding other luxury franchises, but stresses the need to focus on customer exclusivity and the personal attention of staff: “This industry is full of people who are interested in cars, but it needs to be full of people who are interested in people.”

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