AM Online

Small/niche dealership

##small/niche--right## Hard work, fair practice and excellent management philosophies have combined to make Hodgson Mazda the Japanese brand's No1 UK retailer for more than a decade.

The Newcastle business now adds the AM small/niche dealership award to its list of achievements which includes an Automotive Management QSI award in 1995.

In 2003, Hodgson beat its best ever year by selling 664 new cars – 82% retail – in an area that has a population of less than 400,000. Included in this figure were 112 Mazda RX-8 models, representing 5% of the country's allocation. The total outstripped the Mazda national market share by more than 350%.

Hogdson has topped Mazda's retail league from the outset in 1992 with what group chairman and managing director Steve Hodgson says was a finely tuned plan for a new business with a clear focus to become a major regional automotive retailer by the early years of the new millennium.

“We set about bringing new customers to the brand to gain unfair share of the market – not just typical MX-5 and 323 buyers, but to the entire model range. The results were stunning,” says Hodgson, who points out that the dealership maintained its growth and performance during the Mazda lean period of 1998-2001.

“We have stayed true to the brand and – as importantly – to our customers throughout. We are now in a position to take full advantage of the growing Mazda vehicle parc with the introduction of the 323 replacement the Mazda 3.”

Hodgson, which also has Toyota and Suzuki dealerships on Newcastle's Silverlink Business Park and a Toyota outlet near Gateshead's Metro Centre, says its planning and strategy are based on empowering its own people to do a great job. Targets throughout the £39m turnover group are set after lengthy discussions with line managers, as are budgets and the strategies to achieve them. Once ownership of these tasks has been accepted by managers, they in turn encourage staff to attain targets and reward them accordingly.

“Discounts and deals are in not our vocabulary,” says Hodgson. “But value and service and standards of fairness, loyalty and customer appreciation are.” Customer satisfaction is central to the company's planning and strategy, and 100% repeat/referral business is a key objective in a culture where staff are expected to go the extra yard, to keep customers informed of all matters that benefit them and their cars and to turn customers into friends.

“Mazda is an excellent product and we ensure our presentation reflects this excellence on new cars, used cars, service and parts. We attend all training courses and keep at the leading edge of manufacturer training,” says Hodgson. “Customers know a great deal about their cars – we must know more.

“Our staff know to promise, but not over promise. We do not sell what we do not have and we keep customers informed of any forced changes. We aim to get it right, first time, every time. If we or the manufacturer do not, then we are open and honest.”

The open and honest theme is demonstrated in the dealership's design: service customers can see their cars being worked on from an open plan lounge area. And all customers receive follow-up contact with a letter signed by the managing director. The customer card return rate runs at more than 60% – and details are entered into bespoke software which is itself linked to Steve Hodgson's personal computer.

If that sounds like the work of a control freak, Hodgson would happily concede that a group with more than 10,000 sales transactions a year and rapidly growing customer numbers requires an intensive management structure with systems that deliver internal and external control and access.

“Most dealerships use manufacturer software and management systems to action this, but where we differ is that we integrate these systems into our own digital systems. This affords a level of computerised information performance that is well ahead of the industry and, we believe, light years ahead of our competitors,” he says.

Part of the management system provides competitor analysis. This is reviewed with Mazda brand details and Hodgson's own stock situation to help formulate marketing plans and exceptional activities to capitalise on areas of perceived weakness at other dealers. It also ensures Hodgson is not left with ageing stock.

The company has also taken the technical route to improve trade sales. A web-based harvester programme was installed to identify the top 200 fastest selling lines and price then instantly. “If you can't price a part or a bodyshop there and then they'll soon go elsewhere,” says Hodgson. “The system has been remarkably successful and has led to a 20% increase in sales. It also released parts staff time to search for the more obscure parts.”

Like retail customers, there is strong emphasis on repeat business. A trade CD was developed in-house, featuring six built-in achievement levels, with individual targets and rewards – such as TVs, mountain bikes and events.

Unusual, but effective, initiatives such as this are why Hodgson Mazda has achieved the No 1 retail position for the carmaker consecutively since 1992, increased staff numbers by 250%, driven turnover up by 600%, and now collected another AM accolade.

Hodgson Mazda has survived the ups and downs of the change in importer and is thriving. Its profits have been reinvested to enable the Hodgson Group to open other dealerships in the Newcastle area which is a testament to the strength of the business.

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