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Parts and distribution: Dealers ignore classic parts

A man draws up outside your dealership in a battered old car, one of your franchise’s classics. He walks into the parts reception and asks for some new front wings. What do you do? Quote him a silly price and tell him to come back in six months? Say, “Sorry sir, but we couldn’t get those parts when your car was new so I can’t see us being able to get them now. Have a nice day.”

Or do you promise to look into it, engage him in conversation, and find out what his daily drive is?

Profit opportunity

Classic parts offer retailers a major profit opportunity. Consider John, 34, who owns an old Toyota. He didn’t have much luck getting the parts he needed at his local dealership.

“In the end I ordered some pattern parts off a fabricator but there was a delay getting them made. In the meantime the mechanic called another Toyota Parts Centre and badgered them into searching their database on the off chance they had the bits somewhere in the network,” he says.

Amazingly enough they did, and two wings arrived three days later from the Toyota Europe parts warehouse in Belgium. The original dealer didn’t merely miss out on the profit from selling the parts, it missed out on fitting them.

And that’s not all. If it had impressed him with the standard of its customer care, John might eventually have returned for a new car, or recommended the business to his friends, family and neighbours.

Honda bucks the trend

It’s not just the dealers. Toyota GB, for instance, has no systems in place to support owners of its classic and older cars and has no plans to introduce any.

Likewise, Peugeot, Ford, Volkswagen and Nissan all have no specific scheme. MG Rover, perhaps understandably, says: “We’re thinking about today and tomorrow, not yesterday.”

Their standpoint contrasts sharply with the attitude of Honda. It spends more than £1m a year subsidising parts for its classic and old cars. “It’s all in line with Honda’s philosophy of providing service above and beyond customer expectations,” says Paul Ormond, head of corporate press and PR for Honda UK. “Also, it keeps customers moving through the showroom. Sell them an old part and a new car.”

For cars up to 25 years old, Honda aims to have fast moving parts such as gaskets available in 24 hours, while slow moving parts like gearboxes come from Japan and take between two and three weeks.

In 1990, Honda Japan re-manufactured a batch of crankshafts for the 1960s S800 sportscar. Made out of high-grade steel they cost over £2000 each to make but the company charged owners less than £500.

“We will do whatever we can to keep the customer in the car,” says Philip Long, parts director at Chiswick Honda in west London. “Hondas last forever. They might be driving an older car because it suits them, but that doesn’t mean that either they or other members of their family can’t afford a new one.”

He cites the example of one customer who needed a gearbox for a 1987 Accord Aerodeck. The list price was £1,500, but Honda UK subsidised the part cost and Chiswick Honda reduced its labour rate. In the end, the customer paid only a few hundred pounds.

Ties with owners clubs

Long can’t quantify the benefits to his business in looking after customers this way but says the approach has “definitely paid off” for Chiswick Honda.

Even with this support, Honda’s service is not well publicised and it isn’t branded. Samantha Ashton, the NSX-driving chairman of the Honda Revolutions owners club, says: “I’ve never heard of a parts scheme specifically for older Hondas.”

She raises another interesting point. Only about 30% of club members drive Hondas as their everyday cars. A quick straw poll around other manufacturers’ owners clubs reveals the same is broadly true for their members.

That’s an entire marketplace of customers who already own a classic but drive an everyday vehicle. And many dealers are shunning them when they visit the showroom. Clearly, developing closer ties with owners clubs will help dealers’ businesses.

Honda makes so much effort because it realises the benefits to its brand in having older cars preserved. So much so that the company doesn’t even mind contributing towards the cost. Other manufacturers seem quite happy to let owners bear the burden of keeping older cars on the road.

And it is in the interest of franchised dealers to play their part in building the brand. What better statement of quality is there than seeing an old car on the road in good condition (note Land Rover’s ad campaign a few years ago which highlighted the number of its cars still on the road)? Adopting this attitude also means dealers can avoid using the worst statement in customer service: “Sorry sir, we can’t help you.”

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