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‘No pressure’ car sales

Every day, large numbers of potential buyers enter showrooms looking for used vehicles, or other products and services, and yet only small percentage actually purchase something from their first visit.

That discourages many sales staff, who are interested only in earning commission that day. Fords of Winsford takes a different approach. It believes that most customers take three visits to buy a car: the first visit is to browse; the second is to view a preferred car with family or friends; the third time is to make the purchase.

Consequently, the company operates a no pressure, no hassle sales policy. Staff are told not to go for the hard sell; they take a ‘customer for life’ ethos, where all advice given is totally impartial.

High level of repeat business

“This ensures the customer purchases the car they want and not what the dealer wants to sell them. By doing so we maintain a high customer retention level,” says Darren Goode, sales and marketing manager at Fords of Winsford.

“We stand by our product. We let people make their minds up and we don’t rip people off. That’s why a lot of our business is repeat or from family and friend recommendations,” he adds.

The Cheshire based company, which is owned by three directors, Paul Ford, Graham Bell and Vernon Ford, has been trading since 1959. Its purpose built 14-acre site holds 1,500 vehicles ranging from Daihatsu Copens to Mercedes CLKs and the cars are neatly aligned in alphabetical rows ensuring customers can locate and view any vehicle from the daily stock sheet.

Customers must always come first

The company describes 2005 as one of the ‘most challenging trading periods seen for years’, but it still managed to sell 9,200 cars. Fords has built its years of success on retaining its highly valued customer base.

It believes that the degree of personal service provided by sales consultants is just as likely to affect the purchase decision as the price of the vehicle.

“The global expectations for sales and service tell us that customers expect to be treated as having individual needs and we do not pre-qualify or typecast customers,” says Darran Orme, sales operations manager at Fords of Winsford.

“Our customers must come first at all times as without these we have no business. A happy customer will always buy from you but, more importantly, they will come back.”

Forty-five per cent of the company’s sales team is made up of customer-focused people (customer helpers) who do not actually sell cars, but are responsible for giving out non-biased advice and assistance. Many have come from a non-automotive background – its top sales consultant used to run a pub.

For the customer, the Fords of Winsford experience is certainly unique. The site is enormous – but there are no closed doors to customers.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Helpers greet every customer and hand over a stock list detailing every car on the site (around 1,400 currently). Cars are organized methodically: all MPVs, for example, are sat in the same area, sorted by manufacturer.

Test drives at customers’ leisure

The most impressive part of Fords is the key collection area, which perfectly illustrates the company’s ‘no pressure’ approach.

Here, any customer wishing to look at a car is free to check out the keys to that particular vehicle (up to four at any one time) and the only information they need to provide is their name and telephone number.

They don’t have to be accompanied by a salesperson, instead each customer is assigned a unique bar coded credit card, which enables them to borrow keys at their leisure. This information is recorded centrally, meaning sales consultants can also see what cars a customer is interested in.

This is a big factor in why the average vehicle turnaround for the site is an impressive 39 days, which covers stock ranging in value from £3,000 to £40,000.

“The service level is the most important thing. Get that right and the customer will buy the car. We listen to our customers, too. For instance, our website was developed with customer feedback. If the customer is happy, we are happy,” says Goode.

Fords of Winsford has ruled out opening a second site, for now, while expansion opportunities at its current location are limited due to residential areas nearby. However, it still has plans to increase turnover from £90m to £120m by 2007.

General manager Paul Campion expects to see the company’s efforts, spending, savings, training and overall efficiency give a return on sales of 5% and plans to double profits. “We remain focused and upbeat about our continued success, which is due to the commitment and enthusiasm of all the staff who consistently deliver high customer service levels,” he says.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Off to a great start

Fords of Winsford has the enviable position of having staff retention of new starters of more than 90% after six months.

The company invests £50,000 every year on training and it has just launched a new apprenticeship programme for sales consultants. It will be taking on two apprentices aged 18 and 19, who will go through a six-month programme showing them how every part of the business operates, before starting in the showroom.

Every new starter goes through the same six week induction programme.

“The reasoning behind the induction programme is to give new employees an insight behind the scenes of our modern day operation,” says Darran Orme, sales operations manager.

“Each new starter will spend the first few months visiting several departments. This will hopefully give them a more rounded set of skills when dealing with our customers. We believe that having a stable team helps employees work better together and also strengthens customers’ perception.”

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