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Still room for independent dealers in East Midlands

As large plcs continue to grow and increase their presence in the UK automotive retail market, many independent retailers are feeling the pressure to perform and attain higher profits.

In May this year, the Lind Automotive Group in East Anglia became part of Inchcape Retail, bringing the reality of a plc-dominated future to the area.

Tim Hammond, managing director of Marriott Motor Group, believes this does not spell the end of the independent dealer. He says quality of staff will play a leading role in keeping smaller businesses in the game.

“There is still plenty of room for indies,” he tells AM. “What makes it different now is the amount of capital you need to set up the business. Audi and Volkswagen have been very good to us with their sponsored dealer programme.”

High service levels

One significant change in East Anglia following Inchcape’s purchase of Lind is Sunday opening.

Lind’s previous owner Graham Dacre is a born-again Christian who refused to open for business on Sundays – and other dealers in the area followed his lead. Hammond, who still has no intention of opening on Sundays, says finding motivated staff to work on this day will be difficult.

“To have a good business you need good staff. It’s easier for us as a family business to get to know our staff better and we always try our best to talk to them,” he says.

“We realize we wouldn’t be able to offer our customers the same level of service on a Sunday. If they really want to buy a car then they will come back.”

Marriott has a brand director for each of its Audi and Volkswagen marques, allowing tight management of the sales teams at all its sites.

Staff get extra holidays after working with the company for five years and there are long service rewards for 10 and 20 years’ employment.

Hammond says: “Our retention levels aren’t where we want them to be, we are always working hard to improve in this area by increasing communication and doing more for them.”

At the Marriott Motor Group, staff have their own intranet where they can communicate with each other freely, and where the company’s stress and young worker’s policy can be viewed.

Close brand relationship

Having a small group of dealerships concentrating on two brands has allowed Hammond to build a close relationship with both marques.

“We’re getting on really well with both manufacturers,” he says. “Both are offering excellent products that come with the right pricing and specification. They are selling and there are new models coming out, which we are excited about.”

Sales of Volkswagens are up this year for the group, driven partly by the popular Fox model, while Audi sales have fallen. “With new products coming out, we hope to equal or even surpass last year’s Audi sales by the end of 2006,” says Hammond. “I would love to take on another Audi dealership in our area, though we have no specific plans at the moment.

“It’s hard in this region but I remember when the car market was much harder than this and we’re still here.”

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