A company can lose its way all too easily if business slows and recent figures have shown that over the past two years, more than 500 car dealers have gone out of business.
So, with the economy expected to slow down even further this year, is your business prepared to weather the financial storm ahead?
Can you honestly say that your retailing strategy is designed to make the most of your customer base?
And will the short-term challenges distract you from preparing your business for the longer term issues that require advance planning, including the next review of the European Block Exemption Regulations which could potentially revolutionise the way the industry operates?
For a business there is a lengthy checklist of issues to be dealt with and in June, AM and the National Franchised Dealers Association will run their annual Autoretailing dealer convention to help dealers ensure they are well prepared for the future challenges which lie ahead.
The conference will provide expert thinking, insightful analysis and best practice advice on how to improve business efficiency, performance and ultimately profits.
Autoretailing 2008 will cover three main themes: the Block Exemption review, internet best practice and customer service.
The conference, sponsored by Experian and co-sponsored by Grant Thornton and Box Telematics, offers a packed agenda.
Speakers range from international business leaders to industry professionals and customer service experts.
Click on next for more details on the speakers taking part. #AM_ART_SPLIT# Block Exemption
Understanding the new legislation surrounding the sale and service of new cars across Europe is vital and dealers will have a unique opportunity to receive a detailed briefing on the issue from some of the industry’s top experts.
Autoretailing 2008 will include a speaker from the European Commission who will provide a face-to-face briefing on the review for the industry to help clarify how the legislation on the sale and service of new cars across Europe might change.
In addition, Osborne Clarke will provide its view on the likely impact of any changes and provide a future view of the market.
To ensure that delegates have the best opportunity to get their questions answered on the big issues, there will also be the chance to take part in a round table discussion with Miles Trower, senior associate with Osborne Clarke, and Sue Robinson, of the National Franchised Dealers Association.
Trower said: “This discussion will be influenced by the earlier presentations and the questions that have been raised about Block Exemption.
“We will lead the discussions but delegates will be able to ensure we discuss the issues that matter to them.”
#AM_ART_SPLIT# Customer service and loyalty
As every dealer knows, the customer is king when it comes to the future of your business.
Autoretailing will include a range of presentations on business best practice with a focus on the dealer market to help companies ensure they win long-term customer loyalty every time they sell a vehicle.
International expertise will come through Annette Sykora, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) in America, who will share her knowledge and vast experience.
Sykora, who has run the family car retail business in Texas since 1989, has served on NADA’s board of directors since 1999.
Her priorities as chairman for 2008 include attracting talented people to the industry, dealer profitability and environmental issues.
Kathy Stiff, director of professional development for the Society of Customer Affairs Professionals in Europe, will host a breakout session looking specifically at customer loyalty.
She has more than a decade of experience of managing customer service operations for Sainsbury, Audi, Volkswagen, Nissan and Eastern Electricity (now EDF Energy) with her skills as a customer care practitioner.
She will look at the key areas of focus for dealers if they are to succeed.
She said: “You simply cannot predict or control what customers say about you so do everything you can to make sure the message they take away from their experience is a positive one.
“Charter UK has shown that 90% of consumers who have a complaint satisfactorily resolved will actively promote your brand for you.”
Mark Lavery, chief executive of Cambria Automobiles, will show how customer service works on the frontline and the benefits it can bring.
He will reveal how a four-point process focused on stakeholder delight, brand delight, guest delight and associate delight has transformed its business.
Using this focused approach, the company took the overall customer satisfaction rating at one dealership it acquired from 51% to 84% in one year.
Lavery said: “Any form of customer retention and customer delight programme starts with recruitment.
“There is no hierarchy and that ensures feedback about each business reaches me directly and that way we can get things done.
We also empower people, which means they can take action to keep customers happy.”
Online marketing will dominate the car buying process in the future, with surveys suggesting 85% of consumers already research online before buying a car.
A small but growing proportion are buying online, but this growth isn’t being reflected in investment in web-based services among dealers, experts fear.
Websites suffer from poor design and ignore basic rules aimed at ensuring customers can find the information they need quickly and efficiently.
Jay Nagley, of Spyder Redspy, whose company maintains a broad range of dealer websites for customers such as Inchcape and Hartwell, will present a detailed breakout session on how dealers can improve their online proposition.
He said: “A successful website is not about design, it is about navigation. All the design in the world won’t help if customers can’t get to the information they need quickly and efficiently.
“A survey found ratings for dealer websites being easy to use ranged between 82% and just 16%.
Case studies will be used to show what dealers should be doing.”
Adrian Joseph is industry leader for Google Automotive and will join the internet breakout session.
He will also present his own masterclass during the day on how to sell more cars using the web.
He will provide advance warning of technological trends that dealers will have to respond to.
He said: “The internet is now the starting point and it is ahead of dealer visits in the car research process for new and used cars.
More than 52% go to the internet first. But you have to catch customers quickly as more than 50% of new car buyers purchase or order their cars within four weeks of deciding to change vehicles.
If they can’t find you easily online they will buy elsewhere.
“Consumers are increasingly enticed to buy online and car manufacturer and dealer websites play a key role in affecting choice.
These virtual sites are now where your customers are making real decisions.”
#AM_ART_SPLIT# Turning ideas into reality
Voted one of the top female entrepreneurs by Management Today, and famed for her PR coups, she launched the famous Ultimo bra.
Her next move is to launch a chain of up to 100 concessions within Debenhams stores.
This session will look at the qualities that drove her from making the tea to becoming a successful business leader and show how this commitment and drive can provide benefits in any business environment.
The Chairman, James Bellini, of Global Future Forum, will be guiding proceedings on the day.
Bellini specialises in future issues affecting business and management, with a strong emphasis on retailing, financial services, information technology, brand values and corporate reputation.
He has been a regular broadcaster, presenting The Money Programme, Tonight and Panorama and spent three years as editor and presenter of Financial Times Television, before moving to Sky News.