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Insight: Sportif Citroën

Who’d be a dealer council chairman?

Often berated by other franchised dealers in the network for not fighting hard enough for their rights, often under pressure from manufacturers to endorse policy changes so they can say it has the backing of dealers – it can be a thankless task.

And, to top it all, it means spending considerable time away from your business.

John Miskin is one of the longest-serving dealer council stalwarts.

He has chaired the Citroën council for the past three years but has been involved since 2002 while simultaneously running and expanding his own business, Sportif.

“I said I’d take on the chairman’s role for a year, but you get involved in projects that if you walked away, they wouldn’t get taken through,” says Miskin.

“If you feel you are achieving something with the manufacturer it gives you momentum to move forward.”

Last year his commitment meant he spent 120 days on council business, including 16 flights abroad.

At busy periods, such as regional meetings, he can wear his council hat for four days a week.

During his time on the dealer council three managing directors have come and gone at Citroën UK.

There have been highs and lows but since Xavier Duchemin joined in September 2005, relationships with the dealer council have “moved forward tremendously”, Miskin says.

“Other dealer councils are going through what we went through two to three years ago.

We kept talking and that has moved us forward.”

Key was the formation of three working groups which enables dealers to contribute to policy on the big topics like customer experience, volumes and aftersales.

They reported their findings to Citroën at the end of last year and, to the council’s surprise, everything the three groups proposed was accepted.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# “Duchemin is a different person to deal with than Alain Favey.

He listens and he logs everything that’s said,” Miskin says.

“In the past the management would’ve taken proposals back to Paris and we would’ve got, perhaps, 30% of what we asked for.

Duchemin said yes without hesitation.”

A change of senior management at Citroën HQ also helped.

“They recognised that unless they got closer and more involved they would lose market share and the best dealers.”

The council can exchange “frank views” with Citroën and there is no pressure from management to bend to its wishes, according to Miskin.

“They will bounce confidential ideas off the dealer council and brainstorm ideas on model mix, recalls, warranty and parts.

“Anything that affects dealers’ profits is discussed with the council first which is a big change.”

The dealer council and Citroën have set up another five working groups looking at cost of franchise, sales and profitability, servicing and parts, customer experience and CAP 2010, including Block Exemption.

Profitability, as with most franchises, remains a big issue on the agenda.

“The yardstick used to be 2% of turnover; it would be nice to be 1% first – even 0.5% at the end of the year.

We can’t have dealers losing money or at 0.1%,” Miskin says.

“Profit is not where we want it to be yet, but it is improving – the light at the end of the tunnel is now there and it’s glowing brighter.”

Miskin admits that the only way he is able to spend so much time on council business is by having a strong management team handling his group’s day-to-day operations.

Sportif was founded in Aylesbury in 1999, becoming an AM Awards New Start Business winner a year later.

It expanded into nearby Witney as a Suzuki and Citroën authorised repairer in 2000 and into Chalfont in 2006 as a Citroën sales and aftersales franchise.

Chalfont is run by Miskin’s son, Simon.

Turnover this year will be in the region of £16-18 million; profits will be made – they have every year since Miskin started the business.

He is confident that, in Citroën, Sportif has the right franchise for the future.

“With the models we have coming, Citroën is an exciting franchise – I’d expand further with them.

The potential is far greater than with some franchises that are currently higher up in the league,” Miskin says.

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