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Forecourt appeal is first step to retailer profits

Shoppers passing high street windows stop and look when something appealing catches their eye – and the same technique applies to dealerships.

With competition between brands so intense, car retailers need to pull out the stops to entice drivers in to look and to spend.

Specialist companies say all parts of a proven formula need to be at the best if a dealership is to attract and keep customers.

A dealer’s ‘shop window’ is now multi dimensional because their online presence has to be as engaging as their premises.

An increasing volume of car sales leads and aftersales business comes from internet searches and visits to dealers’ websites.

That’s just the beginning: impressions created for customers’ arrival at a dealership, either planned or as a drop in, need to be organized with attention to detail.

Clear directions to parking places come first. Then the all-important first impression that the dealership will look after their needs, from seeing sparkling cars on a clean and uncluttered forecourt to the display of all the services offered.

Once on the premises, customers have to be retained.

Most do not want to have to go searching for somewhere else to book car services or to arrange minor bodywork repairs.

Care in displaying forecourt information showing that the dealership offers SMART repairs, MoTs, valeting, Motability vehicles and all that a car user needs is step one.

A motor retail consultant said: “In the end, it all comes down to the dealer principal.

They have to set a high standard and find the energy and determination to see that it is maintained.

“That’s not easy because the weakest link in the team can let you down.

So it’s essential that every day, come what may, the dealership is kept clean and looks inviting.”

Advisers to motor retailers say that getting the formula right now will help to maintain profitability during the recession, and pave the way to raising it when the economy picks up.

One said: “Dealers who come through this difficult time will learn a lot. The most enterprising realized from the start that retail buyers’ reluctance to commit to a new car creates a revenue potential through higher aftersales business.

“Autumn is the time for dealers to raise their game in using forecourt displays to inform customers they should now be making sure older cars are fit for the winter.”

There are other ways to be enterprising.

One is arrange events that will pull in potential customers who might otherwise never step through the door, or to transfer a dealership’s ‘shop window’ to another venue.

RRG Bolton has been one of many dealerships to profit by inviting existing or potential customers to a weekend event that focuses on a new model.

Or, as Gordon Lamb did, by investing in a themed event at a country inn that introduced drivers to car models they might otherwise never have considered.


Events such as these raise the morale of dealership teams, who must though keep on top of day-to-day essentials.

These include ensuring forecourt stock is clean inside and out.

Potential buyers want to feel they could drive away a displayed car as it is, so any bodywork and windscreen damage on forecourt vehicles, however minor, must be repaired.

Forecourts enable dealers to display free advertisements – retail finance deals, warranty offers and mileage check information on the vehicles should be clearly displayed.

All references to the name of the dealership need to be consistent so that people browsing associate the company strongly with the high standards they should be absorbing.

Car manufacturers insist on their names being displayed properly and the link to the people customers will talk to should be made in their minds.

Dealers also have to keep their focus on many things that might appear to be trivial, although they are key to the overall impression created at a dealership.

If balloons are used to bring colour and life to a forecourt, then they need to be properly inflated and look attractive.

Promotional banners and flags should have clear and punchy messages, be bright and not be damaged.

If barriers are essential to restrict movement of vehicles or people for safety reasons, then they have to look professional and not tatty.

Not everyone visiting a forecourt will be able to walk easily, and to them areas free from oddments are a safety requirement, not merely something pleasing to the eye.

In autumn and winter, good lighting is essential to that visitors can see all that the dealership has to offer and to reduce the chances of someone falling over and injuring themselves.

Ramps can be a useful way to display cars but it is important that they do not create any form of potential hazard for people walking round them or standing nearby.

When a dealership is closed for the night it needs to be left in a secure state but in a way they does not deter people who want to look at cars.

Lighting gives them a chance to see what is on offer and encourage them to return in daylight. It also helps to keep the premises secures until they open again.

More may be needed, especially in urban areas. Investment in security systems cuts the chances of theft or damage and is likely to reduce insurance costs.


Supplier views

  • Flagpole Express specialises in the production of flags and flagpoles.

With 24 years’ experience, we design and fabricate all of our own products.

All of the items we offer are designed specifically for your type of business.

We are certain they will enhance your forecourt and catch the eye of potential customers, says Shaun Bowmer, Flagpole Express managing director.

It’s why so many businesses turn to Flagpole Express for their promotional needs.

  • Is it important to keep a forecourt up to date with point-of-sale displays?

Rob Walker, sales director of Portfolio, says: “Corporate branding is an essential part of a motor dealer’s sales and marketing strategy.

"Without up-to-date display material, a dealership could look like a car park to passing potential customers.

"During a recession, dealers also need to work harder to secure sales. Keeping advertising display looking fresh can help achieve those crucial new sales.”

  • The best way to sell a product such as Diamondbrite is by mentioning it as soon as possible, says Lance Boseley, Diamondbrite sales and marketing director.

This can be done at the part-exchange appraisal.

However, often the best time to sell paint protection is during the period between order and delivery.

The sales person needs to ask if they want the standard prep or the Diamondbrite protection with its lifetime guarantee on paint and fabric.

We also need to offer it to every customer.


Websites and showrooms

Leads from its website produce a small proportion of sales for Norfolk’s Dingles Group.

But John Dingle, managing director, insisted its online presence is handled with the same professionalism as the personal welcome for visitors to his showrooms.

“We recognise that emails demand a response within an hour, and this is what we do.

“This is important, even though I can trace only 5% of our sales directly to the website.

“Even so, our website is our second ‘shop window’ and it is likely to become increasingly important, even in rural Norfolk.”

Weekends away

Making the forecourt mobile through weekend events out of town can be a valuable way of building relationships with existing customers and attracting new ones.

Gordon Lamb staged one with a green theme. Stuart Pearce, marketing manager, said: “We sold eco-cars to people who otherwise would probably not have been aware of what they offered.

"Customers concerned about being pounced on in a showroom feel much more comfortable at events like these.”

The group took eco-friendly derivatives from six franchises to the Peak District, and entertained 150 guests, 70% not existing customers.

There were more than 230 test drives and several sales.

Pearce said: “It gave us good access to potential new business.”

Costs were kept low by sending invitations with the group’s quarterly customer newsletter.

The only investment was £250 per franchise, which it has already recovered.

Specialist services

Specialist services play an important role for dealers.

Promoting them on the forecourt adds interest for customers and shows that the dealership provides more than sales, servicing and repairs.

Typical is SMART repairs. Since 2004, Revive! has developed a network of 54 repair franchisees and 80 technicians around the UK.

Mark Llewellyn, managing director of Revive!, said the company aims to generate 50% of its franchisees’ work through national accounts within five years. It already works with Fiat and Alfa Romeo.




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