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How to prepare for the plate change challenge

Make the most of the September plate change by planning for the rush.

It’s essential that cashflow is maintained, marketing activity is under way and enquiries are handled smoothly to optimise footfall.

Maintaining cashflow

Managing cash during the plate change dates is crucial, as the implications for dealers if a manufacturer direct debit is missed can be critical with a loss of confidence leading to potential supply restrictions, cars being returned and cash trading being imposed.

One dealer from AM’s forum admitted that cashflow is a problem at this time of year: “Cashflow is always an issue when the plate changes come around.

"I have a good relationship with my bank manager who allows me to have an additional amount on top of my overdraft facility for the March and September spikes.”

Malcolm Thixton, partner at BDO Stoy Hayward, said: “Throughout this period dealers need to conserve cash wherever they can by running down used car stocks in anticipation of part-exchanges, ensuring credit control is running efficiently and, where possible, stretching credit from suppliers.

“Detailed cashflow projections on a daily basis will need to be maintained and updated and used to inform finance providers, in particular your bank if an overdraft is operated.

"Banks will normally allow extension of overdraft limits for up to a two-month period around this time to allow for the significant swings that are sure to occur.”

Thixton advised dealers to approach manufacturers to see what support they can provide, in particular in paying bonus monies promptly (or even in advance) and, where appropriate, whether property rents can be paid monthly rather than quarterly.

“Finally consider approaching the Inland Revenue for possible extensions of time to pay VAT under the current deferral scheme they are operating,” he added.


Websites should be updated with strong, well thought-out offers.

For example, August 1999 plates will qualify for scrappage now so bear this in mind when promoting products online.

Placing a countdown banner on your site creates a sense of urgency as well as keeping customers informed of how long they have to get a new plated vehicle, said Mediahawk marketing manager Jane Peters.

If you haven’t kept the content fresh on your website with relevant “new plate” and “special offers” text that Google can index then your competitors will get a higher ranking in Google search results.

Stewart Niblock, Autotorq chief operating officer, said: “It is worth remembering that around 70% of click-throughs resulting from a Google search go to the top three unsponsored links.

“So, if you are slipping to sixth or seventh on search returns, then around 90% of click-throughs are going to your competitors.”

Making good use of a cleansed database is another important marketing tool.

A database should be separated into two areas: people who have bought from you and those who have enquired, but not bought.

Ask your manufacturer for a local database – they may have warm leads. If you have email addresses, send a series of emails building up to the plate change, giving customers a reason to come in or call you, said Peters.

Niblock added: “The benefits from sending out highly targeted, personalised and fully-branded emails can be huge.

"But regardless of how good it looks and how well you have segmented your database, it means nothing if most of the recipients don’t open it.

“Just changing a few simple words in the subject line can make huge differences to the open rates.

"Put yourself in the prospect’s shoes and ask if the words in the subject line are relevant (in terms of new plate deals) and compelling enough to make you open it.

"Think like a customer, not a dealer.”

Other marketing includes competitions and events.

Make sure you invite local press to cover events, make it child friendly, have lots of giveaways and promotional material at the ready and make sure you capture leads by having plenty of sales people to talk to customers.

The main focus of all marketing activity should be to get in front of your buyers by delivering a consistent message and branding throughout all campaigns online and offline, added Peters.

Customer experience

During the plate change period, it’s easy to replace good customer service with other pressing matters like the influx of cars and enquiries.

Paul Cleverly, sales director of Complete Automotive Solutions, said it’s important there are enough customer-facing staff to deal with new clients.

“It’s good practice to not allow too many sales people to hand over cars at the same time.

"When you don’t control handover it’s very easy to have half your sales people handing over cars.

"Then the new customers coming in have a terrible experience.”

Cleverly suggests introducing a diary to organise this.

Space on site can also be a problem is there is a higher volume of part- exchanges and cars awaiting handover.

“You need to be focused on getting part-exchanges off site as soon as possible. If you’ve got a space restricted site it is worth putting somebody outside to make sure customers can actually park,” said Cleverly.

He added that it’s easy to lose focus during this time: “You’ve got to sell cars in October and November as well. Enquiry management should be as important as any other time of the year.

“Sometimes people outsource prospecting during September to take the load off.”

But Vauxhall dealer group Thurlby Motors does not use extra resources during the plate change.

Managing director Chris Roberts said staff are aware they need to work harder when it is busy.

The business doesn’t change the way it operates, but its staff, as a rule, contact people out of hours to get the most from prospecting.

It is, however, refocusing on prospecting to ensure it is targeted at customers with cars aged around two years and nine months. 

Market: pay-per-click campaigns

If you want to stand out from your competitors, you need something unique, especially with pay-per-click, says Tim Smith, commercial director at ecommerce company G-Forces.

The way the listings appear, you only have a small space to grab attention. Within this, your pricing needs to be the most competitive it can be.

Having a specific landing page to the listed offers works far better than just driving a customer to your website, said Smith.

“Someone who has put in search terms about the plate change has already sifted out all the needless clutter and wants to go through to something that gives them
detailed info.”

Their decision-making is driven by relevance and convenience, a dealer will receive the best conversions by having a landing page.

On this page, there should be a dedicated number to take full advantage of the pay-per-click campaign.

Smith added: “The showroom has to be geared up around these pushes.”

Sales staff should be made aware of pay-per-click campaigns so they are familiar with offers and can convert these enquiries into sales.


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