The more laid-back car buyers become, the happier Andrew Howells is likely to be.He plans to get rich and idle people are exactly what he needs to help him along.
Need a new car but can’t be bothered to get off the sofa? Fancy a car advertised by a dealer in Glasgow, but really can’t summon up the energy to make the journey. Quite OK, sir.
Howells loves these people. They are not always idle, it must be said. Sometimes they are simply busy. Some are just plain canny. Car purchase, after all, is very often no more than a whim. If you have one already, getting another car can be more of an inconvenience than a pleasure.
What usually decides a car deal one way or the other is the viewing. Comparative pricing will have been done online and a telephone call may have established whether the dealer is amenable to haggle or not. The standard attributes and specification of the car will have been checked out.
But clapping eyes on the car is something that is hard to do in any way other than making the journey. The effort involved is often more than the instant-gratification generation can cope with.
That’s a difficulty Howells reckons he can remove from the process. In his book, the dealer does not have to get the prospect to cross the threshold of the dealership. He can just show him the car on the telly. And if the customer wants more, or better, or more detailed visual information, the salesman-cum-cameraman changes the camera angle, zooms in, and shows as much detail as the viewer wants to see. He also gives a running commentary through his headset.
One incident that led Howells to be sure that he was on to something, involved an older couple who wanted a particular Honda, but did not want to get involved with the local dealer. Eventually, on the internet, they found a car 250 miles away that was just the job.
“The gentleman was probably thinking he did not really want to travel that distance but that he might. The people at Honda Holdcroft had our equipment and they offered to show the customer a live video broadcast of the car. The couple sat together on the sofa in the front room of their home and watched it for 20 minutes.”
They liked the car and the price and were very impressed with the service. When the garage offered to deliver the car and take away the part-exchange the deal was done.
Howells’ objective is to sell camera and video equipment to car dealers, train the staff who will use it and store the results so that the same viewings of the same cars do not have to be recorded over and over again.
There is some ‘techy stuff’ that has to be mastered, but this is all built into the kit that is handed over in exchange for a £1,250 cheque. The compression technology that allows for storage of live broadcasts over the internet is all embedded in the cable that links the small camera to a netbook computer carried in a shoulder bag.
“Live video is very powerful because as the customer you have control over what you want the salesman to show you, says Howells.
“It’s counter-intuitive marketing for salesmen because he is being asked to highlight the faults rather the shiny bits. But this helps to build trust with the customer. That is not something that can be done with photographs.”
Howells’ company is Zype TV Ltd. His car business brand is C It Now. That is the logo that dealers stamp alongside the image of a car on their website when there is an accompanying video.
He now has 26 dealers subscribing to a service which films the cars and then hooks a sharp video to the picture of the car on the dealer website.
Howells likes to think that the whole industry is heading in that direction. Where now there is a still picture on Autotrader, there really should be a short video that highlights the car’s virtues and detriments, he says.
Autoquake became a trendsetter in that respect when it set up as an independent fleet-car reseller, and uploaded as many as 24 pictures of each car, including one for each
VW in Crewe had an interesting experience with a woman who wanted a Golf. She was offered a red one which had exactly the spec. Except, she would not have red. But the salesman asked her to take a quick look at it anyway. The video was streamed to her office computer just a short distance away and because of the novelty, her colleagues all crowded round. “They all said it was lovely,” said Howells. “Peer pressure won the day. She bought it.”
“The idea is now extending to the workshop. The camera can look at the computerised health check or listen to the service manager describe an issue that needs fixing. Seeing is believing.”
Carshop – the supermarket group with four sites around the country, is the biggest user of C It Now. It is currently loading 100 videos a month to its sites.
From oil industry geologist to automotive video entrepreneur
Andrew Howells’ life in video started 20 years ago after false starts as a geologist in the oil industry and in retail repping.
He worked for Sony with their broadcast equipment and got involved with Barclays on
residential conferencing in country houses. It was when the time saving of video conferencing was beginning to take a grip because laser disc technology was allowing quick referencing of key parts of the discussions.
He then worked with Videologic which was making PCBs that managed video for viewing on PCs. He became a video-conferencing provider through Metro-Video and worked for Martin Sorrell at WPP in New York.
He has been waiting a while to turn his experience into a structured business. He is now convinced by his experience so far – particularly through the partnership with Honda – that C It Now is something that will flourish.
There are 26 subscribers. Once that number doubles, he has very attractive economics. After that, who knows. But if there were to be a knock on the door in a few years time that allowed him to take the big reward for 20 years of specialising and innovation, he might just do it.
A volume sensitive business
C It Now is a volume sensitive business. There is no profit from sales of the camera hardware. That is passed through at cost.
Revenue kicks in with a £250 a month charge for the storage, cataloguing and management of the videos. On-site training is offered at £500 a day “from morning till dusk”. Training days are also run at Warwick University at £120 a head. In addition, there is income from broadband capacity reselling.
“Once we have been on site the business goes through a real cultural shift. You have got to make people confident so that they form the habit of using video.”
Some of the knock-backs received while prospecting amuse Howells. His favourite is: ‘I don’t think our sales people would be capable of doing that.’
“You have to wonder what their people are doing in sales if they can’t answer customer questions. Holding a camera in one hand while you speak is hardly rocket science,” he says.