By Tony Willard
Challenge Lusky’ was part of a management plan that transformed a failing Suzuki dealership in Leeds into one of the brand’s top three for sales and aftersales.
Through a blend of business experience and new ideas, Robin Luscombe, previously a director at Appleyard, also took Most Improved Company at AM Awards 2012.
AM Awards auditors and the judges were both impressed by ‘Challenge Lusky’, which confronted one of motor retail’s most troublesome challenges: the lost customers who walk away from showrooms.
After buying the dealership in 2009 and opening it in July the following year, Luscombe commissioned some market research to find out why the business had been a flop. He wanted to know exactly what Leeds’ car buyers liked – and didn’t like – about the car buying sales process at the business, so that he could revive it.
The business had routinely failed to meet Suzuki’s targets and managed a used car profit per unit of a mere £200. The dealership earned very little from add-ons and there was a massive turnover of staff. Bold action was needed.
Luscombe’s approach was both simple and effective: customers would be able to rely on straight-talking staff, and managers would come out of their offices to spend time with them.
The judges were impressed with the ‘Challenge Lusky’ initiative. Anyone who visited the business and did not buy anything received a postcard from Luscombe, asking: “You’ve come this far, so why didn’t you go the whole way?”.
This encouraged customers to return to Luscombe Suzuki Leeds in the hope of winning a better deal – and it gave the business a chance to convert a walk-away into a lasting customer.
Luscombe wanted to personalise the business process. To introduce himself to people as the dealer principal he made sure that his phone number was included in all advertising.
These strategies worked and return on investment over his first three years of heading the business was up on the previous three. The business managed a return on sales of 7.6% in the first four months of 2011. Over the same period the business nearly doubled its parts business to a monthly turnover of £70,000, while retaining a 19% gross profit margin.
Luscombe Suzuki was soon over-achieving its manufacturer’s targets and a 62% increase in sales in Q3 2011 took it up to 314% of target. It hit its target of 800 sales of new and used cars in 2011 and total sales had passed 1,500 by the time of the MSX International audit.
The auditor who surveyed the business said the improvements had been achieved by Luscombe’s focus and attention.
“His personality comes across in the way the site operates, with all staff sharing a drive to succeed,” he said. “This seems apparent from the financial figures produced when compared to the previous ownership.
“Having to work with less workshop capacity than the previous owner has not stopped the improvements being achieved. In fact workshop labour rates and sales have increased.”
MSX International’s auditor noted that Luscombe’s ambitions for improving the performance of his business was based on awareness of the local marketplace, the strengths of the Suzuki brand in various segments and demographic counts.
But Luscombe combined this with his own ideas with a view to the business being structured to meet a set of objectives over the medium term.
Building a rapport
He favoured changing the sales process to focus on customer needs rather than brand methodology. This was to enable staff to build a rapport with customers rather than just taking details.
In his report the auditor commented: “This was very evident from customers entering the dealership at the time of the review.
“As part of the philosophy, the change was to make use of basic processes and do them well. One reason was to remove ‘E-good manners’ and return to paper systems to help promote customer interaction.”
The auditor added that staff were engaged in the business, with Luscombe sending them a weekly group text showing all performance figures from each department.
“After speaking to a few of the staff at the dealership I noticed a definite feeling of involvement,” he added.
“People working there are allowed to make decisions for themselves. Under the previous ownership there were 15 staff changes in the sales department over three to four years.
“Since Robin Luscombe took over there have been only three losses – a service adviser, a technician and a salesman. There are 15 permanent members of staff including eight new appointments.”