“In five years’ time all this will be gone.”
That’s a pretty powerful statement, by anyone’s standards.
What makes it even more weighty is that it was delivered by the head of the UK’s largest franchised dealer group, Pendragon, at AM’s Franchised Dealer Conference.
(To read this interview in our AMe digital magazine, click here)
A delegate in the audience had asked him about the impact of the internet on motor retail.
Six months on, Trevor Finn told AM he is amused that none of the delegates picked up on that statement.
As he describes it: “Everybody nodded gleefully and we moved on, as if that was all right.
“What I tried to say was the way we do things today won’t still be taking place, it won’t be happening – it will be gone. The way we sell new cars today will have gone.”
If a £3.6 billion turnover group with more than 250 franchised dealerships and employing 9,300 people can make such a prediction, that’s a signal to all motor retailers that they must move with the times.
“Over the last 20-odd years I’ve done this job, every single year it’s become tougher.
"So there’s absolutely no realistic possibility of that changing. Everything is faster, more competitive, more transparent.
“Whichever piece of the business you look at it’s got to be getting better in order to stand still, or you’ve got to be getting better to stand still.
"A lot of people miss that.
"From a leadership point of view if a lot of people are doing what they were doing five years ago, the way they did it five years ago, their output isn’t as great as it would have been five years ago.”
So Pendragon is changing. Gone are the days of massive acquisitions of the likes of Reg Vardy and CD Bramall.
Now the group has to grow its own. Finn believes its profitability can be doubled, even trebled, by improving what it already has and does.
He is pragmatic about the new car market – production schedules are set, cars will come, and the cars will get registered, he said.
“So for us it’s quite an easy thing to predict.
"The only thing that’s difficult to predict is do we make any margin, and do the car manufacturers make any margin on the cars they sell, and that’s the thing that moves around.
"But it’s not going to be any less competitive than last year.”
Used cars and aftersales
Like many franchised dealers, Finn sees the areas of used car sales and aftersales as key areas for growth.
Pendragon has invested significantly in technology and processes which it believes will bring benefits to a business of such considerable scale.
One example is its support centre at its Loxley House headquarters near Nottingham, which has 300 operatives.
Every call to any of Pendragon’s dealerships is initially received here before being directed to the relevant person at the requested dealership.
That’s a total of five million calls per year.
The team also makes two million outbound calls a year to customers about deferred work or due services and MoTs, and takes 750,000 in-bound service booking calls from customers, with the operative systematically alerted to any outstanding work which had been previously identified.
It has the technology to input appointments in real-time into every dealership’s DMS, and the process ensures that customers’ data is gathered in full and efficiently.
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