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Arnold Clark's change of opinion on the value of 'product geniuses' brings all-round business boost

Arnold Clark chairman and chief executive Eddie Hawthorne

A reversal in the opinion of the value of ‘product geniuses’ by leading dealer group Arnold Clark has  proved transformational for the business.

Initial scepticism has been replaced with enthusiasm due to the product experts’ impact on customer satisfaction, sales, recruitment, retention and staff diversity.

Group managing director Eddie Hawthorne managers are now “clamouring for more product geniuses”.

But when BMW brought the idea to Arnold Clark, he was sceptical, seeing them as an unnecessary cost burden – and it quickly shelved the idea.

They came back on the agenda when Arnold Clark faced a recruitment challenge, posting an ad for sales executives in 2011 that got no applicants.

Hawthorne explained the areas the genies had improved the business:

Productivity. “Imagine a busy dealership on a Saturday afternoon,” he said. A product genie can be on a 40-minute test drive while a sales exec is with another customer. “We’re selling to two customers simultaneously, when that sales exec would’ve been tied to seeing one customer.” And the product genius will also know by the time they have finished the test drive if the customer is going to buy.” Hence they do all the group’s test drives.

Product geniuses are ready trained sales executives when they come to move on in the business, customer centric and product confident – 60% have now moved on to become sales executives.

Recruitment boost. “We put out a job ad for a sales exec in 2011 and got zero applications,” he said. “We knew we had a problem and revisited the product genius concept. We advertised for product geniuses and we got 150 because young people are interested in the product and the technology.”

Customers “love” product genies as they’re not being sold to, but informed about the car’s features. As such customer satisfaction levels have “gone through the roof”.

Retention. All but one of the product geniuses employed are still at Arnold Clark in other parts of the business. The one exception moved to Australia with his girlfriend. They are also loyal (paid a £18,000 salary and “very small” commission) because they’re not in a pressured environment and find dealing with people and learning about ‘tech’. Plus they are advocates for Arnold Clark.

Arnold Clark’s “gender problem”. Only 25% of the group’s staff are women - 52% of its customers are female. But 40% of the product geniuses are female, helping with gender balance and the understanding “women like to buy from women”.

Today, Hawthorne, sharing Arnold Clark’s experience at yesterday’s Trusted Dealers’ annual ‘Driving Digital' event, has about one genius for every four sales executives.

He wants that to move to one in three, bringing the total number in the business, which has nearly 11,000 staff, from 320 to more than 400 by the end of this year.

> Arnold Clark calls for more product geniuses

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