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Isuzu UK reaps rewards of alternative network approach

Isuzu UK and Subaru UK operations director William Brown

A shift away from large groups and plcs has paid dividends for an Isuzu UK dealer network formed largely of solus operators and agricultural specialists, according to operations manager William Brown.

Brown, who this week took up the post of Subaru UK operations manager alongside his current post with the Japanese pick-up brand imported to the UK by the Midlands-based IM Group, praised the philosophy behind the 106-strong Isuzu network during an interview with AM at the CV Show in Birmingham.

“We’ve been working hard to really establish the network for five or six years now and I think we have reached a point where it’s a stable set-up,” he said, adding that the only remaining open points were in the south east.

“We took the philosophy that we would rather have the right people as franchisees than those with the best facilities.

“Around seven years ago we decided to move away from the traditional franchise format of ‘we have a car dealership here, why not just bolt an Isuzu dealership onto the side’ and actually looked at where our key customer were going and really went at it with a clean sheet of paper.

“What we have ended up with is a lot of agricultural equipment dealers and former Land Rover sites.”

Brown told AM that he was pleased with the results of the change of focus, stating that many of Isuzu’s retailers have a focus on selling D-Max pick-ups which might not be the case if franchisees were used to trading in cars, with one eye on meeting their manufacturer’s volume targets.

One of the most successful recent additions to the Isuzu network in York Van Centre, which retailed 300 Isuzu D-Max pick-ups in 2016 and Brown put that down to his new partner’s level of focus on the brand.

Across its network, Isuzu sold almost 7,000 D-Max pick-ups in 2016, around 2,500 of which were the model unveiled at last year’s CV Show.

Brown praised the new vehicles levels of on-board technology but said that the brand was still focussed on a workmanlike appeal, keeping it away from lifestyle-focused rivals like the Volkswagen Amarok and planned newcomers from Renault and Mercedes-Benz.

He said that the key challenge for the IM Group in appointing franchisees for the brand – from areas away from the franchised dealer groups – had been training.

Finance regulations, fleet and leasing plans and the D-Max’s strengths all need to be second-nature to its dealers and the group has established a rigorous training programme.

Isuzu specialists spend a day with a new partner to brief its staff on the brand and its history.

A “pick-up professional” is then trained at IM’s headquarters during a residential training course, the process including an exam and the assessed presentation and “sale” of a D-Max to three very different types of potential customer in front of assessors.

Brown said that the training is comprehensive but added that Isuzu’s retailers do not tend to lose their pick-up professionals to larger franchised groups after establishing themselves as sales professional due to the nature of the businesses they inhabit.

He said: “I guess there might be a fear that sales people might leave after gaining such through training from us, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue.

“So many of our operators are owner-drivers that their relationship with their staff differs from that of a large group or plc, as it does with the customers.

“The relationships they form is a real strength of the network, I believe.”

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