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Rockar to sell cars at Next stores following Manchester Arndale Centre collaboration

Rockar on the high street: Next's store at the Arndale Centre in Manchester city centre

Cars will be sold alongside clothing and homeware at Next stores after omni-channel vehicle retail specialist Rockar announced its first collaboration with the high street name at the Manchester Arndale shopping centre.

Visitors to Manchester’s busy city centre shopping attraction will walk through a car showroom-style motor retail space upon entering the Next store from the neighbouring bus and train stations when the two sector specialists come together for the first time at the end of March.

While the car manufacturer which will be offering cars for sale in the Next store has yet to be announced – Rockar said that it was not one of its existing partners Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover or Mitsubishi – it was confirmed that this could be the first step to introducing car retail to more of Next’s 500 UK-wide stores.

In an interview with AM, Rockar founder Simon Dixon said: “Next and many other high street brands are experiencing the same issue as traditional car retailers at the moment. More people are going online to buy from them yet the cost of operating high street stores remains high.

Simon Dixon, founder of Rockar“I know the Next business has been speaking to many like-minded retailers with an eye to widen the appeal of their high street stores and offer another attraction for consumers, and I’m proud that we have been acknowleged as one of those businesses and can bring automotive retail right into the high street as a result.”

Shopping for cars

Rockar opened its first shopping centre-based car store with Hyundai Motors in 2014 when it added a retail location at Kent’s Bluewater shopping centre and added a second location with the South Korean brand at Westfield, in Stratford, in December 2015.

A Jaguar Land Rover operation followed, a showroom and neighbouring aftersales facility opening its doors at Westfield in September 26.

All car manufacturer also adopted Rockar’s online retail platform for new cars as part of the collaborations, which were followed with the announcement that Mitsubishi Motors in the UK would also be making use of the store and digital platform from the end of Q1, 2018.

Dixon would not disclose the identity of latest OEM partner to embrace his platform, which aims to bring car retail to high footfall shopping locations, but he said that it did mark an entry into new car online retail for the brand which shared Next’s “customer service focus”.

He also revealed that the Arndale-based collaboration would generate a far higher footfall for its new partner than its existing car store sites, which see an annual passing footfall of 89 million. He said: “Not only does our space within the Next store have a high visual impact from outside the store, with a full-length glass frontage, but everyone that enters the Arndale Centre through Next from the bus or train station will do so right through the middle of our retail space.

“While our area of the store will have the distinct look and branding of our new manufacturer partner there is no more to separate it from the rest of the Next store as there is diving menswear from womens wear.”

He added: “Looking at our own statistics for the stores we have at the moment in Bluewater and Westfield Stratford, we currently generate 180,000 to 250,000 visitors for our partner car manufacturers each year, but the Next store at the Arndale Centre is many multiples of that so we are positioning ourselves and our new car manufacturer partner in front of many, many more people.”

Dixon said he saw the Next collaboration as an opportunity to realise a plan to have 12 stores at top shopping centres across the UK, but added: “Next has 500 stores across the UK, so the opportunity for us is huge.”

Car retail groups on the high street

While Rockar’s the latest car store collaboration is with another car manufacturer, Dixon said that the new model could also deliver a way of enabling car retail group’s to gain a presence on the high street.

Asked whether Rockar might be able to deliver high street retail space to traditional retailers in future. He said: “Our strategy has always been about enabling change. Just as we want dealers to embrace our online platform, we would like to think we can become an enabler in this area as well.”

Rockar’s latest venture will follow its existing model of teaming up with a car manufacturer. However, Dixon said that the site is being developed to integrate with the as yet unnamed brand’s local retail network.

Although able to sell cars, it will generate leads for nearby sites and will not have an aftersales function.

Test drives will be available from the Arndale Centre’s nearby multi-storey car park.

Rockar is currently recruiting for the equivalent of 18 full-time staff (some positions are likely to be part-time) to man the new facility.

Dixon said: “The automotive retail sector and retail as a whole is right at the heart of a dramatic period of change and to be right at the heart of that change is extremely exciting.

“This really is a landmark moment for the Rockar business.”

Rockar is celebrating its three-year anniversary with plans to roll-out it online retail platform to franchised car retailers
Hyundai was the business' first manufacturer partner. The brand's chief executive Tony Whitehorn (left) is pictured with Rockar founder Dixon here
Rockar hailed the Hyundai Bluewater store as a "massive success"
Jaguar Land Rover were next to partner with Rockar, opening a store at Westfield to accompany its online retail offering
Visitors can visit the store to test drive and dicuss potential purchases but Dixon said premium buyers seem keener to transact online
Simon Dixon is critical of many online sales offerings available in the automotive sector and hopes to grow the influence of Rockar's platform with retailers across the UK

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