TrustFord chairman and chief executive Stuart Foulds is targeting greater immediacy in the car buying process in a bid to “differentiate” the business from its AM100 rivals.
The former managing director of the Evans Halshaw Ford Group admits that he considered retirement before the offer came in to lead the Ford-owned AM100 retail group but is now keen to drive change in rapid fashion – launching series of products under TrustFord Now branding.
Fresh from taking the stage at the AM Awards 2018, where TrustFord won the Best Digital Campaign award for its ‘Fiestaval’ marketing event, said that a promise that customers will be able to drive away a new or used car from their chosen TrustFord branch within one hour (Take Me Home Now) or have an out-of-stock vehicle delivered from another location by 5pm the next day (Bring It To Me Now) were central to the concept which aims to inject new levels of convenience to the purchasing process.
And Foulds said that he even has plans to reciprocate the TrustFord Now model in the 61-site group’s aftersales departments – delivering while-you-wait servicing to walk-in customers “on spec”.
“Traditionally a customer goes into a dealership and it takes seven, 10, 14 days to get it delivered,” said Foulds.
“In a world where the likes of AO and Amazon will do same day delivery people expect things to move more quickly and that is now something we are driving very hard and will be pushing through television and other marketing channels during 2018.”
Foundations in fleet
TrustFord sold 45,000 fleet vehicles and 30,000 retail in 2017 and is driving growth in business-use vehicles hard after a successful first year for its 22-acre PDI and vehicle storage facility at Long Marston, near Stratford.
It is this fleet knowhow that has leveraged the group’s ability to deliver its new and used cars to customers so swiftly, according to Foulds.
“All the cars we have on our sites are PDI’d and ready to go. That is the key to TrustFord Now. There are no scratches that might need touching up or valeting needs doing. If you see it, it’s ready to go.”
Foulds said that customers would need to bring proof of identification and other documentation to a dealership to make such a rapid transaction possible, but said that the introduction of online finance to TrustFord’s website over the next two to three weeks would help get part of the process underway before a customer and sales executive sit-down together.
Less detail was forthcoming about how the capacity to facilitate “on-spec” servicing might be achieved, but efficiencies and convenience are already being driven by a fleet of 17 mobile servicing vans operated by the group.
Foulds said: “Visiting a dealership to have your car serviced is not a pleasurable experience. It’s not exciting and you know you’re going to have to spend money.
“We have to make it as comfortable and stress free as possible and there has to be a way of delivering on-spec servicing. We have to be able to do it. This is where franchised retailers are losing out to the fast-fits.”
Taking the helm
Foulds took the helm at TrustFord after predecessor Steve Hood headed to Shanghai to take the post of vice-president of sales, Asia Pacific.
He said that he was enticed to “spread his wings” after 20 years at Evans Halshaw by the lure of a new challenge at a manufacturer-owned retail group, although he concedes the relationship between brand and business is as an “arms length” partner.
Foulds said: “The group has been traditionally run by a manufacturer and I came in very much as a retail man. That’s what was expected of me and that was one of the things that really appealed.
“Things were a bit slow and institutionalised and my focus is really on bringing the business to life.”
In growth terms, TrustFord’s fleet operations have allowed it to achieve strong results during 2017, despite a downturn in used car volumes.
Foulds told AM that the group’s turnover had risen by 6% to £1.75 billion during the year (2016: £1.63 billion).
As well as the productivity of its retail sites, Foulds said that Trust First parts centres contributed an average of £10 million worth of sales each month.
A return on sale figure of just 0.75% in 2017 was a reflection of the group’s exposure to large volumes of low margin fleet business, however, and Foulds has encouraged his team to strip-out business and retail RoS figures in a bid to target growth.
Foulds told AM that he wanted to see a 3% RoS figure achieved by the retail side of the business.
In January TrustFord completed the sale of its sites in Woodford Green, Walthamstow, Enfield and Potters Bar to Gates Ford for an undisclosed sum, reducing the TrustFord network to 61 sites.
Foulds said: “We had a very strong foothold in London and we took a strategic decision.
“It’s a big financial undertaking to operate a dealership within the M25 and we still have a big presence there.”
The acquisition by Gates Ford will have injected funds into TrustFord at a time when it is continuing its investment in its retail sites.
“There has already been big investment in sites like Epsom and that will continue in 2018,” said Foulds.
“We are in the process of investing in the Staines site, in London, and also at Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, which a really upcoming spot for car retail. Both those sites will open in Q3 this year and will take us to 13 Ford Stores in the group.”