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Roadmap to recovery: a staggered return to trading or double hit of opportunity’?

The phased easing of COVID-19 ‘Lockdown 3’ could deliver a staggered recovery for car retail or a double whammy of opportunity for dealerships across the UK, it has been suggested.

While many dealers and car manufacturers have fixed the focus on April 12 showroom reopenings in England and an April 5 return to customer showroom visits by appointment in Scotland, May 17 could bring the change of lifestyle that prompts motorists to get back into their cars.

If Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s road to recovery goes to plan, mid-May could see the reopening of hotels, B&Bs and hospitality venues and greater freedom to gather in groups of less than 30 outdoors.

And while Arnold Clark chief executive, Eddie Hawthorne, told AM that freedom of movement north of the border was the key to unlocking trade proper, RTC Automotive chief operating officer Richard Robinson believes the return of greater freedoms will bring a surge in both car sales and aftersales opportunity.

Robinson said: “With pent-up spending demand rising and overseas holidays still considered a risky expense in light of the global coronavirus situation, it is likely that the great British Staycation will enjoy a renaissance in 2021.

RTC Automotive chief operating officer Richard Robinson

“This brings a real opportunity for dealerships to maximise aftersales opportunities by checking work deferred records and proactively contacting customers who have put off expensive repair and maintenance costs while in lockdown.

“With a semblance of normality returning and vehicles more likely to be in use again, customers will be more likely to approve deferred work.

“Having this carried out as lockdown eases will ensure vehicles remain safe and roadworthy as large sections of the economy reopen on May 17.”

Robinson also makes the point that the opening of showrooms and the return of physical customers brings opportunities throughout dealership businesses.

He said that those who can offer a joined-up and seamless customer journey are the ones that will benefit the most.

Robinson added: “We’re all rightly excited about re-opening showrooms on April 12, but May 17 potentially brings even more opportunities to dealers as further restrictions are lifted and people begin to get out and about again.

“The increasing popularity of staycations as the only risk-free holiday choice means dealers can also maximise accessory sales and promote tow bars, roof racks and other such products.

“By connecting these departments and offering a seamless customer journey, dealerships can get back on track and recoup some of the losses incurred throughout the past 12 months.”

Arnold Clark CEO Eddie HawthorneSpeaking to AM last week, Hawthorne suggested that Arnold Clark was taking a pragmatic approach to its return from lockdown, stating that the coronavirus pandemic would not simply “go away” in mid-April.

But while he said the Arnold Clark business had been performing “very well” during March, he suggested the market’s strength may not fully return until May, when free movement is once again permitted in Scotland.

Hawthorne said: “The geography of the country is such that many people do travel to buy a car.”

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