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Opinion: Plan and prepare to turbocharge April 12 car showroom reopenings

Fraser Brown, managing director, MotorVise

We have a date. There is an end in sight. Lockdown 3 trading for car dealers will end on April 12. 

We can now begin to plan and consider what happens next....and plan we must if we wish to return to business with a bang. 

With many dealers down on profit year to date, having lost at least a quarter of the year, there are questions we must address over the coming weeks. 

How can we ensure dealerships open in a managed way to guarantee we are not only busy, but also not missing opportunities?  

How can we maximise profitability and make certain we are looking after customers and getting fantastic customer outcomes?

Bounce back

Managing demand when we return to business is going to be critical. 

It’s hard to predict what will happen. Demand after the first lock down was strong. However, in direct contrast after the second lock down it was weak. 

Unprecedented times, rumours of repetitive national lockdowns for unknown periods of time and talks of job losses brought about a more hesitant attitude amongst most with regard to spending.

This time, with a more cautious approach to lockdown restrictions being lifted, the vaccine being offered to most by the summer and the widespread optimism that the end of restrictions are in sight for good by June, I think it is going to be critical to be able to manage demand. 

There is going to be a very interesting few months ahead for businesses and those dealerships that tackle this head on and think 'I’m going to manage this and maximise the opportunity' will do well.

Those who sit back and allow it to be an accident of who walks through the door and have a 'let's just see what happens' attitude will suffer.

When the doors reopen its going to be essential to ensure we are maximising conversion ratios, profit per unit and customer satisfaction.

We will only get one chance dealing with the customers who have been researching and waiting and waiting to come and test drive a car. If we don’t make a good first impression and provide an amazing sales experience we will lose customers in the process or lose out on finance and add on profit opportunities. 

With sales staff furloughed and part time or team members fully furloughed, getting them refreshed and re engaged with face to face sales is going to be imperative, and right from the word go. 

Some sales staff will be disengaged and in need of re-motivating, others may be over enthusiastic and desperate to do deals, but unpolished and clumsy in their interaction resulting in them filtering customers and rushing the sales experience and missing people or profit opportunities.

As we are allowed to train staff whilst on furlough, surely this is something that we should be embracing with open arms...let's prepare and let's do it now before it’s too late and the customers are lost to the dealers who did think ahead.

Running face-to-face online training to re-engage the team and ensure they are not only focused but also fully refreshed on your structured customer experience framework is going to be critical to maximising profitability and customer satisfaction right from the first day back trading.

Be realistic

Customer demand is an unknown to a degree. Will we be over run and struggling to manage social distancing in the showrooms with salespeople burning customers? 

Perhaps customers won’t come flocking in with their lockdown savings burning a hole in their pockets. 

What is certain is that every eventuality needs to be carefully considered and planned and prepared for. 

Will we need to stimulate demand and engage our customer database? 

One thing is for sure if I was a dealer principle right now I would not want to say to my regional director 'I don’t know but let’s see what happens'.

Planning for success is going to be critical rather than being a victim of what unfolds. 

Dealerships need a delayed Q1 profit boost to turbocharge performance as we open and managing customer demand is going to be key. 

Engaging your customer database and inviting them in before the general public, on an appointment only basis is going to be important. 

Similarly, ensuring you have a self-managing appointment system to stagger appointments to provide every customer with an experience that maximises the likelihood of attendance and then purchase rather than a rushed experience where sales people are juggling customers is going to be important to guarantee we make the most of this much anticipated reopening. 

So, if demand is strong, we need to manage it. If demand is weak, we need to stimulate it. Either way well-managed customer events are going to be critical to ensuring profit success as we reopen dealerships.

Marketing the business aggressively in the run up to reopening will be key to ensuring customers consider buying a car rather than a holiday for example.

Critically marketing makes certain that they want to buy from you, not another more proactive dealer or brand. 

Engaging your customer directly as we reopen will clearly give you a massive advantage over less proactive dealerships who might sit back and wait and do nothing. 

Embrace the opportunity

Now is not the time to be apathetic...embrace this grand and final reopening with energy and excitement and then sit back and watch what happens as a result of this marketing.

Another advantage of running an event for reopening is knowing exactly how many appointments you will have for your sales team so you can un-furlough the right number of sales people and as mentioned already get them prepared and engaged as soon as they come back in. 

You need your people at the top of their game from the beginning.

Will your dealership reopening be a victim of fate or a fantastic profit boost for the business? 

With a re-engaged sales team, all in the business busy with customer appointments, maximising the opportunities following great sales training, managed flows of customers through appointment management systems and no opportunities getting burnt...how could it go wrong?

Plan now and prepare for a fantastically profitable reopening of car dealerships on the April 12.

Author: Fraser Brown, managing director, MotorVise

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