Taking a lead in Europe
UK fleet bosses may not know it but they have a distinct advantage over their European counterparts when it comes to using main dealers to source or service their company cars.
By and large dealers get a bad rap. Sometimes it is brought upon themselves; quite often through a member of staff’s failure to deliver an acceptable level of customer care, sometimes through a wider breakdown in processes and systems. The trouble is one bad experience can taint perceptions which become tough to shift.
Recent years have seen the best dealer businesses address their approach to customer care head-on through training programmes and by looking outside car retailing to adapt best practices from other sectors. Talk to any boss of a car manufacturer or dealer group and they will say how they look to firms such as John Lewis Partnership businesses and Apple to see just how customer care can be delivered.
The best UK dealers are constantly looking at ways of improving what they do to take the pain out of the buying and servicing experience. The disadvantage dealers face, compared with many of the companies they aspire to, is they need to be able to manage distress purchases. Never the easiest of situations.
A new generation of increasingly professional managers have come into the sector with a clear idea of what fleet and retail customers expect and, importantly, how to deliver it.
Having spent a good deal of time in car showrooms in the US, China and Europe, I always suspected that our dealers were punching above their weight; that view has been confirmed after a talk with Tim Tozer, the CEO of AutoBinck, the Netherlands-based car distributor and retailer.
Tozer’s a high flying Brit with an impressive track record in the automotive industry, best known here as a former managing director of Mazda, where he helped put the Japanese brand on fleet lists back in the late 1990s. He started his career in Rover Group’s fleet department, was a director of Inchcape and ran Chrysler in France before heading up Mitsubishi across Europe.
Having worked across fleet, retailing and car distribution he knows his stuff. His current job gives him a unique insight into how cars are brought to market and sold in Benelux and the emergent central European markets where AutoBinck often operates as both importer and retailer.
Having spent half his working life in Europe, Tozer is in no doubt that when it comes to the delivery of consistently high levels of professional services, British dealers knock the rest of the continent into a cocked hat.
Tozer reckons a certain Corsican, making a disparaging remark about the British 200 years ago, was actually spot-on.
‘Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers; we are sales people and marketeers, we do run businesses with that in mind.’
Tozer firmly believes the UK’s tradition for retailing innovation gives our dealers a competitive edge, making them the envy of just about every European country, especially as car sales continue to rise here while freefalling across the continent.
‘When it comes to high street retailing the UK is renowned globally for its competitiveness and the way it brings brands to market and encourages people to open their wallets.
‘I work in the Netherlands and they are a nation of traders; they buy and sell and make a margin in between, that’s very different to the UK’s sales and marketing experience, with all the customer focus that goes with it. Continental dealers have a lot to learn from the UK,’ he said.
While UK dealers are still far from being uniformly excellent, they are much better than they were and the best of them aspire to be even better than they are now and that has got to be good news for fleets.