Magazine article Management Today

The Sharp End: Car Sales Crash Course

Magazine article Management Today

The Sharp End: Car Sales Crash Course

Article excerpt

Combing his Swiss Toni quiff, Dave Waller rattles round a Cornish forecourt.

With the car industry apparently heading for the scrapheap, it's time I gave this ailing sector a jump-start by selling a few motors. I can see it now: 'Check out the exhaust on that.' Then, vrooom! Eat my sales dust.

I'll be honing my spiel at Hawkins Motors, a Peugeot dealer in St Stephen, a Cornish backwater nestled, like a face in an airbag, in acres of farmland. The garage has been there 80 years, since WAJ Hawkins started selling petrol. Now a mini empire, it's still in the family, with grandson Johnny in charge.

Johnny is on the forecourt when I pull in, engaged in his natural activity: running around sorting stuff out. I spare him my Swiss Toni pearls of wisdom - 'Selling cars, Johnny, is like making love to a beautiful woman' - and ask him about business. 'Until late January we were flying,' he says. Things have slowed since then, but as Johnny runs off on his next mission, I sense it'd take more than a troubled economy to knock him into neutral.

I begin checking in new cars off the transporter with sales team Chris and Samantha. 'Pick a car,' says Chris. We make several trips in convoy, hopping into different motors, each with plastic sheets still on the seats. It feels a bit like joy-riding in a car owned by someone expecting a bladder-control crisis.

Things are quiet back in the showroom, so I talk to sales manager Dave Hancock. The big hurdle, he says, is customer expectations. Punters want 'buy-one-get-one-free' deals. But the margin on an pounds 8k car sale is a mere pounds 170. Dave describes the dealership as 'squeezed'. But that's more like inviting four hitchhiking elephants for a ride in your mini.

Dave tells me how they make moolah in all sorts of complicated ways - largely through finance plans and insurance deals. He mourns the passing of the old days, when punters would come in waving cash in a brown bag, saying 'what have you got for two grand and that old car?'

I notice an elderly woman wandering the showroom with her husband. Dave tells me this is Joyce, a Hawkins customer for 12 years. Her 107 is in for service, so she has an hour or so to kill. She's adamant she's not buying a new car.

After some fevered calculator tapping, Dave thinks he has found a part-exchange deal that will both please Joyce and earn the garage a few quid. …

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