Boutique dealerships, set up in urban centres, areas of high footfall, are doing very well – witness Simon Dixon and his Rockar store at Bluewater for Hyundai, and the Jaguar Land Rover store at Westfield, Stratford. These stores have a lot of custom through them, sell a lot of cars (albeit it tends to be the cheaper, smaller models with less margin in them), and have a much higher proportion of female, and young, visitors than your average dealership on an industrial estate.
And yet, Speaking to the Managing Director of a mass-market car brand this week, he commented that, despite his brand offering to deliver cars to customers’ homes for test drives, the vast majority of people still prefer to visit a dealership, especially to collect their new purchases. It’s something to do with the theatre of it; a car is a huge financial outlay, and customers want the traditional reward of collecting it with a red ribbon, a handshake from the dealership principal or maybe a bottle of fizz.
What astonishes me is how long brands have let their dealers languish in the Eighties, full of cheap suits, casual sexism and boring, off-putting static displays of their products. The dealer is the interface between customer and company; for the vast majority of people, the dealer will be their only experience of the brand. Why haven’t manufacturers bent over to make it a positive experience? The only good experience I’ve ever had of testing a new car has been at the Moving Motor Show here at Goodwood.
My mother, a woman in her Sixties, went off to buy her first car in decades last year. She’s a high-flying career woman so has always had company cars, but recently retired. Being cash-rich and time-poor, and, like most people, knowing nothing about cars and so lacking the nerve to buy privately, she took herself off to a huge dealership in Kent to buy the convertible of her dreams from a premium brand. What joy, what excitement, what celebration that experience should have entailed. Splashing out more than £20,000 on a car! An impractical, indulgent, dream car at that!