Principled people: a day in the life of a Mazda dealer principal

A day in the life of Barney Steele, dealer principal of Magna Mazda in Poole, Dorset

With nearly 23 years of experience behind him, and a rapidly changing world around him, Barney Steele, General Manager for Magna Mazda in Poole, Dorset, believes good dealerships are more important than ever

“My earliest experience of working came when I helped my dad run his shop. The first thing we’d do in the morning – after having a cup of tea, of course – was check the premises were spick and span, clean the windows and polish the brass fittings on the doors. It created a lasting impression on me.

I’ve been working with Magna Mazda for almost 23 years. Every morning I still like to be the first to arrive at our Poole showroom, unlock the doors, switch on the coffee machine and then take a walk around the showroom and outdoor areas to check everything is looking immaculate. I believe that anyone in my position, or indeed in our company, needs to have a good work ethic and be prepared to roll their sleeves up and get involved.

As General Manager, I oversee my Mazda franchise’s business and report into a chief executive, in our case Tony Roberts of the Horizon-Magna Motor Group. For me, no two days are the same. It’s a fluid working day rather than regimented, but my mission is to ensure we deliver the best possible experience for our customers.

Our Group has a reputation for outstanding customer care and, consequently, loyalty. I could name people who have bought more than 20 Mazdas from us over their lifetime; they introduce family members and their closest friends to us. That’s a reflection of the attention to detail and dedication everyone here puts in.

Anyone in my position, or indeed in our company, needs to have a good work ethic and be prepared to roll their sleeves up and get involved

So although it’s always exciting to meet a new customer, the challenge in today’s environment is just as much about caring for drivers who have placed their faith in Magna Mazda.

We use a combination of the latest digital marketing communications, community engagement on the ground and good old-fashioned word of mouth to help find those new customers. I can’t stress how important the latter still is.

It’s a rapidly changing world and the people at car dealerships need to have more skills than ever. I certainly feel as though I’m spinning more plates! For example, last year our website’s peak traffic was on Boxing Day. It tells you that in the digital age the research process can be happening when you least expect it.

A day in the life of Barney Steele, dealer principal of Magna Mazda in Poole, Dorset

Despite that, I think Magna Mazda occupying the same highly visible site at Canford Cliffs since 1992 makes the dealership a part of the community. There may be a buzz in the industry about virtual reality helping to sell cars but you can’t top physical presence when it comes to being at the front of people’s minds.

Every customer is different. So myself and the sales team never pigeonhole anyone. They may have read great reviews of our cars on Reevoo, or seen the latest award from The Sunday Times or What Car?, but we don’t presume that means the car will be exactly right for their needs.

Although today’s customer typically believes they know which make and model of car and options they want, it’s our job to ensure they’ve made the best possible choice for their lifestyle needs. After all, a newly qualified driver who only does about 3000 miles a year isn’t going to need a SKYACTIV-D diesel-powered Mazda2. They’d be better off with a SKYACTIV-G petrol-powered model.

The test drive remains absolutely critical to letting customers appreciate the benefits of Mazda cars. It’s a bit like when you try on clothes at a shop; if they look good and make you feel good you’ll buy them. And I’m pleased to say I’ve only ever experienced one hair-raising moment, after a third party’s minor collision resulted in the customer giving chase to pull them over and explain that they’d just swiped the side of our car!

The test drive is a bit like trying on clothes at a shop: if they look good and make you feel good, you’ll buy them

Targets and objectives can be set internally, or agreed with Mazda UK. With the latter, it’s like a partnership: we are given a benchmark to run with and we can accept that or work out whether we could improve upon it further still.

As the person who is ultimately responsible for the dealership, the quality of our service to our customers comes to bear when you step in and solve any problem they have. We have to demonstrate that, as a business, we care about their business and if we’ve made a mistake, we want to put it right.

However, if it’s the car that’s gone wrong – something that’s typically outside of our control – then it can become a highly emotive issue. Buying and running a car is an expensive investment for drivers. So arranging a loan car, getting to the root of the problem, clear communication, and possibly taking up matters with Mazda UK is key to taking the heat out of the moment.

The future is looking encouraging for Mazda dealers. Sales are climbing fast, the brand has one of the most acclaimed, youngest model ranges in the car industry, and its reputation is changing. We’re seeing that from the younger drivers coming into our showroom and buying a Mazda.

A day in the life of Barney Steele, dealer principal of Magna Mazda in Poole, Dorset

Local demographic factors are coming into play, too. Nearby Bournemouth was known as a place for retirement. But the area is attracting younger people and families, and it’s good to know we have cars that appeal to all ages.

Sales are increasing: we’re not far off peak figures from before the 2007 economic crash. Exchange rates for the Japanese Yen no longer penalise British dealers. And finance products have struck a chord with modern consumers who want to enjoy the latest technology.

If sales continue their upward trend, our dealership alone will need to take on two more staff in the sales and workshop departments. For a team of 20 people – including, I’m proud to say, two apprentices ‑ that’s significant.

When you boil it down, selling cars is all about people. The technology around us may be rapidly evolving but as long as we’ve got great people delivering outstanding service, we’ll have happy customers.”

Read more: Getting the right cars to the right customers at the right time