To find out how Mazda helps its dealers to sell cars we speak to Mazda UK Business Manager Owen Ashton.
As a business manager for Mazda Motors UK, Owen Ashton’s job is to promote the best working partnerships between Mazda and its dealerships. Here he reveals how algorithms, adaptability and some amateur psychology help him stay true to Mazda’s ‘Defy Convention’ philosophy.
“I’ve been in this role for more than three years and there are times when it can feel like I’ve accidentally slipped into the shoes of an amateur psychologist. But that’s what makes the job of a business manager at Mazda so fascinating: it’s all about dealing with individuals, and finding the best way to work together to help their business have more satisfied customers.
Summing up my job description in a nutshell, I’d say it’s to help dealerships improve their performance. That ‘performance’ can be, and is, measured in all sorts of ways. We’ll consider everything, from the quantitative, such as the sales volume of new and used cars, to the qualitative achievements, including customer satisfaction.
Making those improvements calls for new processes, innovation, training people and the ability to respond and adapt to a landscape that is rapidly evolving.
My patch, so to speak, is known as ‘Territory 10’. It includes London, the west side of the M25 and Solihull. I’ll spend about three weeks of the working month on the road, visiting our dealer partners, and around a week based in Mazda UK’s head office, in Dartford, Kent.
Mazda: nice people to do business with
It is a challenging job. You have to remember, it pays to approach individuals differently. Some of them can be direct, goal-driven, target-orientated people who hold strong views of how things should happen. It’s my job to demonstrate to them how, in some cases, taking a different approach could dramatically help their business.
And let’s not pretend that running a car dealership is anything other than hard work. The days of having lots of margin on every new or used car sale are long gone. There’s no time to put your feet up. Dealers need to think fast, do things differently for the digital age, and be responsive to the needs of the ever-changing demographics and habits of customers.
Mazda Corporation, Mazda Europe and Mazda UK like to be nice people to do business with. It may sound a little soppy, but the truth is they like to have a good working relationship with their dealer partners.
We like to have a ‘conversation’ rather than say ‘the rules are the rules’, and we want to understand any potential obstacles that are hindering a dealer’s business. Other manufacturers can be more dictatorial, laying down endless rules, targets and penalties.
In my experience from working with other car makers, Mazda’s approach is refreshing.
Using algorithms to help dealers fulfill their potential
Like any business, we set ourselves goals and objectives, and work together to achieve those. For example, when it comes to forecasting the potential number of new cars a dealer could sell, there are complicated algorithms that are used.
These are so sophisticated that they can know if, for example, a competitor car dealer’s national head office is based in the same region. If it is, it would distort the volume of that competitor’s cars being sold in that region – through the number of company cars issued to employees – so it would be unfair to turn around to our Mazda dealer and say: “Match their sales.”
We will monitor the dealer stock. That’s so we can ensure that they hold the appropriate demonstrator cars, or used cars. Sometimes they don’t see it as being in their financial interest. But we put these things in place to ensure the brand’s promises and promotions can be fulfilled for the customer when they walk through door.
We also strive to have happy customers. It’s an old business adage that it’s more effective to keep customers than it is to find new ones. And in the case of Mazda dealers, that loyalty can come not only through a driver’s experience with their car, or its reliability and running costs, but also through any interaction they have with the people at their dealership.
If there’s ever a problem with the planning and supply of stock, I’m there to help the dealer resolve the situation. Sometimes we hold cars in stock, as the national sales company, and in other situations we arrange for dealers to swap cars to help meet a customer’s specific needs.
Simple changes can make for more loyal customers
I have just left one of our dealers at Solihull near Birmingham. I was there for a customer experience project, known internally as the Challengers’ Project. This is about how we improve the customer experience, which in turn improves customer retention and dealer profit. We’re working on building longevity into our relationships with drivers.
One of the lessons in changing the culture of the customer experience was surprisingly simple. In the best hotels, all the staff will offer a friendly smile, eye contact and a warm ‘Good morning’ or similar when they come into contact with a visitor. Our dealers should be adopting the same, welcoming approach.
Improving PCP equity for Mazda drivers
Then there’s the business side to customer relationships. The majority of drivers buy their Mazda using a finance product. So several years ago, we adopted a strategy that revolves around creating renewal opportunities for customers. If you take a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) as an example, we want Mazda drivers to reach the end of their agreement and have healthy equity in their car, so that they are in a good position to get the best possible part exchange on their next Mazda.From the dealer’s point of view, we’ll support their new or used car sales with various national initiatives. It’s my job to introduce these and explain the benefits to the dealer and customer.
We’re also helping dealers to improve their penetration of add-on sales. That’s products such as GAP insurance, paint protection and wheel and tyre insurance. Against a backdrop of such low margins on car sales, all of these add-ons can improve the profit per unit for a dealer dramatically. Yet they also offer valuable protection to our customers.
Reporting on car sales
The busiest time of my working month is when I’m forecasting for my territory. These forecasts are done every 10, 20 and 30 days, and are to give the business an accurate report on the number of cars being sold.
It takes a whole day to produce each forecast. And I can’t afford to make any mistakes: the figures are used by Mazda UK’s directors, who report to Mazda Europe.
Happily, with great cars like the MX-5, CX-3 and CX-5, which are winning over existing and new customers, Mazda’s sales are at an all-time high. It’s satisfying to see that all our efforts with our dealer partners, ensuring customers have the best possible experience of the brand, are paying off.”