Mind your language.
Changes in the pecking order at dealerships?
IT’S strange how news stories sometimes collide to prove the worth of a particular new set of ideas or change of direction.
In the past few weeks and months, the ongoing impact of COVID19, and its knock-on effect on business practices and disruption to supply of goods and components. Then the story of the huge container ship attempting a three-point turn in the Suez Canal, causing a tail-back of more than 400 vessels en route to European destinations.
Add the continuing impact on the supply and escalating costs of goods to and from the UK due Brexit – and, yes, Ford’s decision to axe the Mondeo.
So what links a container ship with the demise of the Mondeo?
When I was running a multi-branch dealership ‘back in the day’, the sales reps were like Richard Sharp of the rugby world, Jimmy Greaves from football, David Gower’s effortless batting. They toured the countryside in their Mondeos, they were face of the dealership, smartly attired (sometimes), they knew the location of every Little Chef – and they were envied or despised in equal measure by the ‘heavy lifters’, the workshop staff who considered that they were putting in the real graft.
Our language reflected this class disparity. Business cards with impressive titles for the sales reps, meanwhile a description on a repair invoice would read ‘Our fitter attended the breakdown and had to return to the stores to obtain parts’
They were fitters (second class citizens) and we had stores and storemen (third class citizens).
The language has improved over the years. Service technician is the accepted title today, and the spare parts department has more than often become a multi-faceted retail shop offering much, much more than filters or gaskets. Stores are just that, a place where you store stuff.
Gone (hopefully) are the days when the thought process was ‘We’ll order one for the customer, and one for stock – just in case’.
But it is still probably not enough. What links those news stories is that the supply of products is likely to be impacted by external factors for some while. Many companies are indeed questioning their reliance on sourcing from the Far East, particularly China, for logistical or geo-political reasons. All of which may see a resurgence on homegrown manufacturing, particularly for components.
In the meantime, whilst the supply of products is likely to be ‘lumpy’ (Matt Hancock’s favoured phrase about vaccine supply) the demands on the service side of a business will intensify. Repair rather than replace. The ingenuity of service technicians will be tested to the limit as shortages of spare parts and components will require substitutions and a fair degree of lateral thinking.
Fortunately, that is part of the DNA of this industry. Not cocooned under cover in bland service bays armed with a computer and servicing by numbers as in the car business. Technicians throughout the ages have needed to be resourceful - and often think on their feet with a customer breathing down their neck.
No, we are surely witnessing a reversal in the pecking order at dealerships. The stars of the business will be highly trained technical staff with excellent communication skills who will be listened to by customers above all others.
And whilst on the subject of language. Should we be re-considering the use of the word Dealer? Apart from other dubious meanings, it suggests someone ‘doing a deal’. Admittedly that has been part of the farmers’ armoury for ever, but is it time to consider a more contemporary description which reflects a professional sales and service operation?
This editorial appeared in the May/June issue of Service Dealer magazine