2015 is going to be another big year for the Ford Transit; on top of celebrating its 50th Birthday, it posted its best-ever commercial vehicle sales ever in April, with 16,497 CVs finding homes.
Much of this success is due to the Transit Centre network, so we caught up with Terry Rayner, Transit Centres Director, to find out more about this and their services for SME buyers.
“The business has been going great guns, is it a coincidence or is it a strategy? You know I think it’s a bit of both really.
“In 2008 we could see the new products coming through and we were pretty certain that these vans were going to appeal to artisans, small businesses – more than ever before.
“We’ve traditionally been very good at selling commercial vehicles, we’ve been very good in corporate and major fleet too, but less good at the retail and small business user end.
“So the idea of the Transit Centres was to really bring our proposition into a better place. Looking at what was coming from a product point of view, we had a view on the market that was fairly spot on really. If the market goes the way we think it’s going to go and the product being as appealing as we thought it was going to be, we couldn’t carry on the way we were.
We needed to actually break out our proposition into something away from cars
“We needed to actually break out our proposition into something away from cars, dedicated to commercial vehicles and more respectful of the type of consumer we’re likely to be dealing with
“Before the Transit Centres, van buyers could talk to a salesman, selling 30 cars per month and just three commercials. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but the truth is how are you going to get the expertise? The only way to get the expertise is to have a focus and a dedicated education and with a Transit Centre we do it all – not just bits of it. You can’t just be fleet or retail only – if you’re a Transit Centre you do the lot. So therefore to do the lot, you need that level of dedication.
“So, we came up with a proposition that split commercial vehicles away from cars in a structural sense, although we’ve still got common ownership obviously. Transit Centres have got their own dedicated sales manager, their own dedicated sales team and their own designated area of the dealership. This is important, because rather than being mixed in with cars, it’s actually a dedicated area for vans. In fact, in many centres that is a dedicated showroom. Of the 105 Transit Centres that we’ve got, we’ve got 32 new showrooms – which are completely new buildings.
“It has meant that some dealers have had to upgrade their facilities – in many instances adding another shift in. In all fairness, we’re not expecting dealers to build new workshops. So with the extended hours, it’s given them the chance to increase their capacity without increasing their property costs.
“In the car part of our business, it took a couple of years to change the look and feel of our dealerships. It was a slow and gradual change, but with commercial vehicles we came out with a standard and we gave our dealers a year and they all did it.
“The ones that didn’t want to do it are gone and we’ve brought in new recruits to replace them – although 98% of the network has remained with the increased investment.”
“We are now able to fulfil the needs of the SME better. Think of the corporate world, the way they fund themselves, the way they know what they want and we’ve focussed more on the process. It is interesting when we split the car and van sales teams, we actually pulled some car people across, plus some financial expertise, which in terms of trade cycle management, helps with the understanding of the better ways to finance vehicles – that will be more in tune with SME customers.
“We’ve also focused on the process, the first bit is to measure them on qualification .So we’re keen to make sure that our dealers are qualifying our customers properly. We’re using mystery shopping and getting an index together, to show where we are properly qualifying the customer. In the corporate world, there’s less qualification to buy – they know what they want. However, you might still have a customer walking in, who doesn’t necessarily know whether he or she wants a Connect or Custom or even a Courier. After proper qualifying, having all the financial solutions in place, presenting the product properly, then demonstrate it and the output should be a positive one.
“I hope this might lead them on to thinking, that they actually got advice there and that it was a nice place to do business. What we’ve produced is a respectful environment, because it’s a proper showroom, these are expensive vehicles and they shouldn’t feel like a second-class customer, as it’s a process more in tune with their needs.
“Ford was typically a white van company, now more than 50 per cent of the vans we sell aren’t white. So we’re selling more colours than white vans and that’s due to the growth in artisan small businesses community, that like Deep Impact Blue, that like red, that like silver and that in turn gives us an uplift in residuals. This is because the vans are higher specced that go through the SME segment, as we’ve understood the needs of the buyers more.
“Our SME business has gone up 47% since the start of the Transit Centres. One of our first centres was opened in Abingdon, Oxford, in November 2013. It was a bit of pilot really, as we didn’t have everything in place. We’ve gradually morphed it into what it is today. Previously they were selling vans out of the car showroom, by guys who were 80% car people and their reach which is the South of Oxford was15 miles – it has now increased to 40 miles.
“If the market is up 25% and the SME market is up 47%, we’ve got to be conquesting from other brands. I’ve had some stats from various dealers, that say that their conquest statistics are quite high, but I think a healthy renewal process also comes into play.
“To another extent, we’re seeing the fruits of our hard work over the last couple of years.
“I’m now looking at ways to grow our servicing proposition, how we find different ways to make ourselves available to the customer. Whether that’s going to the customer, opening more hours, or finding a different way to deal with our customers, to make it as easy as possible and less intrusive for the customer. So when he’s sleeping we could be working on his Transit.
“We’ve turned the wick up with the Transit Centres and increased the level of attraction, staffed it with the right people, put in the right processes in and it works!“