In our regular interview series, Under the Bonnet, we seek out the opinions of movers and shakers in the used-car market – those that have been there, done it and got the oil-stained t-shirt. From leading car dealers, to manufacturers and top finance brokers, we get under the bonnet to discuss the news, views and market trends that are shaping our industry’s future. This week we sat down with McCarthy Cars’ General Manager, James McCarthy, to hear why car dealers are the industry’s most adaptable survivors, the impact of Brexit and why electric vehicles is another sales opportunity for dealers to embrace.
With the industry in the grips of a digital revolution/move online, what are your biggest challenges and concerns?
For me, it’s less about challenges and instead about the opportunities the digital revolution is going to create. Innovations that allow us to adapt and trade within a new marketplace is only a positive thing.
In this new marketplace, are you finding that customers are becoming more informed?
I don’t think it’s different from 20 or 30 years ago. My dad started in 1973 and I went full-time in 1998. During that time people said the industry was changing, but even then there were printed guides, like Parker’s, which was widely available to the public. It told people about the costs of buying and selling a car, just as the online classifieds do. The information has always been there it’s just how it has been made available has changed.
Everyone talks about a level of transparency, but for me that has always been there in the industry. It is one of the only industries that has always been very, very transparent; where you can buy a car, for how much, in what colour, make, model, and all of the other factors that you’re told about; you can’t really find another product that has that level of detail and history prior to purchase. The move online is simply presenting all of the information in a different format.
How will the move online shape dealerships in the future?
It changes the buying process for sure, but it doesn’t change the fundamentals. It is still a people’s business despite the many efforts in the past to remove that human element from the transaction. Auto Trader tried it, Tesco tried it, Virgin tried it, many people have tried to sell cars online but everytime they have, the fundamentals still remain; you still need that human touch. It’s the second biggest purchase you will make after your house afterall.
Oodle certainly believe that dealers will play a fundamental role in the future…
And I think they have made the correct decision! Dealers and finance companies need technology to aid us, but it is not about a race to the bottom. It’s not about doing it as cheaply as possible. It’s about value-adding. If a finance company can add value to the transaction and the buying experience for the customer, then they will remain a key cog in the process, just as dealers will. Collectively we can provide the customer with a convenient sales process and transparency, so they know they are dealing with dealerships that have been certified, FCA checked, and can offer the best possible product.
Is the introduction of autonomous and electric vehicles a challenge or an opportunity for the UK car market?
It’s an opportunity. If you asked a man 100 years ago who sold horses about whether or not the motor car was a challenge or an opportunity, well this is the same situation. We are a car dealer, but we’re also a transport solutions providers. That’s what we do, we provide solutions for you to get from A to B. Whether you want to spend a £1000, £20,000, or £50,000, or want a small car, big car or something different, that’s what we provide. Solutions for our customers’ needs. If you look at a lot of car dealerships that are 100 years old, most of them describe themselves as some kind of transport provider. It’s just that they have gradually developed into automotive dealerships.
What are car dealers doing differently in order to stay relevant in this digital age?
You’ve got to adapt. If you’re static you’ll find yourself getting left behind. If you understand that everything moves on then by nature, you’re malleable and more equipped to survive and be successful.
In my time its gone from placing your adverts in print on a weekly basis with no photos, to uploading them directly from your mobile. They used to be just text based, but now an advert doesn’t really exist unless you’ve got video. You’ve got to present the customers with the most relevant pieces of information in the most digestible format. Part of our remit as a dealer, I suppose as any retailer, is to not bewilder the customer. You wouldn’t give the customer a million photos of a car because that wouldn’t enhance the buying process. You need to provide the customer with the clearest picture for them to be able to make an informed decision about the vehicle, so they feel confident and comfortable enough to either buy it or not.
Is the uncertainty over Brexit having an impact on your business?
It did. We had a little blip just after the Brexit decision and that probably lasted three months, but since then people have realised life goes on!
In what ways has your business evolved in the last few years? What’s the biggest change you have noticed?
We’ve always been quite good at selling nationally. For a small dealership in South London we’ve always advertised nationally with Exchange & Mart, so the internet came along and certainly helped us do that more effectively. We have a very wide customer base and I would say our biggest strength has always been online reviews and referrals – we’re currently at 96% on our customer online reviews and 65% repeat customer base. So really the technology entering the market over the last few years has definitely helped us on that front. It’s allowed us to maintain a relationship with them, receive feedback and to keep improving our service.
In what ways to do you work with Oodle and can they help you or support your business moving forwards?
They help us massively really. It’s a real partnership. They provide us with very good finance terms for customers with all levels of credit history, to enable a person to get into a nicer, better car for the best money possible.
What are your day-to-day dealings with Oodle like and in what ways does Oodle support you?
Very, very good. We deal with Liam in the office and Ikram, they are the two main points of contact and we talk to Harry probably twice a week. What makes our relationship with Oodle work is that they do listen to dealerships. If we go back to them and explain that there might be a better way of doing this or perhaps make a suggestion on ways in which things might run a little smoother for the customer, Oodle will always listen. It feels like you actually have a voice in the company that is listened to.
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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are that of the individual who has been interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Oodle Car Finance*. . The content of the blog is not intended to cause any offence to any individual or organisation. We make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability or validity of any information contained within this blog and we will not be liable for any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.