Secrets of a successful car dealer
Johannesburg - “Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing,” is a quote often attributed to legendary football coach Vince Lombardi and it’s pretty much the same in the motor industry.
Racking-up two successive Audi Dealer of the Year titles, at the Audi Silver Arrow Awards, falls in the same category and dealer principal at Audi Centre Arcadia, in Pretoria, and franchise director at Bidvest McCarthy Audi, Philip Clough is quick to point out the similarities between sport and being a winning Dealership.
It’s no secret that South Africa’s economy is holding on by a thread and if you’ve been keeping an eye on the motor industry of late, it’s everything but a rosy picture.
“It’s like a game of soccer or rugby, in terrible conditions. Both competing teams have to contend with the same circumstances but ultimately there can only be one winner.
“It’s the team that adapts the best and plays to their strengths that stands on the winner’s podium,” Clough says.
But back to the economy – Clough says that for the past three years, things have been difficult in the industry.
There's also a perception that the premium segment isn't as badly impacted as the rest when the economy is depressed.
“I haven't found that and, in fact, what we've seen is people ‘buying down’.
“Because of general consumer spending pressure, customers who would previously buy into a premium vehicle are now considering attractive alternatives outside of the premium automotive market.
“Keep in mind that this now makes the vehicle sales playing field even that more competitive for us,” says the dealer principal, who has been in the motoring game for almost 34 years.
Audi Centre Arcadia’s biggest movers are the Audi A3 and Audi A4.
“People buy into the brand. Audi has a number of halo products, like the newly launched Audi Q8 or the high performance sports car, the Audi R8, but getting behind the wheel of something like an Audi A3 is an aspirational entry into our brand as well.”
And because they trust the brand, Clough says most customers who walk in have a good idea of what they want. Audi Centre Arcadia vows on a loyal customer base within their region of operation, which could account for their success as Audi’s Dealer of the Year for 2019.
“To achieve what our dealership has done at the Audi Silver Arrow Dealer Awards is remarkable, and to be able to have done that two years in a row, the whole team had to come to the party. Our achievement throughout the business (Sales, Aftersales, Parts & Accessories and Audi Financial Services) is testament to this.”
But what is a dealer principal or a DP as people often call them?
In short, they provide the overall leadership and, in this case, he has four departments reporting in to him – Sales (New car and Pre-owned), Service or Aftersales, Parts and Financing.
“It’s like being the conductor of an orchestra, everyone has a role to play but you co-ordinate the flow of the tune,” he says.
It seems that Audi Centre Arcadia’s all round success doesn't just boil down to having a good understanding of their customer, the dynamics in the market or a strong leadership team.
They've appeared to structure their approach to success around a performance-based culture.
Audi South Africa draws up an extensive list of criteria that forms the crux of the Silver Arrow Dealer Awards and Clough says that this forms the basis of their internal targets among the team.
“The industry has a history of high staff turnover but I have always maintained that proper recruitment and training goes a long way to negate this.
“Also, people need to know that where they work is a safe place, so we focus on a positive incentive structures, as part of our retention strategy, at Audi Centre Arcadia.
“The worst thing you can do to employees is to tell them that if they don't do something, they will lose something.
“So, in the Bidvest McCarthy Audi group of dealerships, we have monthly honours for our employees to offer recognition on personal best performance, that way people feel recognised and committed to driving progress against our key performance indicators,” says Clough, who has worked with the Audi brand all his life, starting at the Volkswagen Group factory, in Uitenhage, after school.
And what has he learnt over his career of motivating and leading an award-winning team?
“Stay humble, stay focused, get out of bed with a winning attitude and be the best that you can be.”
Having spent most of his life in the industry, Clough says the biggest change over the years has been the sophisticated technology found in the cars of today, especially around the driver assistance systems.
“Audi lives up to their ‘Vorsprung’ brand ethos by being pioneering in many vehicle innovations around lighting technology and interior cabin features.”
With access to almost any car within the Audi stable, you would expect him to prefer something like an Audi RS6, but his current vehicle of choice is the Audi Q7.
“When Audi brings in the Audi Q8 TDI next month, that's the car I want, I’ve already ordered it,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye.
As a director of the Bidvest McCarthy Audi franchise group, Clough also plays an over-arching leadership role to other Audi dealerships within the group. This includes Audi Centre Menlyn, Audi Centre West Rand, Audi Centre Durban, Audi Centre Middleburg and Audi Pre-owned Wonderboom.
The Silver Arrow Award runs from January to December each year and Clough and his team have been working flat out, aiming for a hat-trick of wins for the next one, something that, in any sporting code, is considered to be very special.
“It’s fantastic to be recognised for a job well done and the staff have thrown their weight 100% behind our efforts,” says the man who has called Pretoria home for the past 25 years.
The Audi Silver Arrow Awards are named after the famous “Silver Arrow” racing vehicles that dominated the legendary racing circuits in the 1930s, the event theme for this year was centred on the concept of “a new era of Vorsprung”.
Audi’s Vorsprung ethos has always been about that spirit of challenging the odds; drawing on a passion to go beyond the usual expectations.
It’s about achieving your best, despite the sacrifice, and working as a team to break through and define a new dimension of advancement.