Fleet News

Chiswick Honda sets the dealer blueprint

A NEW car dealership on the outskirts of London provides a potential blueprint for the 'fleet dealer' of the future.

The new £11.5 million building offers corporate clients not only a full range of vehicles but also specific business services such as video-conferencing and changing rooms for motorcycling businessmen.

Indeed, the definition of fleet returns to its nautical roots at Chiswick Honda, where alongside Civics and Accords, fleet buyers can have their boats and outboard motors serviced, or pick up a lawnmower or a motorbike.

Chiswick Honda is currently the only dealership in the world to house the complete Honda product range, from cars and motorbikes to lawnmowers and outboard motors, and the full model range has already won fresh fleet business.

One small London fleet, for example, has switched six vans for six motorcycles to improve engineer response times in the capital.

The Chiswick Honda showroom and facilities are built on the site of the old Honda UK headquarters, and run by Norton Way Honda, the only dealer group ever to win a Fleet News Award, securing the Fleet Service Company of The Year (under 50 employees) Award in 2000.

The dealership is certainly a striking building, a huge, glass-panelled edifice, with two floors and a vast array of motorbikes and cars inside and out. The pristine workshops around the back are equally cavernous and, like the showrooms, are a temple to the many engineering avenues Honda travels down.

David Grainger, managing director of the dealership, said: 'It's something that has never been done before. There is so much here - we have two workshops, a motorcycle and car workshop.

'What's the difference with selling cars and selling motorbikes? Both need servicing. It's a way of doing business, earning more margin, more profit.

'We also have a 35-foot boat here at the moment, which is having outboard engines fitted. We all have to earn a living and if you have four or five products, you have lots of different ways of making money.'

Increasingly, however, dealerships will have to do more than sell and service vehicles - no matter how wide the range - to retain fleet custom.

Proposed changes to the car distribution block exemption would allow independent garages to compete with manufacturer franchises for service, maintenance and repair (SMR) work, challenging arguably the most profitable area of business for most dealerships.

While independent garages would have to meet manufacturer quality standards, car makers would have no control over their location or number, so franchises could find several competitors on their doorsteps.

Add into the mix the fact that workshops escape the gin palace overheads of showrooms, and it is clear that franchised dealers will have to work hard to retain SMR business and keep their labour rates and parts prices competitive.

To head off this challenge before it gathers momentum, Chiswick Honda has developed a range of services to retain fleet loyalty and ensure company car drivers keep returning to its showroom. And services go well beyond a complimentary cup of coffee and scattering a few magazines on a table.

At Chiswick Honda, fleet and leasing customers can use the dealership's meeting rooms for appointments in the capital, take advantage of the dealership's hi-tech communication facilities, or simply sample the coffee and pastries in the in-house Costa Coffee shop.

Nor do fleets have to be doing huge business to be welcomed in.

As Grainger said: 'We had a major company - from which we have taken just one order this year - that was holding its sales meeting in London, so it held the meeting here.

'We're putting them in a situation where we give them a place to work in London, and it gives us an opportunity to show what we can do. We are trying to represent the product as well as it can be done.'

The same attention to the needs of corporate clients has seen the dealership develop a range of value-added services for company car drivers, from the traditional cash-for-car consultancy to showers and changing facilities for motorcycle commuters, and the provision of free on-site parking to fleet customers heading into London. It even has PlayStation pods for company drivers looking to unwind.

Fleet clients are central to the company, accounting for 72% of its business, and Grainger believes it is vitally important for the dealership to provide fleet managers with everything they need, and to ensure that it honours its commitments.

'If a customer wants a car delivered at 10am they don't want it turning up at noon. It has to be there on time,' he said.

At Chiswick Honda's star-studded opening night, Channel 4's Driven presenter Penny Mallory, BBC superbike presenter Suzi Perry and Jordan Honda Formula One driver Takuma Sato were on hand to join the celebrations.

Even among some pretty swanky dealerships, Chiswick Honda stands apart, for its size and ambition, and its open approach to creating relationships with fleets is a example that no doubt others will follow.

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