Retaining clients and keeping them happy takes real effort these days, no matter what brand or manufacturer you represent.
“It is all owing to the shortage of stock because of various factors such as interruptions of the supply chain worldwide and the crisis with especially electronic components. Add to that the uncertainty about a return to normality and it is easy to see the reasons for the hardship in the industry,” says Dawie Swanepoel, Dealer Principal at Auto Italia in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, selling brands like Jeep, Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Fiat, Peugeot/Citroën, Suzuki, Mahindra and JAC.
“The crisis manifests at dealership level with limited new stock and can create unhappy customers when the expected units do not arrive. People pay deposits and expect a vehicle in return. A difficult situation that you try to manage as professionally as possible with the relationships and contacts you have established with the customer,” he tells Dealerfloor.
“We are, however, thankful that we have survived, and notwithstanding everything, we have had a couple of good months. The combined sales volume we do with the various brands under one roof (of which most can be considered niche or small players on their own) is comparable to that of a larger dealership of one of the top-selling brands in the country,” says Dawie.
“Although a brand like Alfa Romeo can be described as niche, we haven’t received any new stock this year and rely on the trade in used Alfas to keep the interest going. Make no mistake, there is a lot of interest in the brand and as soon as we get stock, we can deliver to clients.
The other brands are doing a little bit better, although still far from normal, he tells us.
“On the JAC side, which consists of commercial vehicles, we cannot complain and received the allocated stock up to now. The brand is popular, selling well with competitive pricing, good quality and a long warranty. Also, some of the mechanicals are borrowed from more established manufacturers, which add to the durability,” Dawie says.
“With Suzuki the S-Presso at that price point is the most popular, and Mahindra bakkies are winners with a wide variety of clients – if we can just get enough bakkies! He says Peugeot is slowly but surely regaining its popularity and that Citroën, with its limited range and two of the current models due for a facelift, is lagging its French brother at this stage. On the Jeep side, the Compass is doing well, and we believe new products will give the brand a strong push.”
Dawie says all their brands, except JAC, are under one roof and they have three workshops - the legacy of previous car dealerships on the premises that have been transformed into one complex. The name Auto Italia is a well-established name given to it by the previous owners when it started out as an Alfa and Fiat dealership with the other brands added during the following years.
The dealership is now ten years under its current owners, Solly Latif, John da Silva and Paul Longueira and part of the Combined Auto Holdings Group with another Suzuki branch in Groblersdal and a Selected4U pre-owned dealership also in Middelburg. John was the DP and Paul the Workshop Manager when they, together with Solly, decided to buy the dealership. Both John and Paul are active at the dealership daily.
In a more recent development, the owners of this business decided to open a stand-alone commercial vehicle centre. Located at the busiest intersection in Middelburg, the CAH Commercial Centre specialises in bakkies, panel vans, trucks and forklifts and carry stock from brands such as Fiat professional, Mahindra, Suzuki and JAC.
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