Forget rugby, try bowls!

Margie Wheelwright at Halfway Toyota Howick has been working for the group “on and off” for 23 years and is a firm believer that involvement in local events forms the best basis on which to build other marketing campaigns.

KZN o11 Halfway Toyota Howick

Her favourite local event is lawn bowls — a sport that entices players with its seeming simplicity and then ensnares them by combining all the difficulties of putting on a golf green with the sneaky tricks of snooker.

She told Dealerfloor that Halfway Toyota Howick first got involved with the local bowling club in 1998. “Our service manager at the time belonged to the local club and often put together an amateur team from staff to compete in events. That was my introduction to bowls and although I am not a very good player, I enjoy the get-togethers very much,” she says.

She lists the reasons why she recommended that the dealership continue sponsoring local club events with eats and static displays of new models. “Being out there with our clients engenders local customer loyalty, creates excellent product awareness and as a bonus, it can even lead to free product endorsement,” she says.

This after the Howick bowling club published the following on its popular Facebook page and in one of Africa’s oldest newspapers, The Witness: “A big thank you to Halfway Toyota Howick after many months of absence during the period we were in lockdown and unable to play bowls. Thank you, Margie for the delicious eats you provided and for allowing us to view the spanking new Toyota Starlet, which had the bowlers “oohing’ and aahing” as they viewed it.”

She said the static displays at the bowling on Saturdays delivered “terrific returns” in the first three years. “We sold eight vehicles in what is a small club but more important, 22 years later we are still the first port of call for the club members and their families. They phone me for general advice on cars, they promote us and even send us clients, all because we have taken the trouble to be involved at literally grassroots level,” she says.

The mother of three and grandmother of four said she has always been involved with vehicles, having married a mechanic and starting work as a clerk in the workshop of the then Natal Parks Board, now called Ezemvelo.

She came to sales via several administrative jobs in various departments. “My admin background provided very good training for selling cars, in fact, I think all sales staff should work in all the departments to get a thorough understanding of the business,” she says.

Halfway Toyota Howick’s ongoing sponsorship of the local bowling club has delivered loyalty dividends for 22 years.

She reckons she sold her first car in 2004 to a friend while working as a stock controller. “Then I sold three, then five. My commissions soon got too expensive for the company on top of my salary as stock controller, so I was offered a position as a salesperson.”

A few years working as a carer in the UK was followed by a few months at the small dealership and then three years selling Suzuki’s at Fury Group in Pietermaritzburg, before returning to the Halfway’s fold in 2015. “When I opened my laptop again after a six-year absence from Halfway, it felt like I had just been away on a short leave!”

Wheelwright says these days she actively promotes Toyota’s Guaranteed Future Value (GFV) as the most sensible way to drive a reliable car.

“This is the practice in the UK, where people often don’t have space to park a depreciating asset. It also fits in with our younger clients’ lifestyles, they want to upgrade cars every three years, just like they upgrade their cellphones. They don’t want to be tied into a six-year contract.

She tells her clients that as long as they do not do high mileage, keep the car neat and trade it in every three years, Toyota’s GFV offer is much better than a balloon payment. “I tell them if they really want to own the same car for years, they can of course buy the car, but for women and pensioners who want a reliable, fuel-efficient new car, GFV is the way to go.”

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