In the mining hub of Rustenburg in North West, a woman is on a mission to make two Chinese nameplates a household name. Dealerfloor spoke to Kerry Lee Palm, Dealer Principal GWM Rustenburg, which sells GWM and Haval, about the challenges for these brands in an economically sensitive part of our country.
Tell us about the dealership and its history.
GWM Rustenburg opened in May 2007. It is a family-owned business. We sell new Haval and GWM vehicles as well as pre-owned vehicles, and we offer parts support, sales and services and have a repair centre. For the previous quarter, our workshop shared the top rank with Pretoria in the overall aftersales quality rankings.
How well have the two nameplates been accepted in your area?
Our Haval vehicles are doing well despite current circumstances. They are becoming more popular, and our advantage is that we are able to offer a quality vehicle at an affordable price. When I see a GWM or Haval vehicle on the road, I am filled with pride.
When we started this journey 13 years ago, our vision was to make GWM a household brand that could stand its ground alongside any other brand. There have been hiccups and bumps along the way as can be expected when building a business and a brand. Working together with the OEM and improving little by little, the result is evident in the products today, especially when it comes to quality and reliability.
Are potential buyers more comfortable with buying a Chinese vehicle?
In the beginning, I think people had this perception that because it is made in China it might be lacking quality. People’s perception is changing, especially when the product speaks for itself. Great Wall Motors in China has been an established car manufacturer for over 30 years, investing millions in research and development and with plants and distribution centres in many countries, solidifying the manufacturer’s global footprint.
How important is price and spec when you go head-to-head with more established brand names and what are your most popular models?
I believe our price point is an advantage. It allows us to penetrate the market and remain competitive, and this is in line with our original vision of providing quality vehicles at affordable prices. In our Haval-range, the H1 and H2 are currently the most popular models.
With more people taking financial strain, how important are extended warranties and service plans?
A service plan offers extra value and peace-of-mind motoring. Our Haval vehicles do come standard with a service plan, and in addition, the maintenance costs are also reasonable. In conjunction with the OEM, we are currently running a service campaign for our out-of-warranty customers offering a 25% discount on all parts, which is our way of assisting our customers during these difficult times.
How does the volatility in a mining community affect business confidence?
Realistically, the current economic environment does have an influence on sales. If consumers’ perception of current affairs is one of doom and gloom, they hold onto this notion and close their wallets. Impending retrenchments affect their buying behaviour, but despite these challenges, we have to find the silver lining and look at advantages that we can create out of it by maximising opportunities and optimising staff performance.
On a different note; there aren’t many women DPs in the industry but is seems the situation is changing. What's your view?
I managed and supervised areas of all the departments. I started in administration, then became the Finance & Insurance Manager, studied business management and was actively involved with the day-to-day running behind the scenes.
For me Dealer Principal is just a title. I do not allow it to define me as a person, because I’ve learnt that it takes a team to build a business.
The Workshop Manager is just as important as the Cleaner, the Parts Manager is just as important as the Tea Lady, each role is significant and adds value and contributes towards the overall success.
Is there still scepticism from men when they hear the DP is a woman?
I think this point is more applicable to the older generation of men who grew up with the frame of reference that the norm for them is, “it’s a man’s job”. The younger generation is more accepting of change, but I think it is also important to build relationships because when people get to know you for who you are, they feel less threatened by the fact that you are a woman.
As we change and move with the times, we are dissolving some stereotypes that “this is a man’s job and that is a woman's job”.
Any advice to young women when considering the motor industry as a career option?
Enjoy what you do and don’t see it as just a ‘job’ or a means of an income. You will outshine and outperform everyone if you have a passion for what you do. Most times you will not know what you are capable of until you are pushed.
What is your vision for the brands you are selling?
My vision for GWM and Haval is that they will become household brands, meaning that in every driveway there will be a GWM or Haval vehicle.
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