“Disruptive trends” changing the face of the retail motor industry

Efficiencies in all aspects of the after-sales operation are now more crucial than ever to ensure the viability and sustainability of automotive dealerships in today’s rapidly-changing business environment, according to George Austin, a long-serving senior consultant at Sewells MSXI South Africa, the local subsidiary of the global consulting and outsourcing firm that concentrates on the retail motor industry.

001-off-my-wheelsBrian Joss – Austin has specialised in the parts and service aspects of the motor industry since 1982 and has vast resources of experience to call on when he consults to dealers and dealer groups on the importance of having a healthy after-sales division.

“Times are changing fast as disruptive trends alter the old face of the retail motor industry,” explained Austin. “It is therefore essential that dealers move with the times particularly in tailoring their after-sales service and other offerings to meet the requirements of their customers or risk losing them”.

George Austin: after-sales operation more crucial than ever
George Austin: after-sales operation more crucial than ever

“Customer retention after the warranty and service or maintenance plans expire is very important as is the ability to justify service costs to customers and to refrain from loading the price to make a quick buck.

“There are now many options for customers in terms of tyre fitment, brake and clutch repairs and battery supply so it is necessary for dealers to offer these services in-house to retain customer business. Dealers have to be more retail oriented and more flexible in the current changing business environment. This includes offering vehicle servicing at times to suit their customers who cannot be without a car for a whole day. Among these customers are travelling salespersons, mom’s taxi drivers and small entrepreneurs who are totally dependent on their own transport.”

Austin’s position at Sewells MSXI has provided him with a wealth of international experience too, particularly in the varied markets of the Asian region.

“I was fortunate to have been able to cut my teeth in the motor industry with Toyota, which has always been a trend-setter in terms of developing strategies and innovations such as lean manufacturing, lean parts supply and Kaizen (continual improvement). In addition, I learned the methodical Japanese way of thinking. This background has been very beneficial in shaping the methods I use for training and consulting,” added the Sewells MSXI consultant.

He is also an enthusiastic supporter the revolution in dealer financial management Sewells has brought to South Africa. It established benchmarking among similar size businesses. This tool continues to drive efficiencies and profit in local dealerships, with the company’s Performance Groups being an excellent method of providing a mutually beneficial forum for participating dealers to improve the way they do business.

“I was fortunate that I was able to join Sewells in 2000 when the company was in its formative years, but growing quickly by ensuring it provided added value to the dealers making use of its expertise,” explained Austin.

He particularly enjoys interaction with dealer principals as well as being involved with the annual Advanced Dealer Management programme which aims to groom successors for senior positions in dealerships and dealer groups.

“I love the interaction with these people and also the opportunity to continue my learning experiences. Often these delegates have theoretical knowledge, but are not yet ‘street smart’ in terms of the complex automotive retail business. Here I try and help them,” added Austin.

The Sewells MSXI consultant said that the role of managers in the parts and service department had changed dramatically with the introduction of new technologies in vehicles and in business management.

“For instance a parts manager is now essentially a key account manager whose main focus these days is not ordering and managing stock, but rather looking for business outside the dealership. He or she must then manage these accounts diligently to ensure customers were given a high service level and that these accounts were, in turn, profitable for the dealership,” said Austin.

Austin did not set out to work in the motor business. His first serious job was working at Dun & Bradstreet, an American business services company, where he learned financial analysis.

One of his projects was writing a detailed report on Toyota South Africa. He was impressed with the information he unearthed about Toyota and by chance found an advertisement that this company was looking for a National Parts Operations Manager. He applied and got the job, which set him on a whole new career.

“In those days much of my work focus was financial, although I also had to manage the field staff who looked after a network of 284 dealers, which put me on a quick learning curve. Next move was Promotions Manager, first for Parts and later for After Sales. Then came the opportunity to move into training as After Sales Training Manager and this is the area where I found true fulfilment as I revel in human resource development. Toyota also gave the chance to go to university at the age of 42 and I obtained an honours qualification in human resource development at RAU.

“In 2000, the scope of my position changed and I decided to move on. I had been working with Sewells for the past 10 years so it was a natural for me to join them as a consultant.

“My current position includes a variety of consultancy opportunities, developing training material, e-learning programmes, storyboards and train-the-trainer initiatives. I am proud to be part of the Sewells MSXI team that has embarked on the exciting journey of working to equip dealers for the future,” concluded Austin.

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