Snows Motor Group focuses on offering the right type of retail experience
Snows Motor Group grew from Snows Office Supplies, founded 50 years ago in Southampton by Geoff Snow. 17th on the Solent 250 it has diversified greatly in half a century and now sells the BMW, KIA, Lexus, Mini, SEAT, Toyota and Volvo brands, with Peugeot opening at Romsey and SEAT in Salisbury at the start of 2012.
“It’s challenging,“ says Snows Motor Group chairman Stephen Snow. “The economy has stumbled from credit crunch to recession to debt crisis. Consumers, companies and governments are still desperately trying to straighten out their finances. Consumers are spending less or paying off debt.“ Having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2011 he uses it as an example of the stamina required to keep going: “Unfortunately with the current retail motor trade we don’t even know if we have hit the wall yet.“
The motor trade Block Exemption Rules (BER) will affect the retail motor industry from 2013, when the current BER, updated in 2002 specifically for the trade, disappear, to be replaced by the general competition law applied across the EU. Consumers will not notice much change, but dealers and franchises will, and it makes business planning a rather woolly area due to various clauses.
“This year the business needs to focus on offering the right type of retail experience to customers, whether in the dealership or online; have the ability to buy and sell the right models, new and used, and sell at the right prices; offer innovative purchase financing and service plans; be strong in aftersales and look after our customer database.“
Snow recognises the need to adapt to meet market requirements and face a more competitive atmosphere: “We as a company are much leaner and fitter than in 2008 and that is why I am optimistic that we will continue to improve overall performance, manage costs and be prepared to make tough decisions should the market so dictate.“
Having acquired seven new businesses in three years, Snow adds: “We still have plenty of opportunity for growing our business with what we have, the latest being SEAT Poole and Volvo Poole in 2010, SEAT Isle of Wight, KIA Basingstoke and Volvo Basingstoke in 2011, and SEAT Salisbury and Peugeot Romsey in 2012.“
The recently introduced TG2A – Too Good To Auction – selling on of customer part-exchange vehicles rather than sending them to auction has been proved highly successful and is something the Group plans to expand further. With the space to display vehicles on existing premises, it makes sense to sell them directly from Hedge End, Salisbury, Southampton and Winchester.
The Group’s website is being modernised too: “The majority of our customers research extensively online before they visit a dealership. We strive for excellence in customer service within our showrooms, so it makes sense to continue to review and focus online activity, including being more innovative at social media.“
Manufacturers continually benchmark Snows on profitability, customer service and sales performance and the Group strives for the top 25%, achieving it in many areas and certainly above average in most. It’s banking link to RBS spans 16 years and Snows intends to increase turnover and improve profitability by keeping a tight control on costs and accumulating cash to reduce borrowing in a challenging marketplace.
Snows Group employs 360 people and is committed to an apprenticeship programme, with 11 training, however if someone leaves any division, the role is examined to see if others can fill it. Snow supports his managers “getting on with it“ in an autonomous manner, because it is how he learned, but finds regulatory issues an extra administrative and cost burden for the business.
As for his own 2012 targets: “To see each of our dealerships achieve budget, especially Peugeot, a new brand for us; having climbed Kilimanjaro last year the challenge for this year is The Three Peaks in 24 Hours with my fellow director Neil McCue; to get back into playing regular tennis and more golf – and see Southampton FC back in the Premiership, where it belongs, for the good of our wonderful city.“
Finally, a key message for the Government to help business: “Reduce employers’ taxes such as NI contributions and unnecessary regulatory burdens – and have a strong and fair benefit system to help those who genuinely need it.“
Stephen Snow, Group chairman (right) and director, Neil McCue, at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro