In June 2018, Andrew Charman from Motor Trader visited Hodgson Mazda to interview Dealer Principal, Ricky Reed, for the magazine’s ‘Dealer Focus’ feature.
During the interview, Andrew questioned Ricky on how the company ethos supports the buying experience and earned them the accolade of the UK’s top Mazda dealer.
In the four years Mazda has been running its National Dealer League Performance Report, Hodgson Mazda Newcastle has been named number one dealer on all but one occasion. This year the Newcastle outlet, a Mazda franchise since 1987, topped the table again; in second spot was the dealership’s sister site in Gateshead – this was the ﬁrst UK dealership to feature a towering Autopod car storage facility.
Such results are testament to a customer care policy established by managing director Steve Hodgson’s father when he founded the company in 1959. Having since grown to include Toyota and Suzuki franchises, it continues as an ethos to this day.
Putting this practise into effect across the two Mazda showrooms is Ricky Reed. Predicting that small independents would be absorbed by larger groups, in 1997 Reed gave up a management role with a rural dealer to join Hodgson as a sales executive. He went on to work his way up to sales manager by 2001 and became Mazda brand manager shortly after Hodgson opened its Gateshead outlet in 2011.
The ethos of the company from the very beginning has been about looking after our customers and doing the right thing. Many dealers say that, but it’s always been that way here – I knew Steve Hodgson’s father and I was in awe of how he treated his customers. He would loan service customers his own car; this was in the late 1980s when such things were unheard of.
Steve Hodgson personally signs a thank-you letter to every person buying a car. Included is a simple questionnaire and he looks at all of the responses. Any problems, which are very few, are highlighted and we are expected to identify the issue, provide a resolution and report back.
When you look through the questionnaires, however, there are very few scores less than ﬁve out of ﬁve, and they are full of personal mentions for the sales staff.
Many customers mention our no-pressure approach. We don’t believe in sales staff running back and forth to consult with managers – while there’s a sales manager to support them, we empower our staff to work through the whole process with the customer and give them the professional service they deserve when spending such large sums of money.
Steve Hodgson believes in investing in customers by doing what we say we are going to do. We tell our staff not to over-promise and under deliver. Again, many companies would say that today but this company has been doing it this way for many years.
A sales style like that relies on the staff being effective. Is it difﬁcult to ﬁnd new people to ﬁt the proﬁle?
There is a major shortage of sales executives. We use agencies now, but I rarely have to recruit in the Mazda centres. In Newcastle my four- strong sales team has 30, 14, and nine years’ experience – we also have a new starter with six years.
New staff have to buy into our ethos, realise it’s not lip service. Doing things this way does create customers for life. Our staff need to think about tomorrow, not just today.
Staff retention helps with customer retention. If I receive great service in a restaurant and I go back and see the same faces, I feel conﬁdent. We look after people, they come back and they tell their friends. One customer has had 30-plus cars from us!
That is the golden bullet – every manufacturer wants conquest business and it is not easy. It’s not just about encouraging customers who are considering a Mazda to come to us, it’s targeting those who are not looking at Mazda.
We work hard from a lifestyle point of view, placing our range-topping cars such as the CX-5 and MX-5 in front of premium customers who may not have previously considered Mazda. We have made lifestyle- pitched videos on such cars that we use in our digital marketing.
Because of the relationship built up over many years by Steve Hodgson we’ve been able to work with Mazda to try out new marketing methods
– they’ve listened to our ideas and trialled them. It’s a partnership that has worked really well for both companies.
We are very strong on service plans. Most of our customers take a three-year plan and with renewal cycles now being brought forwardwe roll the last year into the ﬁrst of the customer’s new car. After thatit becomes more challenging – three to ﬁve-year-old cars need more major parts and so we have to emphasise that we use genuine parts,
our service team is manufacturer trained and have all the special tooling required to work on high-tech modern vehicles.
We are working on some behind-the-scenes videos to put online showing customers just what goes into our aftersales department, particularly the investment in technicians. the processes and how they work. It is a very difﬁcult message to get across because cost does rule customer decisions at that stage.
Competing with the internet is a major challenge. People will pay a little more for a personal service, but only a little. Recently, ensuring we were GDPR-compliant has occupied a lot of our time.
Trying to meet the volume aspirations of manufacturers is also perennially challenging. Mazda is a very switched-on franchise though, they always work very professionally with us.
I think there will be an opportunity, but the issue is where the cars come from. Trying to get suitable Mazda vehicles is difﬁcult. Because the franchise is not into putting large volumes of vehicles into the short-term ﬂeet markets there is always a shortage of nearly-new cars. So there are not many cars around and what is available is costly. But we will be focusing more on non-franchised used vehicles than we previously have.
At the heart of the Hodgson success story is exactly that; heart. The business’ culture permeates Ricky Reed’s assessment of the organisation’s approach. A strong commitment to personal service is an easy thing to say, but harder to deliver unless the DNA of a business is obsessive in the way that service matters above all else. This is clearly part of the Hodgson Mazda story.
While service has helped to establish Hodgson Mazda within its north eastern community, Reed recognises today’s omni-channel market risk creating margin pressure. I take a more positive view; people will pay a premium for a higher quality buying experience and it is this quality and reputation that dealers must build online.
As a business, we are not the cheapest and nor do we want to be. I believe our service-led ethos and the way we treat people in claims, which is after all the key ‘moment of truth’, are market leading. People are paying a premium for this type of experience and that starts with our dealer clients.
Another challenge Reed highlights is sourcing quality used stock. This is very clearly an industry-wide issue. Service plans and PCPs have a role in helping to retain high quality stock in the Hodgson arena. To this, we can add SMART Insurance; like service plans this helps the car owner to gain a premium for their part-exchange and the dealerto access quality stock with minimum preparation cost/time issues.
In closing, one line from Reed stands out; “Hodgson as a group has four brands – Mazda, Toyota, Suzuki and Hodgson.” It’s a great line; here is a business leader who has absolutely bought into the importance of his own brand and that, as reviews tell us, is a powerful attribute not to be under-sold.