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Good riddance to pre-recession times: Al-Futtaim Motors
MD of Al-Futtaim Motors tells Kipp that if the industry or economy was truly 'wavering' they would not be enjoying the kind of growth they are...
November 5, 2012 4:31 by Muhammad Aldalou
As Kipp sits in Al-Futtaim Motors’ latest Toyota showroom and takes in the enormity of all 207,000 square feet of it, Simon Frith talks about focusing on customers, why we shouldn’t long for pre-recession days and indicators of a healthy economy.
Let’s back up to when the recession hit. The auto industry – both on a global scale and the UAE included – suffered a severe ‘crash’. Right now, there is an indication that it is “back”.
Yes I think it is back and there are a couple of reasons why I think so. For me, one of the key markers on whether an economy and market is doing well is the sale of commercial vehicles –vans, trucks and the like. Those vehicles are being used to, quite literally, build and re-build the economy with the continuation of projects in the country and, to me, that equals confidence. If we weren’t seeing any sustainable growth in the sale of those vehicles then I’d be slightly concerned but we are and they’ve been strong all year.
You don’t get a 40 percent growth in sales in an economy that is wavering. It’s going strong.
How have sales been this year compared to the last few?
In 2010, we’ve had over 20 percent growth, 30 percent for 2011 and over 40 percent this year. We’ve seen double digit growth in the overall auto market and I am not just talking about Toyota moving forward but other brands as well. That for me HAS to be positive.
How is the growth in the Middle East?
I’ve seen the sales figures for just about all countries in the Middle East and every single country has seen growth.
Obviously, people love putting the UAE on a competitive list with the GCC.
From a Toyota perspective, yes I would say the UAE has been the fastest growing market this year.
So you’re trying to set a new standard for customer experience with this new showroom. But for people driving by and noticing it, what do you hope they would see it as an indicator of?
That we are investing in our brand and yes part of that is “bricks and mortar” that says we are here. I suppose the store does reflect a standard and impression that it ‘looks like a nice store’ but that’s not the most important thing for us.
Then what is? And how do you plan to maintain your market share?
We’ve got to look after our brand, protect it and present it to the market in the most professional way but the key is what happens when the customer walks through the door and the kind of experience they get. That’s how we will keep our market share, our number one position and dominance because we can’t take anything for granted.
We have to work hard on continuing to raise the standards of customer experience. Have we gotten that perfect every time? No but we are always determined to see it through and we get better at it. Looking forward, I would say that customer service is absolutely crucial in keeping our customers with us for life.
Any secret plans coming up?
We do have a brand new facility coming up, and yes it is secret and so I can’t tell you where it will be but you’ll find out soon enough. We’ll be opening that sometime before the end of the year.
From our point of view, Toyota has always been perceived as an older brand but it’s been a key part of our media strategy to get deeper into the channels of social media. We have really put in our efforts in the last 18 months and I would say that we weren’t previously at the forefront of it – not to say that we are now – but we are moving. We do think it’s tremendously important and you know what; it gives us a better return (ROI) than some of the other channels that we’ve used historically.
Have you noticed a change in customer trends both pre-and-post recession?
The market was growing so quickly before the recession that to keep up with the pace was almost impossible. Vehicles in every category and brand were in short supply and customers were willing to wait and stand in queues to buy a car that was in short supply. Now, obviously those days are long gone forever and in my opinion, it’s a good thing. The market we have now is what I’d call a ‘real market’ and you can’t take anything for granted as a distributor or retailer of those brands.
Also, I think from a customer point of view, that’s good news. It’s a whole better market to both work in and to experience as a retail customer.
Again, that’s not to say that it’s all perfect because we’re all learning as we move forward but it’s a lot better market than the old one. Those old days of queuing up for vehicles in short supply are gone forever and you know what, good riddance to them. We’re in a modern market where you have to both engage your customers and deliver properly. You can’t be asleep anymore.
Days of industry recklessness are over?
Everybody makes mistakes but it’s the way you deal with those mistakes. What I can say to you is that the culture and philosophy of ‘Yesteryear’ has no place, part or relevance in our future and for any brand that thinks it has is delusional. It’s madness.