Creative showroom design will be vital

Service Dealer founder CHRIS BIDDLE writes . . .

A dealer from yesteryear, with a garden machinery business in Somerset, used to make a virtue out of the number of brands he sold. There were over 30 manufacturers listed proudly down the side of his letterhead.

Given that many of those brands do not exist today, the trend in recent years has been to rationalise, to be more selective. As we come out of the current crisis, I wonder whether we might see this being further refined by dealers?

Garden machinery specialists operate in a sector where brand loyalty is not particularly strong. Yes, it is more prevalent in the arb sector where chainsaw users tend to have their favourites, but otherwise customers want a machine to do a job. Furthermore they look to the dealer to listen, to advise, then sell them the most suitable machine within their budget.

But amongst the many challenges that dealers will have as they move towards opening up their showrooms, is the amount of machinery they can display whilst providing for wider aisles, greater spacing and safe browsing.

Dealer showrooms vary enormously in size and shape, and machine displays have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. A bewildering ‘sea of handles’ can be both confusing and off-putting to people coming through the door, so the use of raised displays, good lighting and professional merchandising units are now utilised widely.

But in this inevitable new age of retailing, it is important that the dealers commitment to safety must be communicated to the customer. They will want reassurance about the safety and controls in place before they plan a visit. Show images of any new features on your website or on social media.

Signage is important, not only to ‘control’ customer and staff movement, but to make it clear to customers where to head for when they come through the door. It is inevitable that for the next few months, many customers will not want to hang about in dealer premises. A number of dealers are already implementing ‘click and collect’ services for machines and parts, and I can see this becoming a feature of dealer business for the foreseeable future.

And looking ahead, dealers should explore the possibilities of hosting a virtual showroom online. They are increasingly being introduced in the car trade, and whilst no substitute for 'kicking the tyres' or a demo, that may be an added option in dealer marketing.

Our sector, ag, turfcare, arb and garden machinery has managed to trade during the past few weeks. We have been fortunate in the timing, when demand has been high.

There has been impressive creativity and ingenuity to keep businesses ticking over, but the next phase will arguably be even more challenging.

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