A truly memorable day
by Service Dealer Editor, Steve Gibbs
Steve Gibbs

What a day! And what an evening!


The Service Dealer Conference took place during the day yesterday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Oxford Belfry - followed in the evening by the gala Dealer Of The Year Awards dinner. Huge congratulations to all the winners and finalists, all were thoroughly deserved. You can read who picked up the coveted honours here.


The day's Conference though saw a room full of dealers from around the country, representing companies large and small and of all machinery specialisms, treated to a superb line-up of speakers and seminar sessions, all dedicated to the theme of 'Sustaining Dealerships'.


As ever, I think it's fair to point out that I personally have nothing to do with the planning and organisation of the conference - that's down to Duncan's incredible team at TAP. So I think I'm allowed to be effusive about the content and the running of the day - all of which was absolutely top notch and on the button this year.


In conversations with our dealer delegates during the breaks and in the bar post-Awards, I heard immense praise and enthusiasm for the topics covered and the experts who delivered the message. Also what was clearly apparent, was just how valued mixing with fellow dealers and suppliers in an environment of both learning and social interaction truly is. How we missed days like these when we were forced apart for two years!


Sustaining Dealerships



The Conference itself began with a welcome from Service Dealer owner, Duncan Murray-Clarke, who set the agenda for the day. He spoke of how the aim of the conference is to be ever more relevant and above all support what our dealer readers are trying to achieve, He also introduced a new innovation this year, of delegates joining in with polls and questions via the online Sildo system - somehing everyone could easily access via scanning a QR code on their phones.


Duncan went on to say, "It is clear that the battles and problems facing the industry have evolved from last year and you could argue that things are now actually that bit worse. Supply is still in disarray and manufacturers have pretty much all been struggling to keep some sort of consistent flow of products. This season, dealerships just didn’t have the inventory of stock to sell or even make some repairs - despite ordering last year.  

"The issues of recruiting into the industry are big - just like many other sectors in the UK and around the world. And then of course, just as if that wasn’t enough, there is Putin and his vile campaign.


"So, following that particularly gloomy opening I am delighted to say we have an extremely relevant conference, focussing on many of these challenges, designed to raise the spirits and motivate."



Duncan then introduced the day's keynote speaker, Robin Horsfall, who was one of the SAS soliders who stormed the Iranian embassy in London in 1980. Nowadays Robin is a respected author and motivational speaker, who was talking to our delegates on the subject of Leadership & Adversity.


Robin spoke on overcoming adversity throughout his life with hard work, self belief and taking inspiration from others. He talked of how leaders who he'd encountered throughout his career had in turn inspired him to lead through encouragement and by example - not by shouting and bullying. 


His story was fascinating and whilst a wildly different life to that which our delegates live, parallels with leading and inspiring others in business could clearly be drawn. He finished with the quote, "Never let others tell you want you can't achieve." 



Sticking with the military theme, the conference then heard from Jeremy Gibbs of Forces Farming, who has as his mission connecting ex forces personnel with careers in agriculture - including into dealerships.


In his talk entitled Recruiting & Retaining Long-Term Leaders From The Armed Forces, Jeremy spoke of how those leaving the services are highly desirable to employers - with many sectors wanting to recruit their skills. Therefore he said, "How do dealers stand out as potential employers?"


One key element to attracting ex forces Jeremy said, was clearly illustrating what a potential career path could be for these leavers. They will be wanting to know where they will be in 5 or 10 years time. "Career pathways drive retention," he said.


Another tip he gave was to identify local armed forces charities near the dealership and to make contact. Let them know what you could offer to leavers - an important element of which is likely to be an appealing working environment. Jeremy also encouraged interested dealers to register with Forces Farming for more information.




Delegates were treated to two breakout sessions during the course of the day - one before and one after lunch. These seminars saw the conference split in half, to offer two smaller groups to facilitate an atmosphere more conducive to delegate interaction.



One breakout was run by succession expert Heather Wildman, entitled 'Planning For Your Future'. Within this Heather looked at what succession means for dealers on a practical level. She began by posing the question 'when should I start thinking about succession?' Unsurprisingly the answer was today! "It's never too soon," explained Heather, "but it can be too late."


She explained how one cannot Google a succession plan - they will be different for everybody. To which end, she said, employing some professional advice on the subject is vital. She also said that to start this process you need to know what you want to achieve, you must be open and verbalise this with family - and crucially, you need to know your numbers.


When she asked for a raising of hands in the breakout room, to show who already had a plan in place, it became clear that the vast majority do indeed need to start thinking about this subject - and soon!



The other breakout of the day was called 'Great Business Or Great People?' and was run by Stuart Goodinson and Grace Nugent from DeLacy Recruitment who specialise in our business areas. They spoke about the market trend for recruitment being perhaps the most difficult period for employers they've ever known - this being due to all the uncertainty post-Brexit, post-Covid and amid this cost-of-living crisis.


A concept that those looking to recruit would do well to remember though, they said, was that the key to enticing people to join your business is seldom based solely on salary - of far higher importance to recruits is the feeling of being valued. Also, a problem for those wishing to employ is the fact that the best people will not be out of work - they will currently be in employment elsewhere. The trick is showing off your company to its best, in order to give people the reason to relocate.


This breakout session allowed the dealers in the room to get into smaller groups to discuss and swap ideas with each other regarding how they can boost their company brand and make their place of business desirable for incoming staff. Selling your business as a great place to work, detailing how employees can feel valued, how to write a job advert and how to explain your culture and principals were all considered.


Afternoon sessions



Post-lunch kicked off with a 20 minute specialist market research presentation. Each year, communications and content agency TAP has conducted research into the professional groundscare market with a view to better understanding the sector and sharing their findings with the industry. The latest results were presented to delegates by TAP's head of insight, Shaun Cooper, who said that TAP's findings had shown that practitioners in the groundscare sector were particularly interested in battery products, in automation and in working in an environmentally friendly way.


He dug down deeper into these findings, revealing that workers in the sector have a genuine appetite to work towards more eco-conscious practices, driven principally by the desires of their clients. 


Shaun also said that the findings revealed that these professional end-users have the desire to perhaps purchase more kit online, but want to continue to use dealerships to fix and repair machinery.



The second keynote speech of the day saw Heather Wildman take to the main stage to address the whole conference with her presentation, 'Succession - I’ve got loads of time to think about this. Haven’t I?” Heather asked the delegates if they were a good advocate for their business - or were they always moaning and bloody miserable?! "What is your reputation?, she asked, "and do people want to stay with you."


She emphasised that for succession to work an open and honest conversation must take place and dealers must talk about the greatness of their company. "Talk with positivity, pride and passion," she said. The succession conversation will be difficult she stressed, but it shouldn't be put off.



Following the second breakout session of the day, the conference began to wrap up with an on-stage panel discussion. Chaired by Duncan and featuring Stewart, Heather, Robin and Jeremy, they looked at issues that had arisen during the day's work, taking questions from the audience via Slido. Topics covered included why it's not just salary that dictates the employment market; employing the younger generations; how the average forces leaver feels when they exit the services; can bullies hide in small businesses?; the best method to motivate and retain staff; what's a key ingredient in a successful succession conversation?; and how to get oneself out of a low period.




Finally Duncan took to the stage to close the conference. He said of the day's events, "We have been very careful to choose our speakers so that we can deliver a programme that motivates but also embraces the theme of sustaining dealerships in their talks and also their workshops.  We find ourselves in a time when looking forward is more important than ever.  



"With all that is going on in the industry and the pressures that there are, we hope that today has delivered some real value to you. We hope you have enjoyed it but more importantly will come away with knowledge that will help you progress your own dealerships."


From my own personal point of view, I thought the content really delivered on it's intention - and as I say, speaking to dealers yesterday, they certainly seemed to agree. There was a palpable buzz around the hall and in the bar late into yesterday evening. You will be able to read more about the day in the upcoming issue of Service Dealer magazine, the official photographs will be published online (rather than my snaps used in my blog today) and there will be a video roundup of all the action coming very soon.


I would like to give my personal thanks to all of TAP's organising team - a monumental effort by all that succeeded in delivering an inspirational and enjoyable day. 


Finally huge thanks must go to this year's sponsors, without whom a day such as this would not be possible.


This year's sponsors were:


Principal Sponsor



Gold Sponsors







Societe Generale Equipment Finance

Yamaha Motors


Networking Sponsor



Content Sponsor

De Lacy Executive

In this issue
Sponsored Product Announcements
Servicing Dealer Industry First, Profit Second
Briggs & Stratton
Catalyst Computer Systems
Garden Trader
Henton & Chattell
Societe Generale
Toro UK Limited