Service Dealer convened another group video call this Wednesday, this time once again welcoming a panel of dealers from around the country - as well as representatives from our trade associations.
Following the meeting Service Dealer owner Duncan Murray-Clarke, said, "It is good to see the responsible and inventive way in which dealers have been approaching business over the weeks and it certainly feels like we are entering another phase.
"I am sure we will be seeing many more dealers open one way or another.”
As you might imagine, responding to recent news, the conversation began by considering what might be in store for industry events as we move through 2020. The discussion was inspired following last week's postponement of Stiga's dealer conference and the news which broke on Tuesday this week that SALTEX will no longer go ahead this November.
The shifting of the GMA's exhibition until March 2021 was clearly a massive decision for the association and one which it was necessary to make and announce early. It was a pragmatic choice which no one can be too surprised about. If anything it shines a light on autumn's other industry shows, Glee and APF, which at the moment according to their websites, are still going ahead.
Shifting SALTEX to March next year does of course re-ignite a couple of age-old debates surrounding shows in our industry.
Firstly, timing. Is it ideal for dealers? Probably not really. But the GMA's first responsibility is of course, to their professional end-user members. For those turf professionals it's the beginning of the growing season, so maybe it works quite well? For dealers looking for inspiration for new products to stock in their stores, perhaps not so much?
Secondly, it's that old chestnut, does the outdoor power equipment industry actually need more than one major show per year? The newly timed SALTEX will kick off less than six weeks after BIGGA's BTME exhibition in Harrogate. In all honesty, this isn't much different to the late-October / early November to mid-January gap between the shows that we've become accustomed to in recent years. However, that Christmas and New Year gap in the middle somehow acted to separate the shows - if only psychologically. Now they feel like they really are on top of each other (presuming that BIGGA's show is able to go ahead as planned come January!)
I suppose the simple answer is 'the industry' could cope with a single major exhibition each year - but the two professional trade associations probably couldn't.
Moving on, the talk on the call this week turned to how dealers were moving forward now lockdown is slowly beginning to ease. One of the key elements to a successful progression over the next few months will be the physical transformations dealers will need to put in place in their places of business. Showrooms especially will need to comply with social distancing guidelines for the safety of staff of customers alike.
We heard varying reports that some manufacturers and suppliers are offering their dealers, at a charge, branded signage and floor stickers etc, to kit out their showrooms - and some are not.
Some dealers are preferring to do things for themselves anyway, setting up their stores so they work safely for their needs. Examples such as customers only being allowed into certain areas of the store and then the dealership staff helping them with what they want, were discussed. Or others are making customers wait outside with equipment brought out to be viewed.
Hayes Garden Machinery
A common theme with the various methods we heard, was that it was the dealership dictating to the customers what they can and can't do. They aren't leaving it up to the customer to act responsibly. If the dealer has stringent and clear procedures in place, there is little room for the customer to do anything which may be breaking the rules or acting in a potentially hazardous manor.
To this end, some dealers aren't ready to open quite yet. The key is to get things right. As we move through this thing, it's becoming clearer that social distancing measures across society are not just going to be in place for the next few weeks - they will need to be in situ for the foreseeable future. Therefore it's important that the correct changes are made now, so there aren't issues further down the line.
For the up to date guidance regarding the obligations retailers may need to fulfil once they are open, the official government guidelines can be found here.
The positive news is that for those who have been trading, business has been brisk. Especially so for dealers in the agricultural and domestic sectors - see the story today that Honda are reporting sales exceeding expectations in April. And now with the golf courses and parks coming back to life, the commercial dealers have also seen enquiries coming through.
We heard reports of some very satisfied customers who dealers have been able to help during this stressful time. Be they farmers whose machines have been kept running, or gardeners who have able to look after their lawns whilst being stuck at home.
It is always nice to receive feedback that your hard work has been appreciated. So let's hope all these recent efforts by dealers adapting to the situation - offering click & collect facilities or making safe deliveries for example - translates into on-going customer loyalty and long-term relationships.
You will remember what businesses have been there for you as we move through this - and so will your customers.