We join SEAT UK boss for a shift on sales team at new Lon­don out­let

Auto Express - - Inside Story - Chris Rosa­mond

MOST peo­ple may aspire to be man­agers of sorts, but at the end of the day, there’s noth­ing quite like rolling up your sleeves and get­ting stuck into the day-to-day graft with the rest of the com­pany. Car man­u­fac­tur­ers are no dif­fer­ent. When SEAT launched its new ‘store’ dealership in at the West­field shop­ping cen­tre in West Lon­don, its UK man­ag­ing direc­tor Richard Har­ri­son de­cided to join the sales staff for a day. Auto Ex­press spent a few hours with Har­ri­son, watch­ing him buff­ing bon­nets and talk­ing shop to see how the boss adapts to a life in the show­room.

The West­field mall is now a mecca for man­u­fac­tur­ers who want to flog you a car on top of your gro­ceries and shoe pur­chases. Lux­ury car dealer HR Owen has a dis­play and a used car show­room on site, DS and Tesla are both tout­ing their ve­hi­cles, and now SEAT has joined the party.

They all have dif­fer­ent mod­els and cus­tomers, but share the same prob­lem of jus­ti­fy­ing the cost of a tra­di­tional show­room at Lon­don’s hy­per-in­flated prop­erty prices.

A lease on a unit at West­field isn’t cheap, but with 27 mil­lion shop­ping ‘vis­its’ claimed an­nu­ally, it seems a no-brainer for a brand such as SEAT. So are shop­pers go­ing to West­field for jeans re­ally sus­cep­ti­ble to a new car sales pitch? That’s what Har­ri­son in­tends to find out, which is why he’s al­ready spent the best part of a day in the Star­bucks cof­fee shop at West­field, ‘peo­ple watch­ing’ as shop­pers walked past the store. “It was fas­ci­nat­ing,” he says. “I watched them come up the es­ca­la­tor, where they went, and how long they looked up or down.

“Af­ter gain­ing that in­sight, we had to com­pletely re­think what we had put up on our large screen above the door. In a place this busy you’ve got peo­ple’s at­ten­tion for only a few sec­onds be­fore you lose them again.”

Har­ri­son isn’t new to the shop floor en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause he sold in­stru­ments in a mu­sic shop be­fore chang­ing ca­reers. Rigged up in the ca­sual garb of one of the West­field store sales team, he slots eas­ily into the role, and im­me­di­ately starts talk­ing to his first cus­tomer about how to con­nect their phone with the lat­est SEAT in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem on show at the ‘con­nec­tiv­ity bar’.

And while Har­ri­son’s ev­ery­day role is all about the prof­its, there’s less pres­sure to sell cars at SEAT West­field – handy be­cause the first cus­tomer leaves with­out buying a car. He tells us: “From the point of view of a sales­per­son, the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween this and a [nor­mal] dealership is you see a lot more peo­ple. That means you have a lot of very dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tions and can eas­ily end up chat­ting about Barcelona in­stead of the cars.”

Rather than mak­ing di­rect sales pitches, Har­ri­son says the cus­tomer-to-sales-ex­ec­u­tive re­la­tion­ship is dif­fer­ent at West­field. “We know most peo­ple don’t come here to buy a new car,” he ex­plains, “but when you speak to them it’s sur­pris­ing how many don’t think they’re in a po­si­tion to do it.” He points to a Mii city car and adds: “Then you show them

“There’s no pres­sure. Here, you have a lot of very dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tions and can eas­ily end up chat­ting about Barcelona in­stead of the cars we sell” “In a place this busy you’ve got peo­ple’s at­ten­tion for sec­onds be­fore you lose them” RICHARD HAR­RI­SON SEAT UK MD

one of these, tell them there’s only a de­posit and a small monthly pay­ment and they sud­denly say ‘hmm... maybe!’”

For a car sales­man, Har­ri­son seems unusu­ally re­laxed about his po­ten­tial cus­tomers wan­der­ing into the West­field store – and out again – with­out sign­ing on the dot­ted line.

“It doesn’t mat­ter, be­cause there’s no pres­sure,” he says be­fore ex­plain­ing that the store’s ethos means sales staff don’t work on com­mis­sion and the whole plat­form is as open as it can be. “Our prices are fixed so what you see on the screen is what you pay. There’s no hag­gling over trade-in val­ues, be­cause we’ve got data that can give you a fair trade-in price on the spot,” he says.

As cus­tomers come and go, Har­ri­son tells us the cen­tre of­fers a lot more than a flashy take on the show­room. There are 10 cars in the cen­tre car park for unac­com­pa­nied test drives, and come an­nual ser­vice time own­ers can drop off their car for ‘while you shop’ main­te­nance (it will be car­ried out by an­other VW Group brand just up the road).

The West­field set-up is only SEAT’S sec­ond shop­ping cen­tre store, and the man­ag­ing direc­tor is com­pletely up front about the project be­ing a work in progress. “The truth is, we’re still ex­per­i­ment­ing about how to mod­ify the propo­si­tion from a dealership, where cus­tomers walk in al­ready think­ing about buying a car. There are a lot of peo­ple guess­ing what the fu­ture will be, but by try­ing out things like this we can help to shape it.”

With his shift com­ing to an end, Har­ri­son has yet to close a sin­gle sale, but he doesn’t spend long with us be­fore he dashes off to meet and greet an­other new face. There may be “no pres­sure”, but he is the boss af­ter all.

SEAT’S UK boss is quite happy to break out the el­bow grease to keep the West­field stock look­ing in per­fect con­di­tion

Har­ri­son is re­laxed when deal­ing with cus­tomer queries

Slick West­field op­er­a­tion lets po­ten­tial buy­ers view the full pal­ette of colours SEAT of­fers

IN THE KNOW Even though there’s no pres­sure for sales, it pays to know your prod­uct – and Har­ri­son proves this to var­i­ous cus­tomers, as well as to our man Rosa­mond (be­low, right)

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