5 Minutes With Mark Pickles, Marketing Director, Peugeot UK

Peugeot recently took motor retail to new heights by opening a dealership that‘s just 2.6sq ft inside a London phone box. For this week's '5 Minutes With...', we spoke to the man who has been a driving force in making this a reality.

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Peugeot UK

First and foremost, how did this crazy/unique/awesome idea of converting a disused phone box into a car dealership come about?

We wanted to bring the idea of ordering a new car from anywhere to life.

London‘s disused phone boxes have been enjoying a new wave of life as coffee shops, libraries and even salad bars, among other things. This is ultimately because technology has moved on, which is something we are seeing in the way we buy and sell cars.

We saw this as an opportunity to offer a completely unique experience – ordering a car online from an iconic listed building, demonstrating with Order Online that you can do this anywhere, at your convenience.

How has the public reaction been to it so far?

The idea has certainly captured the imaginations of the public, with lots of positive sentiment on social media.

It opened to the public on September 12 and we are monitoring how people are using it and interacting with it over the course of the month.

The campaign has also seen an increase in traffic to our Order Online facility.

Explain the phone dealership‘s Order Online system.

The phone box uses Peugeot UK‘s ecommerce system, which forms the core of our website. Since January, Order Online has enabled visitors to our website to explore, build, finance and schedule the delivery of a brand new Peugeot from start to finish.

Why and how is this a unique feature for retail?

Whilst ecommerce is by no means unique, it is unique to be able to complete such a potentially complex transaction – valuing a part exchange, offering a range of financing options, including both credit and money laundering checks, and then arranging a physical handover of the vehicle – all in one simple, quick workflow.

It‘s an over-used analogy, but buying a car is second only to buying a house – just imagine if you could complete that transaction in 20 minutes online.

In what ways can the motoring brands succeed in the UK‘s challenging retail market?

Identify what customers want and delivering it in a manner which is frictionless.

By building agility and responsiveness into the way our teams work, we can react to a dynamic market, and take advantage of emerging opportunities, such as connected technology, new methods of ownership and access to cars, and new technology to support the ownership experience.

How is Peugeot addressing some of the challenges facing the UK retail industry as a whole?

One of our key challenges is to ensure our retailer network is profitable, in an industry with traditionally thin margins, and typical return-on-sales of less than 1-2 per cent.

We do this by minimising exposure to stock, always seeking opportunities to increase “basket-size” through selling high-line versions with profitable optional extras, and by seeking to address the typically high staff turnover levels of both the motor trade and retail sector in general.

We recognise our products and services are complex, and require highly-skilled, well-motivated and supported colleagues who form the only physical connection we have with our customers – as such we hope to reduce the headwind that these issues bring.

Tell us a bit about your role at Peugeot UK.

As marketing director, I define the product and pricing strategy, the communication and advertising activity, our commercial offers and programmes, as well as managing the teams who deliver our digital services and retailer marketing support.

From building the product line-up, identifying the target customers, to building the tools to penetrate the market, I get to oversee the whole marketing mix.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Peugeot.

I began my career in high street retail, at a very junior level as I completed my A-level and degree studies. After university, with a love of cars and retail, I embarked on a management development programme with a large dealer group. That gave me quick exposure and responsibility across all areas of motor retail, with full profit and loss accountability for a large business by the time I was 24. From there I jumped into the manufacturer side, and have literally never looked back.

What got you into the retail sector in the first place?

Quite simply, the people. As a sales assistant for Halfords back in the early 90s, I found that when others fled from an angry or disaffected customer, I got a real buzz from understanding their problem, finding a solution, and often building an ongoing relationship.

Allied to that, the feeling in retail that every day brings a new opportunity, with no two days the same, made it an addictive mix for me, and one that I miss now I spend much time behind a desk.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

It has given me that ability to test my “theoretical” ideas with the simple question: would I have used this when I was in the frontline, would it have made the job easier, and would it have made me more money?  If the answer to all three is yes, then the idea has legs.

As a marketer, whether in parts and service (a previous role) or in new cars, you have to be able to put yourself in the position of both the customer and the retailer, and my retail experience makes this easier.

Of course, I have to reflect that my experience is historic, but the principles are the same even if the environment is tougher and the industry more dynamic than ever before.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Prioritising. We have many opportunities, a wide range of great products, and many exciting tools and suppliers, but finite resources of time and budget – therefore I need to constantly optimise what we focus our attention on, to get the best return on investment.

And the most rewarding?

Seeing just how quickly a situation can be changed and improved with even a small amount of effort. For example, changing the “action” buttons on our website, and watching with the team as our lead-generation, dealer appointments, and ultimately orders grow.

I have a simple system that records success in green ‘ink‘ and decline or missed opportunities in red. The green ink has addictive qualities.

Can you talk about any other projects that you‘re working on at the moment?

Having introduced Order Online, alongside a number of other digital projects, we have experienced an explosion in the number and quality of sales leads generated over the last two years.

Without exposing any secrets, my focus is now on harnessing those leads, nurturing them to move prospects further down the “sales funnel” in order to deliver ever stronger opportunities to the retailer network.

This project involves cutting edge technology, but moreover it involves getting to the heart of what the customer needs to move towards us, and what barriers they and our sales teams encounter which prevent the purchase of a Peugeot. The project is currently in pilot, but already the results are exciting.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Start at the coal-face, on the shop-floor, and get as much experience as possible with customers. I have worked in multiple regions, and noticed big differences in expectation, attitude and disposition.

Don‘t see the junior roles as merely a box to tick to progress – I still use experiences from my early days to influence the way I think today, and the way I challenge my team – that experience really was invaluable.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

In any period of uncertainty, the biggest risk I see is of “hedgehog” mentality – roll-up in a ball until the threat has receded. Particularly when selling products with relatively high ticket prices, it is all too easy for consumers to defer purchases for months or even years.

So it is incumbent on suppliers and retailers to give customers a reason to buy, and the reassurance that they can make smart choices without foregoing a new car. Allied to this, there is a risk that as an industry, we defer capital projects when things are less certain – but this will backfire when normality inevitability returns. It‘s the old adage of the pilot: don‘t turn your engines off in a storm to save fuel, focus on getting through the turbulence.

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