5 minutes with… Alistair Horsburgh, CEO, CitNOW

As well as the high quality products and services you can access via Hub365, it’s our talented automotive experts that can really help transform your business.

Our new ‘5 minutes with…’ series is designed to bring you closer to these industry specialists as they share their experiences, insights and thoughts on UK automotive right now.

First up is Alistair Horsburgh, CEO at CitNOW.

What were your first experiences of the automotive industry?

I’m a third-generation car guy. My grandfather ran a Volkswagen business in Oldham, my father ended up taking over that business and I got involved in the car industry in 1983. My earliest memory of the car industry is with my grandfather – when I was about 2 years old – sat on the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle in their showroom trying to sell cars as people queued up at the desks, for £250 a car back then!

How has it changed since then?

I think it’s fair to say a lot of things haven’t changed. And there are some things which are still, should I say, ‘stuck in the Dark Ages’. But technology has definitely moved things quite a lot. I was a Sales Manager in the mid-90’s when the internet came along, and that definitely changed the way that car retailing happened. Aftersales maybe didn’t change as much as people may think. Perhaps the workshops are cleaner, technicians’ toolboxes are a lot fancier than they used to be, and I think technicians’ overalls are probably cleaner than they used to be as well! It’s just not as dirty an environment as it used to be, but apart from that technology is probably the thing that’s changed the industry the most.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing automotive retailers right now?

The biggest challenge that automotive retailers face right now is getting the balance right with the number of people it takes to run a successful dealership. I don’t think anyone’s got a shortage of leads, they’re coming in thick and fast, but I just think it’s about professionalism, it’s about how management can manage their teams, whether they’re sales or aftersales, and help them be the very best version of themselves. So, can they have their technicians diagnosing vehicles, can their service advisors communicate well with customers, can their salespeople offer the best advice, and hopefully pulling together the kind of deals that will make customers happy with their purchases!

What do you think are the biggest opportunities for automotive retailers right now?

It’s about how can we move during this contactless environment, and it’s difficult when you’re delivering an experience which you’re used to doing face-to-face, and trying to deliver that remotely. It’s been really challenging. I think it’s about finding a blend – how can you transition customers from the digital world into the physical world and how can you do that seamlessly and successfully. From a new and used car retailing perspective and also from an aftersales point of view. The only way that comes together is through online tools that help that customer journey, and it’s really challenging to pick the right pieces of technology, making sure people want to use them. Anybody can create complicated and difficult to use tech, at the end of the day if people don’t use it, it just doesn’t work.

How do you help automotive retailers?

We help retailers by providing them with a very simple to use video platform – it’s a communication tool to effectively change out existing processes like emails, telephone calls, instead using video. Some people have got a very specific process that they operate in their showrooms, so we work with dealerships to do all kinds of things to improve – some dealerships used to use our technology to improve appointment turn-up rate – well, maybe that’s not as big of a deal at the moment with appointments being the focus of what people are doing right now. It’s about helping people to improve their processes, so if it’s all about conversion, appointment turn-up rate, trust transparency and aftersales, if it’s about integrity in the sales department – we put video into franchised car dealerships to do just that and have done for the last ten years. What we’ve found is that a lot of the principles don’t really change, it’s about professionalising your process. We’ve often not known what salespeople have been saying to customers, so with video you can take a customer on a journey, you can validate it, management can watch those videos back and use them to carry out 121’s with the team and know what to say to their customers. It all helps in an improvement in the overall processes for the customer.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I enjoy being able to ‘walk away’ from the industry! Having been a retailer for so long, you were chained to the retailer 7 days a week, from the mid-90’s to early 2004. I like the ability to go and touch so many of these retailers, live in that world I lived in all my life and to be able to give it back – it’s like the old adage of giving the baby back. It’s good to meet so many people, it’s like a little village, the car industry. There are so many aspects of this that are just so enjoyable and I couldn’t see myself working in a different industry. I did try to get out once, it didn’t work out so I came bouncing back!

What excited you the most about joining Hub365?

Hub365 for us is about collaboration, but it’s also about validating that we provide a level of service that is trusted through nearly 75% of the franchised dealerships in the UK. What we try to do is offer the very best options in our sales function through our sales product and web product but also in aftersales. What we try to do is to be able to collaborate with other like-minded individuals around the table and to see how we can work with them, how we could improve performance for dealerships but also make it a ‘one stop shop’ so that customers and retailers knew that if they went there, it was a safe place to be with good products and companies. People will be able to see the value of being and joining in to that environment.

What’s the most interesting fact about you?

Not entirely sure there’s a lot interesting about me! For all my sins, I’m an ex-rugby player and poacher turned gamekeeper, not that I went in to refereeing or anything. For most of my life I’ve never really watched football or played it but then my son got me involved in it for my sins. I’m a Man Utd fan now, and I can hear all the boos and hisses going around! I’ll be happy to get back to the ground, when the opportunity comes. Apart from that, not a very exciting person, but I do love what I do, and love working in the car industry! Hopefully being a member of Hub365 will give us an opportunity to talk to more suppliers and to be a place that people can collaborate on good ideas and come back with some suggestions and recommendations on what we might be able to do better.

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