The first had the glorious whiff of recently ignited petrol, occupied ramps and nowhere to sit in the reception area. Less than a mile away, the other had lots of polished plate glass and floor tile, but no life, soul or customers. It was the contrast between a dealer getting it right in a recession, and another stuck up a blind alley.
Both were Jag dealers. The first is a solidly independent operation with a busy workshop and affordable cars getting sold. The other was a main dealer with tumbleweed under the ramps and a showroom with all the bustle and atmosphere of a crypt.
Ask any motor trade professional and they’ll tell you that, since the August 1st number plate change was abolished, this is the one of the quietest months of the year. We’ll have to wait until September to see just how bad things really are.
The independent had noticed a downward dip recently, but it was keeping busy doing what it does best. It’s staffed by a friendly crew who know what they’re doing, and who can do it cheaper than a main agent, even if they have to buy in the same diagnostic boxes and elec-trickery. And value still sells, with tidy XJs, S-Types and XKs looking great and attracting sensible customers.
At the main agent there was less atmosphere than on the surface of the moon. In a way, you can’t blame the franchisee: what can they do about VED, credit crunches and the fact that you can even get money off an XF these days? It was a depressing place to be - and just so eerily quiet. And behind their fixed, professional smiles, there was precious little for the staff to be keen about.
So there you have it: whatever the Government says about successive quarters of negative expansion being necessary to justify the ‘R’ word, there’s already a recession in the nation’s showrooms.
But there’s also hope that, if they are prepared to adapt, they might just survive. I mean, why was the main dealer so quiet and empty? Surely this is the perfect time to get a bit of passion and enthusiasm going on: a Sir Williams Lyons diorama, some Le Mans Scalextric and maybe some baby Jags for the kids to play with.
Come on guys: the ship might be sinking, but you don’t need to go down with it.