Framed By The Frogs

CHAPTER 6
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Having extracted myself from SteerFast with my sanity marginally in tact, I promptly displayed all the symptoms of full insanity by plunging straight back into car dealing.  This time though, I said to myself, I would be in charge and I would not let anyone else influence my judgement on how things should be done.  Or so I thought.

 

SteerFast’s business had been based on selling cars to the members of affinity groups before the business model had been hijacked by Dopplegänger and Brünhilde.  Nothing wrong with the original business model, just the business partners I had picked up along the way.  So I set about gaining some new affinity clients without taking on board any new business partners.

 

One of these new clients was the British Airline Pilots Association, or BALPA. Now,  BALPA’s  job is two-fold; representing the interests of pilots and flight engineers as a trade union and protecting us as airline passengers through lobbying airlines and governments on air transport safety issues.

 

BALPA had built up a portfolio of benefits for its members, as trade unions often do, offering special deals to them on a wide range of products and financial services, and it wanted to expand the range of products into new cars, which was where I came in.

 

I set about contacting car manufacturers who I thought might be interested in doing business with airline pilots and, after some negotiating, I brought together a selection willing to offer attractive discounts for BALPA’s members.

 

One manufacturer was especially keen, Renault, the French car maker, but this was no surprise to me.  During my lessons in motor trade life from Dopplegänger I had met with Andy Watkinson, the Renault corporate sales area manager who covered SteerFast’s location.  Andy and I had even visited some potential mutual clients together, as Renault wanted to promote car sales through some of the affinity clients SteerFast had picked up.  In turn, Renault was interested in SteerFast administering car sales for some of the affinity clients that it was talking to directly.  A kind of mutual back scratching exercise between us.

 

So I met with Andy Watkinson’s counterpart for my own local area, Simon Arnold.  Simon was keen and to get things started he recommended that I use a Renault dealership in Croydon, South London , to supply cars to BALPA members, leap-frogging our local Renault dealer in Isleworth.  Because the Croydon dealership was wholly owned by Renault itself, Simon reckoned that it would be able to offer both a better level of service for BALPA members and probably better discounts as well.  I should have smelled a rat, but for some reason I didn’t.  I had obviously spent too much time in amongst rats and grown far too accustomed to the odour.

 

By a complete coincidence I knew one of the business salesmen at Renault Croydon, Toby Johnstone.  Toby had tried out some software that I had been trying to sell to Renault about 4 years before, though I hadn’t spoken to him since then.  So after a couple of meetings with Toby and Simon the deals for BALPA members were agreed and put into place.

 


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Toby and I stayed in touch after the BALPA plan was launched, though BALPA members didn’t seem inclined to buy Renault products so, in a phone conversation a month or so after the plan launch, Toby and I discussed possible reasons why no one from BALPA had bought any Renaults.  I can’t recall his exact words, but Toby said two things.  Firstly, that if the discounts on the account opened for BALPA members weren’t high enough to encourage sales then he had access to some other accounts where the discounts were more attractive and that these discounts could be used to try and stimulate sales to BALPA members.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - I should have smelled a rat, but I had spent too much time in amongst rats and grown too accustomed to the odour
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Secondly, he asked if I had any customers at all for Renaults who could be put through the BALPA account to get things moving, adding that, once Renault could see sales through the account, they would probably increase the BALPA discounts anyway to make them even more attractive in order to try and encourage sales to real members.

 

‘Well, I’ll be blowed.’ is probably the politest way of describing my thoughts.  Dopplegänger was right after all.  Here was Renault Croydon, one of Renault’s own dealerships, prepared to put deals through other customers’ accounts to stimulate sales and, from what Toby was saying, Renault would be quite happy to let them do it.

 

I had dismissed Dopplegänger’s claims as out-and-out lies to try and wriggle his way out of an awkward situation, but maybe I had misjudged him, because here was a manufacturer’s own dealership suggesting exactly the same thing.

 

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

 

‘Of course.’ continued Toby ‘Goes on all the time mate, especially if something is needed to prime the pump, so to speak.’

 

I made a comment about that being a license to print money and Toby just laughed.

 

‘So why is Renault so desperate to generate sales?’  I asked.

 

Toby explained that model changes were on the way.  Its big seller, the Clio, would be replaced at the end of the summer.  Renault France would be deciding the UK price of the new Clio model and wanted to move the brand up-market, so it would push for much lower discounts than those offered on the current model.  Toby complained that no one would buy a Renault anyway in the current market without a decent discount, saying that customers were moving up to the premium brands, such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and Renault just wasn’t in that league.

 

Given Toby’s experience in the industry I didn’t have any reason to doubt what he had proposed, especially as his comments had reinforced exactly what Dopplegänger had told me about the misuse of customer accounts.  Well, well, well.

 

Toby said that anything I could do to help with Renault sales would be welcome and that Renault Croydon dealt with a lot of brokers and could usually come to some sort of arrangement.

 

‘Don’t tell me, £200 per car.’ I thought to myself.  ‘Well’ I thought ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth.’.  So I said to Toby ‘Alright, I’ll see what I can do.’

 

So, armed with that endorsement from Toby, but still some apprehension, that’s exactly what I did.  And with quite spectacular results.  But in not quite the way anyone expected.


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