So, armed with more discounts I took the hint and pushed on with selling even more
cars for Renault and generating more bonuses for Renault Croydon, Toby Johnstone and
Pam Hillman. And the sales kept coming
in and the Renault Merry-Go-Round kept turning, generating more and more sales.
But that must have upset someone.
Because a few months later I had a phone call from a worried Toby Johnstone. He
had just been phoned by Steve Wilson from Renault. Steve
was Simon Arnold’s eventual replacement and Toby told me that Steve would be calling
me to ‘challenge the arrangements for BALPA’.
It was a bit of an odd phrase for Toby to use, but Toby explained that Steve had told
him Renault was concerned that cars bought through the BALPA account might be making
their way onto car supermarket forecourts at prices undercutting Renault’s franchised
dealers. And that was a ‘No-No’.
Apparently a Renault dealer had heard about what was happening with the BALPA account
and had complained.
Now dealers don’t just get to hear about this sort of arrangement, someone must have
tipped them off. And that was most probably
another broker like me who was buying cars from the miffed dealer and who was jealous
about losing customers to me and so had put the dealer up to complaining about me. A
bit of a snake in the grass given that, whoever it was, he was almost certainly doing
exactly what I was doing. But knowledge
on deals gets around the grey market in new cars fairly quickly, especially if a new
kid on the block is taking customers off established suppliers.
And despite the number of cars I was selling, Renault couldn’t afford to take the
chance of those cars ending up on the forecourts of car supermarkets where they might
be spotted by its dealers. That would
have really upset the Merry-Go-Round ride.
But I hadn’t gone through my ordeal with Dopplegänger without picking up some lessons
on what keeps the new car sales Merry-Go-Round spinning and I had already anticipated
that Renault would want some assurances about where the cars were going. Remember
I said earlier that Dopplegänger would probably hold on to the registration documents
for the cars he bought in bulk? It’s
known in the motor trade as ‘V5 retention’.
V5 retention is a charade to allow the manufacturer’s auditors to certify that cars
bought by a fleet operator are still in the fleet operator’s possession. It
works because, if you have sold a car, you have to return the V5 to the DVLA so that
it can be registered in the name of the new owner, after which a new V5 is issued
to them. So the auditors use the simple
logic that if you still have the V5 then you still have the car. I
had simply done what Dopplegänger had done and I still had the V5s for all the cars
I had sold so far for Renault. I told
Toby Johnstone, who said ‘You’re safe mate, let Steve Wilson see them and that will
keep Renault happy.’
Sure enough, the next day Steve Wilson arrived and after the usual pleasantries he
began asking questions about the steps I took to make sure that the Renaults I sold
did not end up on car supermarket forecourts.
But, being forewarned by Toby Johnstone, I had already put together a file containing
the V5s for every Renault sold so far. So
I showed Steve Wilson the file, put it on the table in front of him, asked if he would
like a tea or a coffee and left him alone with the file whilst I wandered off to the
kitchen and deliberately took my time about making drinks.
About five minutes later I returned with a tray of refreshments. Now
whilst I can’t say for sure that Steve Wilson had taken the opportunity to look at
the file, let’s face it, who wouldn’t have done so in the circumstances?
Your bosses want proof that cars being sold at huge discounts from one of your client’s
accounts haven’t been sold on to car supermarkets. You
are offered a file with all the V5s which would give a good indication that the cars
haven’t gone anywhere untoward. And then,
despite being left alone with the file on a table in front of you for 5 minutes, you
don’t look in it?
Nah. What sane and rationale employee would have missed the opportunity to take a
peek in that file, especially someone supposed to be investigating allegations that
cars were being sold by me to supermarkets?
Steve Wilson said nothing about the V5s when I got back with the tea and biscuits,
but it was noticeable immediately that the tone of the meeting had changed. The
questioning from Steve stopped, instead we concentrated on what could be done to help
improve sales and Steve offered even bigger discounts for more sales. And
so the speed of the Renault Merry-Go-Round was cranked up another notch higher.
But someone had it in for me. And I needed
to either find out who it was, or at least minimise the chances of the same thing
Now there’s an old adage in business. It’s
called the 'Eighty-Twenty' principle. It’s
based on the rather random rule of thumb that 80% of your business probably comes
from just 20% of your customers, making not only them your most valuable customers,
but also making you probably just as valuable to them, since they are probably placing
a significant amount of their business with you and therefore don’t want their supplies
And, conversely, perhaps around 80% of your customers generate only about 20% of your
business, making them proportionately more expensive to deal with, perhaps even a
lot more trouble than they are worth.
Today certainly seemed to suggest that. I
couldn’t imagine my regular broker customers wanting to upset their supply arrangements,
but maybe somewhere in the 80% of the rest of the occasional buyers there was someone
prepared to do just that if it meant that they could get rid of a competitor.
I decided to dump the 80% and concentrate on the 20%. If
they had a vested interest in doing business with me then they would be far less likely
to get up to whatever antics had brought about the day’s interrogation, even if it
had all in fact been a sham, as Renault knew that the cars weren't going to BALPA
members anyway, and surely the volume of business now being generated was more
than Renault would have wanted to put in jeopardy?
Or so I thought.