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business models, strategies and technologies

In the used car world, geography can be made disruptive

Used car dealer upends expectations and experience by doing the business at your place – not theirs.

Used car dealers aren’t exactly renowned for their innovative business practices – “shady” is more the adjective that comes to mind. Which must be extremely tiresome for energetic souls out there, trying to get ahead and do good business.

Familiar surroundings, better experience

By chance, a recent mention in the Danish Børsen business pinkie drew my attention to Holmland Biler, a seemingly somewhat upmarket used car dealer over in western Denmark. According to the owner, Claus Lund, they are willing to take a car home to a potential buyer and demonstrate it in his/her familiar surroundings. This reduces stress and probably helps the potential buyer to a more positive, easier-to-compare experience while trying out the car on familiar roads, and without the often-caricatured burden of having to traipse all over town, dragging the whole bored, sullenly protesting family with them.

This innovative-sounding approach recognises the fact that potential customers are busy people, but also transforms the entire geography and the setting of the purchase experience. Instead of just being one customer among many, surrounded by a plethora of theoretical choice that in practice is really more of a twist-the-knife reminder of how much the visitor is unable to afford, and how many automotive fantasies remain blatantly unfulfilled, a potential buyer suddenly becomes the centre of focus, at the same time as being in secure, familiar surroundings – at home. This geographical transition transforms (or at least can transform) the purchasing experience, as well as the basis on which the transaction is rooted.

Better business

But where’s the payoff? I’m only guessing that there’s a better closure rate for the Holmland salespeople, along with fewer wasted “trial drives” on their inventory, with all the non-sales man-hour distractions this involves. It seems that a lot of the preliminaries and negotiation have been done, so that the transaction can actually be completed right there in the buyer’s own living room, with the Holmland messenger driving way in the buyer’s taken-in-part-exchange vehicle.

According to the article, another wrinkle in Holmland rethinking is that all their cars are thoroughly checked and issued with a Danish-style “used car certificate” from a recognised body. The point being (apparently) that Holmland have discovered that it’s better business to get all the defects seen to and repaired prior to sale at their own expense – and documented to the buyer, thus racking up good scores on the goodwill and transparency accounts – rather than having to deal with unpredictably expensive, negativity-laden customer complaints, post-sale.

But perhaps the biggest payoff with what seems to be the Holmland approach lies in changing the overall customer experience, and thus standing out from the maddening crowd of difficult-to-differentiate used-car showrooms, usually clumped together in the same area of each Danish town.

From idea to reality

Holmland seemed an interesting example of how much disruptive thinking could be packed into something as unspectacular and un-new as selling used cars, that quintessential cliché for unimaginative business.

I quickly zoomed over to the company’s website to check out this innovative approach – and instead got an eloquent reminder of how bland and customer-remote used-car emporiums can be. Just photos of showroom interiors and serried ranks of shined-up metal money buckets. As if people/customers and their practical foibles and concerns don’t really exist …

OK, they write/wrote that a new website is/was on its way 15 March 2017 so perhaps I should cut them some slack. But what a missed opportunity not to stand out after (presumably free) editorial coverage in a national paper!


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