Savvy MD makes ‘Das Auto’ work for London


Car sales are falling fast, but Paul Tanner is adapting to soften the impact and continue Alan Day’s success

Paul Tanner is a competitive man. As a schoolboy he played for Watford Football Club. Aged 19, he represented Great Britain in the 100m hurdles before succumbing to an injury.

Now he’s in the driving seat of the thriving Alan Day Volkswagen dealership, steering it through a crisis in the British car industry.

New car registrations fell by 11.5% this year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. With consumers feeling the financial pinch this year more than ever, you would be forgiven for writing off growth within the sector.

Yet Tanner is not overly fazed by the drop in car sales. He knows something you might not. The vast majority of his revenue comes not from the forecourt’s strikingly impressive cars out front, but from the garage in the back.

Roughly 70 per cent of Alan Day’s profits come from servicing. With that in mind, guaranteeing competitiveness is crucial, and Paul Tanner is all over it.

“We offer a price match with our services. If you find a cheaper deal we’ll adjust our price accordingly. We offer free puncture repairs, free checks and 50 per cent off MOTs for longstanding customers.”

Bolstered by a strong servicing reputation, the company has an annual turnover of £66m. Its track record has been strengthened with Car Dealership of the Year and Volkswagen Dealer of Excellence titles in 2000 and 2009 respectively.

With a new site under development, Alan Day is showing no signs of slowing down. Any issues are being tackled head on: “Obviously fuel costs are a huge issue at the moment, people are driving their cars less, so we have to work hard making sure we produce fuel-efficient vehicles,” explains Tanner.

“The cost of repairs is rising as mechanical parts give way to electrical ones. There are more computers in cars these days than on the first rocket that went to the moon,” he adds.

To help counterbalance customers’ costs, the Alan Day dealership offers a number of payment plans which allow you to pay a small amount each month, covering the service of your car for the year.

As managing director and co-owner of Alan Day, Tanner is in charge of of the dealership’s five sites dotted around London. He joined the company at 19 and, having worked his way up from the bottom, he bought it in 2006. He is all too familiar with the specific problems that face London’s automotive industry.

“Customers are extremely time conscious here – when they have a service they expect to get their cars back the same day. I think a car dealer from another part of the country would struggle here.

“We have to be very aware of our market and try to meet their needs but we do this by working as efficiently as possible and making sure we have as many parts available on site as we can. Our staff live in London too and enjoy the buzz – they like to be busy.”

Notoriously impatient Londoners are not the only stumbling block to running a successful dealership in the capital. The congestion charge and heavy volumes of traffic deter people from driving here at all, and make life increasingly difficult for Tanner.

“When the congestion charge was thrown at us we had to swallow the cost and make sure that our customers continued to get the best possible service. We cover the charge ourselves for customers who bring their cars into our Embankment branch. That costs us £60,000 a year.”

An expensive undertaking, and one not emulated by his contemporaries, according to Tanner. But dealing with rising prices is one thing – how do you react to a market that is changing its habits?

The introduction of Boris Johnson’s city bikes has only augmented an already booming trend for cycling in the city. And it doesn’t end there – those averse to personal pedal power are opting for innovative rental services such as Streetcar instead of buying cars outright.

“I have definitely noticed an increase in bikes on the roads – when you can get through central London faster than in a car I don’t blame them. But we have fostered a partnership with Streetcar and we are in talks with another company that offers a similar service.

“We realise that we have to adapt to whatever the market dictates. By supplying and servicing the cars for these pay-as-you-go services [such as Streetcar]we are keeping a hand in the game. And, hopefully, people who use Streetcar will buy a car in the future.”

Loyalty rewards and friendly, personable staff help to nurture a family atmosphere within an already trusted brand.

Alan Day has won numerous awards for customer service – outstanding care is paramount in making sure the car owners are coming back. Despite employing 220 staff and sub-contracting even more, standards are kept across the board.

“We have a profile for an Alan Day employee. It doesn’t matter if they are drivers, sales or management – we know the kind of person who will fit. Our environment is friendly and pressure free.

“Our sales team have lower targets than you would find elsewhere and everybody goes that extra mile for customers.”

Paul Tanner’s competitive spirit has afforded him great success. Like the great football player he once dreamt of being, he has been able to anticipate the next move and place Alan Day in a winning position, streets ahead of some of his peers.