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A strong year despite the pandemic

By Dan Teuton
24 March 2021
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Positive mindset and strong leadership can make a world of difference – how a South Coast automotive business turned the Covid threat into its most profitable year in 40 years and is committed to raising £40,000 for charity in 2021 with the launch of the Peter Cooper Motor Group Foundation.

Without doubt, the past 12 months have been the most challenging period for businesses since WW2. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for us all, but how many of us can look back with pride on how we’ve coped with the trials and tribulations of the pandemic?

For the Peter Cooper Motor Group, it has been its most challenging period of their 40 years in business. Dealing with the closure of all showrooms for four months last year was certainly their biggest challenge. It was then trying to meet consumer demand with limited supply of new vehicle stock due to the global closure of most car manufacturer factories; culminating in a drop of 25% of its projected turnover.  

So, was it always confident of a strong year despite the pandemic? Did it ever have the concerns that many businesses across the globe had about whether it would survive? Speaking to managing director, Darren Cooper, we were keen to find out.

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Faced with closing the businesses in March, usually its busiest month of the year, the board quickly went into crisis management. First on the agenda for Cooper’s team was to deep dive into the detail of all the Government guidelines and support; to understand the threats to its staff and customers moving forwards.

It quickly realised that it had an essential service to provide customers though its workshops. This was contrary to what many of their competitors did, however it was soon backed up by the Government’s announcements that people on the frontline had to ensure the ongoing road safety of their vehicles. Safety protocols were quickly put in place across its businesses to ensure staff and customer safety and nearly every process involving customers and their cars was reviewed and improved to meet the guidelines of this new environment they found themselves in. It also invested in a special biocide that could be sprayed over the furniture on site and also the interior of all vehicles that came through the business. This gave staff confidence in the safety of their environment, but also gave customers the confidence they needed that their car was being returned without any possible contamination.

Cooper commented: “We have always had really strong values across our businesses, and I knew that this pandemic was going to test them like never before. We were all about to embark on a journey like no other, so I knew it was vital for us to concentrate on very clear and decisive leadership across our business. A key strategy for us was communication; communicate as much as we possibly could to both our staff and customers. There weren’t weeks to prepare and come up with a strategy – we did it in a matter of days and just kept reviewing and improving everything we could. We used video messages to get a personal feel to communications rather than emails and memos. We had to adapt immediately to the restrictions and guidelines being put in place and make sure that everyone internally and externally understood what we had implemented and why. This meant that protocols were adopted quickly, and that much needed confidence was given to staff and customers.

“Then it came down to cutting costs as aggressively as we could, while ensuring that cuts didn’t restrict any customer experiences or revenue. There were numerous support measures from the Government, so the team split responsibilities to enable us to gain a detailed understanding of what was applicable to our business.”

Cooper continued: “Over lock down one, our Group’s financial forecast saw a £2.5 million swing south, so we definitely had a few days challenging our model, looking for anything we had missed that could generate either turnover or a significant reduction in costs. Unfortunately, lockdown one saw huge losses, but we remained confident in our modelling, investing in marketing to keep engagement with our consumers high, launched a new e-commerce web site and signed a new TV campaign for May, ready for the unlocking of the markets in early June.

"It’s safe to say I had a few raised eyebrows about some of our commitments, but for me it was about cutting all unnecessary costs, while at the same time investing in what would help us recover. There was huge, suspended demand coming when the doors would be allowed to open again and I wanted to make sure that our offers were well placed in the market.”  

So, this is a company that clearly adapted to the changing market quickly and kept the business moving forward when it could have easily stalled under the unforeseen circumstances. It even acquired another business, Think Cars in the New Forest, testimony to its well planned, strategic, investment that would help it recover from a painful performance to the end of May.

The period of June to October was indeed a buoyant one. All the actions taken and planning for this period certainly paid off as the Group saw several records set across its companies.

“Considering the financial forecast we considered back in April, our final position for 2020 was beyond any of our wildest dreams. We were certainly hoping to reduce our losses to an absolute minimum, but never did we dream of setting a record year for the Group. Of course, turnover was down by about 25% and not every business and department were able to recover as we’d hoped – understandably, our new car sales were only around 65% of budget. Our focus was around stimulating areas of the business that were naturally buoyant and in high demand from our customers. There was certainly no ‘profiteering’, just responding quickly to the market and ensuring we were doing ordinary things, extraordinarily well.”

The Group’s ‘Prestige Cars by Peter Cooper’ and other used car departments performed incredibly well and achieved 154% of their usual revenues, as did its aftersales departments across the Group. The Prestige Cars and Peter Cooper Leasing businesses have also widened the Group’s offering, selling all makes of vehicle. It has also launched its seven-day money back guarantee on all click’n’collect used cars to give complete consumer confidence on all its vehicles.

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Cooper has also set up a new business installing charging points for electric vehicles. myEVCP.co.uk is geared to giving professional and friendly service, providing electric vehicle charging points for local homes and businesses.

So, a horrific year that many of us would never wish to repeat. But there are many examples of how the right mindsight, with positive and effective leadership can make a real difference. The ‘we’re all in this together’ culture of Peter Coopers is certainly effective and one it should all be immensely proud of; extremely professional as always.  

It also clearly understands that its communities are the beating heart of its businesses. To celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, it has set up the Peter Cooper Motor Group Foundation and committed to raise £40,000 in 2021 for charities, which include Cancer Research UK and JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation UK).  

So although Covid-19 brought instant threats, it also presented many opportunities if companies were able to re-evaluate their business and support their customers and communities. We know the Peter Cooper Motor Group will continue to work tirelessly to deliver great service to its customers and we look forward to its continued success.

Linkedin2Darren Cooper

[email protected]

 

petercoopergroup.co.uk

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