Trade has returned to normal in car showrooms, though it was anything but business as usual for staff and motorists.
One leading company in the South West reported that the first day of opening after the easing of lockdown on Monday, June 1, matched the average level experienced before the pandemic control measure was brought in.
That showed any suggestion of buyers being wary of the possible risks was outweighed by pent-up demand following weeks of closure, said Vospers.
The reassurance was provided by social distancing, protective personal equipment, safety screens and sanitisers to protect workers and customers, which meant a new way of doing business at the company’s 13 locations in the region.
“It is great to be back,” said Peter Vosper, chairman. “It has come after a quite horrible period of time. I am 78 and I have been through a Ford strike, many, many recessions and the three-day week but I have never been through anything like this.
“The team have done a brilliant job to get everything in place. We have had a lot of good feedback from people, about feeling safe and secure.”
The company, which has multiple dealerships and main bases in Truro, Plymouth and Exeter, was running at about 28% of normal trade at the end of May when “click and collect” was running fully, he said.
“We had some customers who gave us deposits but who told us they would not pick up the car until they could sit in properly. They were prepared to wait,” Mr Vosper said.
“The first day has been really good, about average for a day before the lockdown. The good news is that the weather has been so wonderful. It would be different if people were having to wait in the cold and the rain.”
The new ways of working, which also involved having to move some cars outside the showroom, meant the company was running at about 60% of normal levels on the service side and “a bit more than that” on sales.
“Customers do test drives on their own. We just hope they come back,” Mr Vosper said. “It’s a new world. They have to answer a lot of questions from insurers and there are lots of checks.
Each test drive means the vehicle has to go through a deep clean before anybody else can get behind the wheel. But that is one of the easier aspects of the changed way of doing business.
“We got a special sealed unit, that comes from Italy, that can do a deep clean a car in 22 minutes,” Mr Vosper said.
Less sophisticated but just as vital kit is also now normal. “We will probably get through 10,000 face masks, costing about 50p each, in a month,” said Mr Vosper.