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Why Roadside Garages is a Northern Ireland success story

Northern Ireland’s Roadside Garages Kia Coleraine had an extremely successful 2023. The well-established Coleraine, Londonderry retailer was ranked Top Independent Dealership in Northern Ireland by Reputation, and also won three awards in the inaugural Northern Ireland Motor Industry Awards. Its hat-trick included Best in Customer Service, Best Sales Team and Best Independent Dealership.

Success in the Reputation rankings made it a front-runner in the UK too, placing seventh overall with a Reputation Score of 911 points out of 1,000. Remarkably, Roadside was just five points shy of first place in the UK overall.

General manager David Boyd said the number one reason for success was simple – the retailer’s people. “We have exceptional people here at Roadside, with a core team that has been with us for decades. They have grown and developed with us, and the fact a quarter of our staff have 25-plus years of service is, I believe, pivotal to our success.”

Local champion

Customers in Northern Ireland, he explained, prefer to dealing with people they know. “They like to build up a rapport, and are more willing just to come in and see our new cars regularly as a result. Creating the right atmosphere is an essential part of auto retail here, and I think we’ve got a really good one between our customers and staff.”

Another difference in Northern Ireland is less of a willingness to travel. “People want to be able to shop in their local town, and this means OEMs must have the network coverage to suit. This is particularly important when people consider aftersales – few are willing to have a day off work just to travel an hour each way to get their car serviced.”

Because the density of auto retailers is so much greater, David says local competition is more intense in Northern Ireland. “Given that our population is only around 1.7 million, it means that you can’t afford to lose customers in your local area. This is why great customer service is so important for us.”

On the flip-side, it also means Roadside doesn’t have the battle to always be the very cheapest around. “Customers expect value for money, don’t get me wrong – but loyalty and convenience are also more valuable than going elsewhere to save an extra £100 here and there. As with our staff, we have many customers who have been with us for a lifetime.”

David hates the idea of a rude retailer where everyone is too busy to speak. “Warm words rub off. A simple ‘nice to see you’ for everyone who walks in works wonders. It’s all basic stuff – it surprises me that not everyone does it.”

Roadside’s excellent Reputation score is a result of its great customer service, of course – but the retailer also actively reminds customers to leave a rating when they get back home. “Our staff hand out ‘review cards’, which are A5-sized and hard to misplace. They simply say, ‘you were assisted today by X, we’d love your help. If we left you smiling and you went away feeling loved, we’d love your feedback’. Because they’re so big and robust, they’re hard to lose – so people don’t forget to leave a review!”

As a result of all this, Reputation enjoys a strong following on social media. “We have 49,000 followers on Facebook, and 37k Likes – we’re the most-followed franchised retailer in Northern Ireland. The retailer has a 4.9 out of 5 average score on Facebook, and 4.8 on Google. “Every review is personally answered, and we try to do it within 12 hours. We also share every review on the staff WhatsApp group, and always make sure we personally praise people.”

Profits – and EVs

Roadside is a profitable retailer, and David says its size helps here. “Because we’re small, it’s easier to keep costs in check than the bigger groups. I see every bill that comes in, and when the marketplace changes, we’re able to react faster.” This has been particularly useful over the past year with the decline in used EV prices – David says any surprises have now washed through the system and “there are now healthy margins and good profit to be had in used EVs again”.

He adds that the policy of some larger groups to not stock EVs is helping Roadside. “I don’t think that’s a good policy. Nothing takes the shine off a reputation than saying to a customer, ‘I sold you this car, but I’m not going to trade it back in from you’. Besides, with not many new EVs on the market, Kia’s great reputation for electric cars is really helping us.” So too is Kia rental, which Roadside has recently begun: “We’re able to let people take an EV for a weekend at a good-value rate, so they can see what it’s like day-to-day.”

David isn’t concerned that EVs will eat into aftersales profits. “There will be changes – but the service hours of EVs across the lifecycle is not so different to ICE cars. You’ll make less money from oil and filters, but you’ll do far more business with tyres. We think owners will go through twice as many tyres, and this will compensate.”

The continuing appeal of Kia’s seven-year warranty helps with aftersales, adds David. “If we were a franchise with a three-year warranty, it would make the world of difference.” Roadside, which has held the Kia franchise for more than two decades, perhaps appreciates this better than anyone.

As for the year ahead, David knows that EVs are going to dominate – but sees them as an opportunity too. “They’re currently the biggest challenge, and we need to counter the mindset of some people. The government’s position on 2035 has not helped anyone, but it also means the retailer has an even more important part to play in helping convince people about electric cars.

“We’ll be taking the same approach as we do in all other areas of business here at Roadside, using our enthusiasm and passion to get us where we need to be.” Given the retailer’s award-winning success, few would bet against it continuing. 

What are the Northern Ireland Motor Industry Awards?

The new Northern Ireland Motor Industry Awards are, as the name suggests, exclusively for retailers in Northern Ireland. A gala awards ceremony saw more than 480 automotive professionals attend the inaugural event – representing more than 40% of Northern Ireland’s leading automotive businesses.

There were more than 100 entries across 19 awards categories, all aimed at rewarding and recognising the achievements, resilience and dedication of the region’s automotive industry.

Event direct Sasha Jeffrey said: “Our aim with these awards was to create an event which celebrated the brightest and best from the region’s thriving automotive industry. We are delighted to be able to shine a light on businesses such as Roadside Garages.

“Huge congratulations to Roadside on their well-deserved triple win. Our independent panel of judges praised this family business for showing a real commitment to their customers.”