Insider’s View: Interview with Mark Woelders

Last updated on February 17, 2022
The Motorama Group has come a long way in 60 years. From humble beginnings as a highway service station midway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, it has grown to become one of Queensland’s largest family-owned automotive retailers, with multi-franchise dealerships across Brisbane’s South Side and a 650-strong workforce.

Motorama Managing Director Mark Woelders has been at the helm since 2007 and says the business’s longevity has been achieved through great customer experience and providing “clear, consistent communication” with customers and partners alike.

We spoke with Mark about what it takes to run a successful dealership in a changing market, what steps the company took to weather the ‘COVID storm’ and why it’s important to recognise and reward high-performing staff.

“It’s been a tale of two halves, really. The car market was in a state of decline between 2017 and 2019 and things were at their toughest at the end of 2019 in terms of there being an oversupply of product.

Then COVID hit and no-one really knew what to expect. In that kind of scenario, you tend to plan for the worst. Being a 60+ year old company, we’re financially quite strong and we’re conservative in nature, so I felt we were better placed than most firms to ride out the storm.

We went back to the key KPIs in our dealerships and realised things weren’t as bad as they first seemed. We still had people enquiring about cars, we still had our service department busy. We basically had to give ourselves an uppercut because otherwise the negative situation could have become self-fulfilling.”

“Our aim was to show staff that they could have confidence in the leadership team. So we came up with a plan around the ‘four Rs’, as we called them at the time – Respond, Recovery Period and Ramp-up Period, all underpinned by an effort to be Resilient.

We found that we went from having an oversupply and a declining market in 2017–19 to then having production shortages. This was caused by COVID supply chain issues such as the silicon chip shortage and parts providers to OEMs in places such as Vietnam and Thailand being in sustained lockdown.

Combine that with people wanting to upgrade their car because they’re doing more local travel and the oversupply situation was flipped. There have recently been margins in cars that weren’t there in that 2017–2019 period so, all up, I reckon we’ve been a net winner.”

“I always say to my team ‘Start with the end in mind’. If the customer is comfortable with what’s around the corner, they’re immediately going to feel more comfortable about the transaction. It helps build trust when they know where they’re headed.”

“One of the keys to a great partner relationship is to provide 100 per cent support. That goes both ways. We’re all about supporting our dedicated partners – and we’ve enjoyed longstanding relationships because of it. A great relationship means always pushing the envelope so both sides work together for the greater good.

Allianz, for example, provides us with training and ongoing account support. We’re always interested in knowing what the best-of-the-best dealers are doing in terms of results and benchmarking our people towards that. And we review our performance regularly by meeting with our Allianz account managers monthly, considering the results, and putting plans in place to improve that performance.

It’s not rocket science, but it does require discipline.”

“We’ve always focused on keeping our team happy and engaged. We like to think that flows across to the customer. Whenever we do anything, it’s with the best customer experience in mind.

We have a set of stated values. Our ambition has always been to get them to be alive in the workplace – so they’re not just values that sit in a business planning document that never sees the light of day. We celebrate these values throughout the year in the form of a values calendar, which our dealership departments use to put teamwork activities in place and offer recognition to staff.

We also try and grow our people at all levels of the organisation by offering business diploma courses to staff, as well as leadership and management training. So we really aim to grow people from within.”

“I got my father’s desk when I took over the business from him and on that desk was a crystal ball. I don’t seem to have got it working yet!

There’s so much uncertainty in the dealership sector. But what I do know is we need to stay relevant and that means doing a lot of experimenting to find out what’s working.

We’ve taken steps to embrace technology and we aim to provide a true omni-channel experience for our customers. We’ve also recently set up a car subscription offering, which has been an interesting, new initiative.

It’s hard to predict the future. But if you can stay relevant to the customer, it will make it a lot easier for your business to remain an important part of the future of automotive retailing.”

This article has been prepared by Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFSL234708 (“Allianz”). In some cases, information has been provided to us by third parties and while that information is believed to be accurate and reliable, its accuracy is not guaranteed in any way.

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