Bahrain’s motoring industry stands as one of the Kingdom’s proudest commercial pillars, with a wealth of automobiles from across the globe being sold on the Kingdom’s forecourts. Al Haddad Motors, the exclusive distributor of Mercedes-Benz, is one of the island’s most prosperous dealerships. This month, Kristian Harrison sat down with General Manager, Warren Hudson, to find out the secrets behind the success.
Can you tell us about your career to-date and how you ended up in Bahrain?
I started life in the motoring industry in the early 1980’s as an apprentice car mechanic. I rose up through the service department via ‘Right First Time Repairs’ and was instrumental in the successful production of an in-depth quality control programme that was rolled out to the entire dealer network group I worked with.
As technology moved forward faster than ever, I realised there was a shortage of skilled staff in the market. In particular, there was a need to look at mechanics and technicians differently in order to elevate the status and career paths for technically-skilled personnel. I therefore embarked on a design and production dealer apprenticeship programme, which alongside the aforementioned quality control initiative, was picked up throughout the group and by a number of premium brand manufacturers to train and develop their own staff.
On the back of these successful programmes, which still operate today albeit tailored hugely by various manufacturers, I advanced to management and roles which encompassed all the various revenue streams in the industry from service to new and used car sales, eventually leading to general management.
I have no doubt that starting out on the workshop floor has given me a much stronger depth of knowledge of the automotive industry and of course both: staff and customer management principles.
Since you took over at Al Haddad, it has become arguably one of the most successful dealerships in the Kingdom. What do you believe are the reasons for this success and what did you implement to facilitate it?
Of course, I am working with Mercedes-Benz, the worldwide German premium brand manufacturer for 10 years straight, so I had great foundations to work with. There was also a strong, well-experienced team at Al Haddad Motors when I arrived, but change was needed in the corporate philosophy, particularly being a more customer focus-driven business.
We updated our extended warranty and service programmes, re-iterating the brand’s quality and longevity principles to cost of ownership. We turned the general business pyramid upside down, giving more autonomy to those in the customer touch points.
Finally, an emphasis was re-established in the training and development of our staff and promotion from within. This included non-manufacturer programmes such as ‘Behavioural Coding’; enhancing our customer-facing staff’s body language for improved stature and confidence when supporting our customer’s needs.
Last month, you launched a new Chinese vehicle agency. Can you tell us more about this and how it is a new concept that will perhaps change consumer practices?
Indeed! We proudly launched as the sole authorised distributor for the Bestune part of the China FAW Group Import & Export Company. This acquisition is the latest in the Al Haddad Group’s recent diversification throughout the automotive sector.
Best of all, our valued Bestune customers at launch and for a limited period will benefit from a region-leading lifetime warranty, a five-year service package and VIP insurance with various additional benefits. This represents a unique suite of packages offered in Bahrain and we aim to provide high quality cars with peace of mind and value for money to our customers through the Bestune brand.
What are Al Haddad›s plans to introduce electrical vehicles to the market? What challenges do you think you›ll face with this in Bahrain?
Certification for manufacturers in Bahrain has been somewhat protracted in reality, but we are now seeing various marques launching EVs in 2022 and I am sure most of them will have EV options in 2023. For Al Haddad Motors, our first EV models will arrive very soon. EVs are of course the future, and we are already seeing huge uptake especially in Europe.
Mercedes-Benz themselves have confirmed they will cease ICE (internal combustion engine) development in 2025 and be a fully-electric manufacturer by 2030. I believe in this region there will be slower uptake than experienced in other markets but I know from our Mercedes-Benz EQS, EQE and EQC product reveals in Bahrain that the market will receive these vehicles with open arms.
How has the market changed since COVID-19, and by extension, how has Al-Haddad adapted to this?
At Al Haddad Motors we have, as with practically all manufacturers, suffered from sporadic production of vehicles. For example, in many cases 15-20 of the same vehicles would arrive at the same time instead of various model segments being available all the time. This has naturally impacted sales targets both monthly and yearly.
Things are improving now but stocks remain low and model mix remains the major concern. On the customer service side, we are seeing a slowdown in the parts supply chain, with parts being sent to production lines as opposed to parts warehousing which is causing delays in the normally fast-moving arm of the business and unfortunately leading to some delays in repairs.
What are your plans for the future in terms of continuing to expand Al Haddad›s portfolio?
We as a dealership are always looking to diversify our portfolio. Bestune follows on from our acquisitions of both Avis Vehicle Rental & Leasing and Topaz Detailing, with additional ventures planned. For obvious reasons I cannot mention the brands and areas we are hoping to complete on shortly, but believe me there are strong market opportunities being offered to Al Haddad Motors that will further enhance our automotive footprint in Bahrain.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get involved in your industry, whether that›s customer-facing in the dealership or more behind the scenes?
I would always look to a brand that has a good name in the market, with a strong emphasis on training and development. It’s easy for a manufacturer to say: ‘Yes we are’, so you have to do research and talk to people who work within the company of interest before you take the leap. Do not be scared to ask questions on how they are treated and if they get the tools to do the job right first time. Asking if an employee has been on training courses recently or when their last personal appraisal was are important questions.