WARSAW - Car dealer Peter McAnearney has worked in eight countries during his 30 years in the auto business. But selling cars in Poland was new for him. In the country's recent boom years, Polish dealerships didn't even need trained salespeople.
'People just came into dealerships and said: `I want to buy,'' said McAnearney, general manager of the Auto Plaza Ford dealership here. There was a dramatic surge in demand after the long years of communist rule.
But now McAnearney, a native Englishman, is experiencing a slowdown, caused by an increase in excise tax and other factors. So, these days, he finds Polish customers need more persuasion. 'Now we need to give skills to these salespeople,' he said.
That's why McAnearney is happy Ford hired Barbara Kux. The Swiss native and auto industry outsider is managing director of Ford of Poland and executive director of central European sales operations.
Kux, 46, was brought in to create a selling culture at Ford in central Europe. With little manufacturing presence in the region, Ford's market share is small.
According to HWB International in Warwick, England, Ford had a 4.9 percent market share across five central European countries last year. The statistics cover the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Ford had only one entry among the top 10 sellers in the region -the Focus/Escort.
'The sales profession is new to these countries,' said Kux. 'So the first thing you need to do is change the attitude, to bring in the selling spirit and train people in sales techniques.'
Selling means to go up to the person, to make a cold call and to sell yourself and your product.
'When people phone in our salespeople don't know how to handle them,' she said. 'They want to explain the whole story on the phone instead of saying: `It's great that you called. Why don't you come to my dealership? I have already reserved your Focus for a test drive. When can you come?''
Kux, who is based in Vienna, came to Ford in 1999. She gained experience in Poland and other central European countries as a sales executive with food group Nestle and ABB Power Ventures, a unit of Swiss energy, engineering and technology company ABB Ltd.
The Polish market is so big and important that Kux spends nearly half her time there. But her area of responsibility is much larger.
'What we call central Europe consists of three types of countries, all of which have one thing in common - they are all relatively small and not very homogeneous.'
The first group includes mature markets such as Switzerland and Austria. Then there is the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The third group includes emerging markets such as Bulgaria, Romania, the Ukraine and countries that were part of the former Yugoslav federation.
'Most of the markets are still extremely volatile,' she said. 'They're affected by sudden currency devaluations, interest rate changes and sudden decisions on new laws.'
Kux's job is to define dealer territories, recruit a professional dealer force and train her people properly.
She says the various central European markets are intensely competitive and extremely diverse.
'In the Czech Republic we have one monster competitor - Skoda. But in Poland and Hungary it's very different. It's very important in this region to live with the diversity and complexity, and to have a clear strategy for each country.'
Kux is a proud supporter of her markets. When product positioning for the new Ford Mondeo was presented to Kux, she said: 'I'm not launching the car without having professional customer feedback.'
So a market research firm was hired and clinics were held.
Kux said it was the first time in Ford of Europe's history that a car like the Mondeo had been tested in all markets of her region.
Dealer McAnearney feels Kux can also serve as a link between the region and Ford's European leadership in Cologne. He fears Cologne is too focused on short-term targets in markets such as Germany and the UK.
'I feel Barbara Kux is going to go a long way toward making the needs of this market known,' he said. 'Attention tends to be paid to achieved volume rather than potential volume. The potential here is phenomenal.'