LONDON (Reuters) - London's colonies of super-rich have stopped spending freely over the last five years and the sellers of luxury cars in the millionaire ghetto of Mayfair report having to work as hard as their suburban mass market counterparts.
Upmarket car dealership HR Owen last month said 2012 earnings - due to be published in March - will beat market forecasts following robust sales of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls Royces.
But recession-busting sales obscure the challenge of adapting to a changing market that has seen a steady loss in the supply of bonus-rich bankers and hedge fund managers since the 2008 financial crisis, management and staff say.
"There is still wealth within London, there's no doubt about that, but you're having to farm a lot harder to get your share of it," HR Owen's chief executive Joe Doyle told Reuters.
Britain's largest luxury and supercar dealership has worked hard to keep up with changing customer habits, investing in technology to help buyers look at cars online, as well as dreaming up new sales strategies.
At the firm's Jack Barclay showroom on Berkeley Square, staff have found displaying a pair of Bugatti supercars near the shop window, each worth well over $1 million, has kept customers coming through the doors.
Anita Krizsan, who is based at the showroom, is selling more Bugattis than anyone else in the world - 10 in the last 12 months, compared to around three by her nearest rival who works in the Middle East.
Staff at the store have also got used to wiping the head-height smudges off the windows left by passers-by pressing their noses against the glass as they gawp at the Bugattis from the street, Krizsan says.
The Bugatti appeals to "petrolheads" - enthusiasts who appreciate it as a limited edition, technically and aesthetically pleasing supercar that is also a pleasure to drive, says Krizsan's boss, general manager Derek Bennett.
The aficionado can be tempted into buying during tougher economic times while the non-enthusiast will balk more at a price tag well over $1 million however rich they are.
But even with wealthy petrolheads it is not easy going, Bennett says. Customers can procrastinate for up to two years before a Bugatti sale is closed.
"Our list of prospects could be a list of names we've been looking at since 2009," he said.
The claims of estate agents, jewellery retailers, high end hoteliers and private bankers to be surfing a boom as waves of super-rich arrive in London should be treated with some scepticism, Bennett says.
"I've heard all these arguments about super wealth in London. If these oligarchs were as busy as (people) think they are, then we'd all be sold out."
(Reporting by Chris Vellacott, editing by Paul Casciato)