Big versus small
26 October 2017
Author: Rachel Boagey
Rachel Boagey delves into the age-old debate of whether to choose a big or small rental company for your fleet.
The decision of whether to work for a big or small company is one many people have to make at some point in their lives. Work for a big firm and you risk an impersonal approach but a shining name on your CV. Work for a small one and you may have to settle for a lower salary and a slimmer chance of progression but a more friendly working environment and the chance to really develop your skill set.
The same debate applies to multiple buying decisions, even down to where to buy your milk - or, more to the point if you're a fleet, where to lease your car from. Do you go with the big-name company or choose one that's smaller? It's not a decision that fleets can take lightly.
To try to answer this question, BusinessCar approached large and small rental firms, asking them why fleets should choose them for their rental needs and how their company was better than its smaller or larger rivals.
One handshake at a time
Quality of service is one of the key issues fleets look for when they tender for rental, sometimes even ahead of cost, and this will only continue. And you wouldn't usually associate good customer service with big rental firms. Or would you?
"Businesses choose rental providers that make them feel valued. This is the primary driver for staying with a rental company, let alone for choosing one initially," Adrian Bewley, director of business rental for the UK and Ireland at Enterprise, tells BusinessCar.
Despite being one of the biggest rental firms in the UK, customer service is a key consideration for Enterprise. Every one of its branches is run as an individual small business. "Each one has the autonomy to make decisions on what is right for its customers," Bewley says. "There are many occasions when a branch will tell us that they're changing how they're working with a national customer in that location because of its specific needs."
One of the founding values of Enterprise is that it listens to its customers. Bewley explains Enterprise has built the business one handshake at a time. "The fact that Enterprise is family owned makes a big difference to how we operate. It means we are still very much guided by the words of our founder, Jack Taylor, who said that if you looked after your customers and you looked after your people, the profits would follow."
"With some larger companies, the vehicle you receive may end up being different from the vehicle you booked"
On a 'secret shopper' call I made, posing to FleetEurope as a fleet manager with 200 cars, I was surprised to find that I got through in around ten minutes to a customer service executive, who seemed to be able to provide me with good advice on my (fake) fleet. "Customers don't like call centres," says Howick. "That's why you're able to contact us directly and speak to someone who can advise you on individual business and rental requirements inside out, that then empowers the customer to make decisions quickly themselves."
Hertz is a global company that also knows the importance of customer service. Chris Rusden, vice-president of commercial sales at Hertz International, told BusinessCar that the company constantly ensures its products fulfil the changing needs and expectations of its customers. As a result, it understands that aspects such as flexibility, ease, speed of service and a truly global footprint are key for business travellers.
Despite this, there no doubt that smaller rental companies are able to offer a more personalised service. Ironically, getting their name heard among all of the big ones in the industry must be a hard feat. BusinessCar approached a small firm called County Car and Van Rental about the multiple advantages of using a smaller rental firm over a larger one.
Since 1989, County, which serves the north of England, has been operating with a diverse selection of vehicles that can be hired for one day or for up to four years.
"The customer receives a more tailored experience with us compared with a multinational company," says Rob Hardman, general manager at County. "With some larger companies, the vehicle you receive may end up being different from the vehicle you booked - although some are now allowing customers to book precise vehicle models for an extra fee. County has been pioneering that for years - for no extra cost."
Customers never speak to a call centre when contacting County, which I learned when phoning up to speak to a friendly and helpful adviser. According to Hardman, most often the person on the phone will be the one who greets you at the front desk. "We know our returning customers by name and, likewise, they know ours," he says.
Range of choice
One of the clear benefits of choosing a large company for your rental could be the availability of vehicles they may have, compared with smaller operations.
It's true that small, region-specific rental companies often provide excellent service and are an ideal solution for customers with limited requirements, explains FleetEurope's Howick."However, should that customer require a one-way rental to an airport or a vehicle for an overseas business journey, they will often have to pay a hefty premium for their supplier to arrange it, or source those services from a separate supplier, which becomes inconvenient."
Howick even goes as far as to say that from a customer perspective, there are many advantages to using an intermediary rental management supplier like FleetEurope over a smaller, region-specific rental company. One of these benefits is national and international coverage, which means it is not limited to supplying rental vehicles within a single region.
However, County's Hardman explains that while its fleet may be smaller, it is no less diverse than the competition. "We like to think we have a vehicle for every eventuality, and we even have vehicles you won't find on national daily rental fleets," he says.
Europcar has a UK fleet of more than 60,000 at its peak, with vehicles ranging from standard petrol or diesel cars, to EVs and hybrids. "The vehicle mix is precisely designed to address fleet needs," says Sam Sterry, head of SME for Europcar UK.
Typically, Europcar's vehicles are less than eight months old - giving a fleet size that is likely to be much younger than that of a smaller provider. The company operates the largest fleet of electric vehicles in the UK and is the only rental company to have introduced hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to the fleet. As a market leader, Europcar can also benefit from its buying power, giving customers access to a wide choice of vehicles, which are competitively priced, something that Sterry says smaller companies will find hard
An individual decision
While all fleets have different requirements, it seems that the choice of big or small company for rental is a decision only individual fleets can make.
Hardman thinks that some people automatically choose larger companies on the assumption that these firms can better cope with their requirements. But he says that "at County, we're big enough to cope, but small enough to care. The assumption that a multinational provider will be cheaper holds no water with us."
Linda Malliff, director of central services at Thrifty explains that, in her opinion, there is no logical reason to choose a smaller rental company. She says this is especially true considering the benefits of scale that occur with an extensive fleet from the best manufacturers, with an average age of less than three months.
"Fleets need a supplier who can deliver the best product, and service and manage their rental requirements," she says. "We maintain and increase our customer base by providing the best customer service, an extensive network and the most aspirational fleet in the industry."
Overall, what's important to fleets is finding rental companies that combine financial stability, operational efficiency and a range of services with a genuine ability to provide greater personal service at the counter and take business seriously, whether they're a small company needing a few vehicles every now and then or a huge multinational.
County's Hardman explains that his company, like many others, competes in a dynamic marketplace, with customers that are more discerning, informed and empowered than ever before. That's great news for rental providers striving to surpass their expectations.
Ultimately, for a business relationship to evolve and prosper, there must be synergy between customer and supplier, and size is merely one factor. "Reliability, quality, an appetite to adapt; these are all important considerations in an industry that, by definition, never stops," concludes Hardman.
While the next ten years may see an increasing commoditisation of rental product, there could actually be more opportunity for smaller providers like County to stand apart with exemplary service delivery.