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Fleet Profile: Inspired Entertainment

Date: 27 September 2022   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Rachel Boagey learns why the Inspired Entertainment fleet is moving towards electric with caution.

With a background in managing customer service call centres, an offer to manage the vehicle fleet within Gamestec Leisure back in 2011 took Peter Kowalczyk by surprise. However, it soon became clear that the two roles had a lot in common: hard work and dedication to achieve targets and results.

Kowalczyk joined Gamestec Leisure in 2008 as head of customer care to set up a 50 person call centre tasked with managing its customer base and improve overall customer service. "I had worked for the company in the customer service role for three years when the MD approached me to ask if I would be prepared to manage the fleet. I told him 'I have no experience in fleet management and other than a love of cars, I'm not sure what I will bring to the table', but he believed that my people skills and supplier negotiation experience positioned me perfectly to accept the role, and I've never once looked back." 

Gamestec Leisure was acquired by Inspired Gaming (UK ) in 2019 and sits within the gaming and leisure industry. Inspired is a large gaming provider with more than 50,000 machines located in betting shops, pubs, gaming halls and other route operations and amusement parks.

The 600-strong fleet is almost a 50/50 mix of cars and commercial vehicles and has witnessed many significant changes during the decade in which Kowalczyk has been in the role. The larger commercial vehicles within the fleet are mainly used for physically moving machines to and from customer sites within the UK, whereas the cars and smaller vans are mainly used by drivers and managers responsible for servicing and administering the machines.

A cautious approach

When it comes to renewing the fleet's contract hire vehicles, Kowalczyk explains that he always has an eye on electric, but the time has not been right to make the switch for any of the vehicles yet. "Our commercial vehicles are still running on diesel and our cars are petrol, due to the industry transition away from diesel a couple of years ago," explains Kowalczyk, whose top priority is always making sure the drivers are comfortable and the business running effectively. 

It's not that Kowalczyk isn't open to making the switch to electric, but the issue is ensuring it's the right time. "The biggest problem is that most of our drivers don't have a means of home charging and we can't make our business work solely relying on network charging," he explains. 

While there are some self-charging hybrids within the fleet's user-chooser portfolio, the prospect of plugging in isn't right for Kowalczyk or his drivers currently, but he doesn't think it'll be long before that situation changes. "The interest is there with the drivers but as soon as it involves plugging in they become anxious at the thought of it because they simply don't live in accommodation in which the installation of a charger is possible," he explains. 

Therefore, until there is a sufficient network all around the UK, Kowalczyk doesn't believe electric is the answer for his fleet right now. "We want to get there in a sensible and timely way, we don't want to get to 2030 and have to make a quick jump to an electric fleet, but it also needs to be a product and service, which is suitable for our company and its drivers," says Kowalczyk. 

Similarly to many fleets, the challenges the fleet experiences when considering a move to electrification are not limited to charging. "Our commercial vehicles carry a lot of weight, and right now, the vehicles we would need just don't exist when it comes to mileage and payload. We are really keen on making the switch but from our point of view, the network and industry is just not ready for what we do." 

Kowalczyk also doesn't want to make a snap decision to move the whole fleet to electric and find himself regretting it down the road. "Currently, with the rising costs of energy, some fleets are feeling regretful and wondering if they jumped the gun, especially those fleets who moved a few years ago when the technology wasn't as advanced as it is now. The longer we wait, the more research we can do and meanwhile, the market will further expand into electric and soon enough, we will see our opportunity. For now though, we're proceeding with caution," he explains. 

Kowalczyk doesn't deny that a move to electric would help his fleet reach milestones quicker when it comes to efficiency. "One of the first things I do when considering a vehicle to adopt onto the fleet is keeping the BIK costs as low as possible for my drivers," he explains. "Regardless of vehicle category, we always look to make sure it's an efficient vehicle so it doesn't cost our drivers the earth in three years' time. We find our drivers are pretty conscious of their tax so we don't feel the need to impose a CO2 limit," he says. 

There is also an opportunity for the fleet's smaller 'collector' cars to go electric due to the shorter distances they often travel. "When these drivers can charge at or near home, I would definitely consider electrifying their mode of transport," Kowalczyk tells us. 

In fact, Kowalczyk leased an electric vehicle four years ago to be used for a year by a collector. "We didn't want to just dip our toe in, we wanted to fully dive in and see what it would be like living with them day to day," he said. Despite the positive feedback received about the car, it confirmed the need for a more joined up charging network. "Out of around 100 collectors, only a handful of them had a garage or a drive, so we just didn't get the full experience of living with an electric vehicle as we'd have wished." 

In the meantime, the fleet is working on familiarising the fleet drivers with the technology for a time when adopting it makes more sense, for example, when they are able to charge at home, on the street, or using lamp post chargers. 

The fleet has heavily invested in telematics over the years for its drivers, but from a safety point of view, Kowalczyk is considering expanding the usage of dash cams that are installed on his commercial fleet to the car fleet too. "Until manufacturers start fitting dash cams as standard, it's always going to be costly for fleets to adopt them, but it's something that can be a worthwhile investment," he says. 

In the meantime, the fleet is investing in third party licence checking and driver training to ensure the fleet is as safe as possible. "Drivers will carry out a risk assessment check online, they can then complete a selection of short, tailored courses off the back of that assessment," he says. "Within my role, I'm always trying to lower costs and trying to mitigate accidents from happening in the first place. This is something every fleet can
work on." 

Kowalczyk's approach is to make drivers feel more interested in their safety through the use of appropriate and interactive training. "We don't want to just add to their workload. We want to make drivers feel safe, supported and aware of what they can do to avoid incidents out on the road - most of which are avoidable." 

Thinking outside the box

Much of Kowalczyk's role lately has involved thinking outside of the box, preparing for the multitude of uncontrollable and unpredictable challenges that being a fleet manager entails. 

Another challenge, which is the case for every fleet, is the lack of vehicle availability at the moment. This makes it harder for the fleet to be open to change, because the leases that were supposed to be ending to make way for new vehicles and technologies, are now needing to be extended. "Everything is completely reactive at the moment and our fleet is struggling to obtain what it needs when it comes to lease and rental vehicles. In turn, our costs have increased because we've needed to extend hires on some vehicles when replacements are not available." 

For now, and to keep up with the changing requirements and technologies, the fleet has moved from four-year leases to no more than three, when appropriate, of course. "It's a really exciting but challenging time to be a fleet manager and things can change so quickly. What I don't want to do is saddle ourselves with inappropriate vehicles and I want to be open to change and opportunities as they arise," he says.