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Fleet Profile: Whistl

Date: 01 July 2021   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

As a former truck driver, Baz Barrett is no stranger to ensuring he is running a safe and efficient fleet. Rachel Boagey learns how the second-largest mail handling business in the UK benefits from his years of truck driving and fleet management expertise.

Baz Barrett's passion for the Whistl fleet is apparent as soon as he accepts the Teams call. Not only in the way he comes across, but also through his extensive knowledge of the sector. 

Barrett is national fleet manager at Whistl, where he manages "anything with wheels'' consisting of 100 cars, 90 vans, 200 trucks 240 trailers and all material handling equipment (MHE) across the group.

Barrett's dream of becoming a fleet manager followed years of working his way up in management roles, but this wasn't the path his career was originally destined to take. Before his fleet management career, Barrett spent many years as a truck driver himself, meaning he really understands the fleet from all angles. 

This is especially important when considering the large size of Whistl's fleet. With more than 6,000 customers and distributing four billion postage items per year, the company is positioned as the market leader in downstream access mail (DSA) services, handling over 50% of bulk business mail in the UK and handling mail, parcels, fulfilment and door-drop media both in the UK and internationally. 

"The Royal Mail completes the final mile delivery of the post but we're responsible for injecting it to them, so we're responsible for the first mile, if you like," explains Barrett. 

Barrett regards his truck driver experience as vital in his abilities as a fleet manager and understanding the needs of Whistl's fleet drivers, as well as keeping them as safe as possible. He also explains that it's the reason he is capable of providing knowledge and compliance initiatives that will ensure the fleet is at the forefront of innovation within the delivery industry. 

"In my role, I provide subject matter expertise and support to delivering high fleet availability, utilisation and cost management, while bringing external best practice into the organisation.

"Having been a truck driver previous to being a fleet manager, I understand what the drivers want and their needs, and I respect their requests. When talking to drivers they realise quickly that I know what I'm talking about, and are happy to engage and work with them. This, I believe, earns an element of respect from the drivers," Barrett tells us. 

"I am responsible for identifying fleet risks and opportunities, working with the responsible stakeholders to manage such risks and opportunities, including but not limited to legislation, health and safety compliance, environmental initiatives and vehicle safety and security."

He continues, "We have a responsibility for our actions on the road and my role is responsible for the day-to-day management of the fleet. I am extremely passionate about our fleet and its presence on the road. Therefore, I strive to achieve and develop proactive strategies to reduce the occurrence of complaints, and improve accident and asset management." 

Of course, time is money for fleets and Whistl is no different, but Barrett explains that the fleet doesn't spare anything when it comes to keeping vehicles on the road safely. "We're zero tolerance for anything that's wrong, so if a vehicle has a defect, it doesn't go out until it's fixed.

Drivers are assessed before they start working for Whistl and, after that, they continue to do in-house training so they're always aware of the latest kit updates to ensure nothing comes as a surprise when they're carrying out their role. "If anyone is involved in an accident or needs education then we have a programme in place to ensure they are as safe as they can possibly be out on the road," explains Barrett. 

Whistl recently reduced the time it spends on compliance administration for its 500-strong fleet by adopting the web-based maintenance management system, r2c Online. "Before r2c Online, we would spend too much time shuffling and filing paper on every vehicle inspection, updating our files, and we were constantly chasing repair and maintenance providers for paper documents each week," Barrett says. 

"We now save a lot of time per inspection and receive paperwork electronically. Our schedule is up to date and the time savings made mean no inspection, audit or documentation is missed."

Covid-19 has affected almost every fleet, but luckily, due to good supplier relationships, Barrett explains that the Whistl fleet hasn't suffered too badly. 

"The only challenge we had was when we were returning vehicles which was challenging in terms of the vehicle sitting there because people couldn't come and collect them," he says. "Our service providers have excelled in keeping our fleet operational through
these times." 

However, in some ways, how the pandemic has affected the company car fleet is yet to be seen, Barrett explains. "Whether our fleet will go back to its normal mileage before Covid is something that's unknown right now. We've definitely seen a decrease in our business mileage and a change in business as usual for everyone on the team, me included. But if we've managed to decrease our mileage during a pandemic then we do need to look at the mileage we were doing before it and find out if it's absolutely necessary going forward.

"It might creep back up or maybe it'll never be the same again. We're ready to reassess our mileage when things are back to normal," Barrett says. 

The Whistl car and van fleet has recently enlisted Grosvenor with a sole supply agreement, following a formal tender for its light commercial vehicle and car fleet. "The relationship began in 2008 when we were impressed with Grosvenor Leasing's very personal, hands on approach supported by a strong national infrastructure," says Barrett. "We then decided to move forward in utilising Grosvenor's expertise and green department that focuses entirely on 'greener' cars to enhance Whistl's move towards adopting alternatively fuelled vehicles onto its fleet. We have also built some flexibility into our recent van orders where we can return
them early if we find suitable electric replacements. This is something we consider very important as we move towards making our fleet more sustainable and environmentally friendly." 

Like any fleet, fuel consumption is always on Whistl's agenda, as is carbon footprint. "We're very much focused on constantly making improvements in those two areas to lessen our impact on the environment," says Barrett. "All our vehicles are Euro 6, but next, we'd like to begin making our fleet more efficient with the help of Grosvenor."

Barrett's fleet is predominantly diesel right now, but he explains he is taking a very detailed look at the whole company car policy to enable the fleet to incorporate electric and hybrid vehicles as soon as possible. "It is vital that we as a business continue to look at new technologies and adapt our fleet in this way," he says. 

The main consideration when making this change is the end user, according to Barrett. "When we first started to look at changing our vehicle policy, the first port of call was making sure that adopting alternatively fuelled vehicles was going to be beneficial to our fleet drivers. Making such a big change as this of course has to work for both the driver and the business. What we discovered was that with the BIK benefits that these vehicles are providing, adopting them is going to be beneficial, so it's something we're happy to continue to explore," explains Barrett. 

Convincing the Whistl fleet drivers to make the move to electric hasn't been too much of a difficult ask for Barrett, either. "Our drivers are keen to adopt electric and hybrid vehicles for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the BIK is good compared with conventional fuels, it's good for the business and it's good for the environment, so it ticks all the boxes for the drivers and the boxes we were hoping to tick as a fleet," he says. 

Whether the fleet opts for electric or hybrid vehicles is still a bit of an unknown for Barrett. "A while back, I would be focusing on getting hybrid vehicles on to the fleet because of the perceived range anxiety, but the range is increasing to a point where 200-300 miles is more common now, so our drivers are more welcoming of the likelihood of adopting electric cars. Choice is very important for us to consider, and I'm thinking it's likely that our lower band drivers will go for electric whereas it's possible that our high mileage sales drivers, for example, are likely to go back to being high mileage. It's a case of testing whether electric vehicles are the right choice for them too." 

Some of Whistl's sites are already geared up for electric with charging points installed, so next, Barrett explains he wants to open up the number of vehicles from different manufacturers he has available on the fleet to ensure his drivers have a broad offering in the hybrid and electric market, depending on their mileage and preference. 

Barrett says, "We have not taken on any new cars over the last 12 months due to Covid and because we had cars in the pool that I had to reallocate, so I put a block on ordering. We're ready to open it up again now, but we don't want to do it without this choice on the policy. 

"We don't want our drivers to order a diesel car now and in four years' time they are still stuck with it when they could be driving a hybrid or an electric vehicle and reaping the benefits of that themselves, and being beneficial to the whole fleet too." 

As for future goals, Barrett's biggest goal is making his fleet greener. "Alternative fuels certainly are on our radar and even on the commercial side we've started looking at them as options for the near future. My job is to keep us ahead of legislation and industry standards, and I'm always looking ahead at what's next. Ultimately, I want to ensure I always run an efficient fleet cost effectively, for the benefit of our business and its all-important drivers."