Under the Microscope: We talk to David Brennan, CEO of Nexus
01 December 2017
Author: Debbie Wood
Double-digit growth over the past five years means Nexus is one of the fastest-growing rental companies in the UK. Debbie Wood speaks to the CEO to find out the secret to its success.
Nexus Vehicle Rental may be a small shareholder in the corporate rental market, but 20% growth over the past 12 months, and more planned for 2018, means the rental firm is well and truly on the up.
In fact, Nexus is the biggest corporate vehicle rental provider in the UK, but it doesn't actually own any vehicles. It provides access to hundreds of thousands of vehicles across 2,000 locations through its online software system.
CEO David Brennan describes Nexus as a technology company rather than a rental provider, and one that is still in its infancy.
"Nexus is a teenager, it's 17 years old and we're still growing, learning and adapting. We work with 95% of the suppliers in the UK on our platform, so we have access to 550,000 rental vehicles every single day, including cars, vans, HGVs, motorbikes, tractors, all sorts of different aspects," he says.
"Every vehicle that a corporate customer would wish to rent from a mobility sense, we can access. We deal with corporate customers, leasing companies and insurance companies directly, and the challenge now is to ensure that we are giving all of these customers a consistent service."
As well as being a rental aggregator of sorts for fleets, Nexus also allows the customer to self-serve and enables them, through its software, to find the supplier that has exactly what they want, at the price they need and for the service they require.
The service Nexus provides can be made bespoke for each customer too, with different grades of vehicles, various booking methods and varying levels of support all available. The all-in-one portal also provides visibility of the rental journey, from live reservations and escalation points, to disputed damage claims and invoicing.
"If you contract with one supplier directly, that supplier won't always have the vehicle that you need at the exact location and time," explains Brennan. "Because we essentially have all of the market on our platform, we can get that vehicle, and save the customer loads of time and give them a one-stop solution."
Adapting to the future
One area that could drive further growth for Nexus is Brexit, as economic uncertainties may leave many companies reluctant to commit to long-term investments and cautious about how much they spend. This could present a real opportunity for the rental market but, according to Brennan, it will also bring its own set of challenges.
"We think rental will grow because of this uncertainty but it also brings a challenge for us, because the demands of the customer can be less easy to predict. Brexit is the biggest uncertainty, but for rental, it's probably an opportunity too," he says.
At the moment, nearly all of Nexus' rental vehicles are petrol and diesel. However, Brennan believes this will change as the rental companies get more hybrids and electric vehicles on fleet. So far, no customers have asked to turn off the diesel tap, and because the price is typically higher for an electric vehicle rental, take up remains slow. Brennan believes it's only a matter of time until it grows. "The market is definitely going to come as the products get better, the ranges get longer and more choice is available, it'll just take some time," he says.
Mobility seems to be the buzzword for the automotive industry at the moment, and we sit on the cusp of a radical change in how we buy and use vehicles across retail and fleet. For Brennan and his team, this journey has already begun, and the company is starting to look at pool car fleets and car sharing add-on products that will help businesses stay mobile.
"Everyone is talking about mobility, but we are delivering mobility solutions today through technology that enables businesses to get the service that they want and have the confidence that it's going to work first time," he explains. "Mobility is all about using technology to deliver a better outcome. For us, we're proving you can use technology to offer the benefit now."
All routes of transport can be connected to the platform today, such as comparing flights, buying train fares or booking a taxi, but, according to Brennan, the customers aren't quite ready for it yet.
One size doesn't fit all
A trend that Brennan has noticed over the past couple of years, though, is a change in fleet funding methods. No longer does a customer lease or buy outright; today, there's more variety across the fleet.
"We're seeing more of our customers looking at a mixture of car solutions in terms of buying outright, leasing and rental. Customers are now looking at a more blended solution and that's playing in our favour," Brennan says. "Corporates have moved away from having one solution when it comes to funding and that's become much more common than it ever was."
Customer service is key and Nexus currently has a retention rate of 95%. As well as offering a complete bespoke rental service, Nexus can also provide its customers with daily, weekly or monthly reports that show key components including spend, usage and damage. Again, these are tailored for each individual customer's needs depending on what's important to them.
"In this industry, it's all about service; if you get the service right, people will tell everyone. You have to look after your reputation and if you show your employees that service really matters, it really works," Brennan explains.
Vehicle damage is a key area in terms of controlling costs for fleets too, and Nexus aims to keep this process as honest and transparent as possible. Once a claim comes through from a supplier, Nexus will check it and forward it on to the client to pay. As the firm has access to many other suppliers and deals with damage costs on an almost daily basis, the team is well positioned to challenge those that seem unreasonably priced and can pass those savings onto the fleets. However, although savings in damage costs are a bonus, it's not the primary reason fleets come to Nexus.
"Mobility is all about using technology to deliver a better outcome. For us, we're proving you can use technology to offer the benefit now."
"Most customers come to us because it's a category that's quite difficult to manage, our prices are competitive and we deliver an excellent service," Brennan says. "If you're a busy fleet manager, one of the main gripes you'll have is that 30% of the time, when you want a particular vehicle, your supplier won't have it. So we completely eliminate this issue for fleets and then make sure that everything that flows from that order is correct."
There's no desire to move into retail at this stage, either. Nexus has a lot of growing left to do in fleet and Brennan is keen to keep driving forward technology innovations - in January, a new reporting tool will be launched and later, in 2018, the whole platform will be upgraded to version five.
"I think our business mobility solution needs to look as good as what people use in their private lives. Whether it's the user interface, the functionality or the speed, I challenge my team to be up there with the best sites," he explains. "We still have a relatively small market share, so our plan is still to grow in the UK in B2B. We have a growing share in the car and van market, and this year we launched a new HGV product.
"We have a team of developers in-house, and we're always looking at how we can add to the tech that we've got and continue to innovate."