Ian Leonard has a clear fleet agenda. The Speedy Services group fleet services manager prioritises the close relationships he has with his three principal suppliers, and firmly believes that it would be impossible to run a fleet of his size (1,800 vehicles) without their full cooperation, support and understanding.
Lex Autolease has been Speedy’s funder for 15 years (previously as Lex Vehicle Leasing and Lloyds Autolease); Ford has been supplying cars and vans for the past 18 years, the latter on a solus agreement; LCVs and the majority of the cars have been provided by local Ford dealership Gordon’s of Bolton for almost two decades.
They are all relationships that have developed and strengthened over the long-term; they are all critical to the successful control and development of the Speedy fleet.
“We have superb relationships with our three main suppliers – it’s a four-way relationship,” says Leonard, who has managed the company fleet since 1998.
“Our internal team and I can’t control a fleet of Speedy’s size by ourselves. The more our suppliers know about our business and the more they become embedded in our business, the more efficient we all become. The net effect is that the results are better in terms of cost and effectiveness for all parties.”
This partnership approach can pay particular dividends come an economic downturn. During the depths of recession in 2009, Speedy was saddled with a number of vehicles it no longer needed. At the same time, the annual replacement volume of vehicles dipped significantly.
Despite this potential change, neither Lex Autolease nor Ford altered their support terms, while Lex further lightened Speedy’s financial worries by brokering a deal that made it economically viable to return all unwanted vehicles.
“In 2009 we were forced to re-evaluate our purchasing position. Had we not had these strong relationships with Lex and Ford who knew our business and the challenges we were facing, life would’ve been very difficult,” Leonard reasons.
“If we had spread our relationship across a number of leasing companies it would’ve been a very different conversation.”
He is a staunch advocate of sole supply agreements, as is the business as a whole. Loyalty flows from top to bottom.
“We tell our salespeople to embed themselves into our clients’ businesses and it’s the same for our supply chain,” Leonard explains.
“It’s not about price – anyone can buy the cheapest contract hire. It’s about their understanding of our business and what we are about. The relationship has to add value.”
This value is expressed in the form of ideas and suggestions to help Speedy save money. During its recent fleet re-tender, for example, Ford presented Speedy with a financial case to revert from its four-year operating cycle on vans to three years.
All parties then worked with Lex Autolease to construct a deal that made it worthwhile for Speedy to make the change from a wholelife cost perspective.
“The saving was enough to convince us,” Leonard says.
Partly underpinning the lower total cost of ownership was an anticipated reduction in vehicle off-road (VOR) time by running a younger van fleet profile. Speedy has seen VOR times come down dramatically following this joint initiative.
The company has also rolled out telematics across its HGV and van fleet to improve control of its assets.
Every night Speedy’s systems submit a mileage data file to Lex Autolease, which enables the maintenance management software to predict service schedules and proactively book in vehicles. This has further minimised VOR, reduced unplanned maintenance and ensured service schedules are met.
Leonard has gone a step further by curtailing the impact on Speedy of any off-road time via a unique deal with Hertz. The rental company stocks 20 vans fully kitted with equipment for Speedy’s exclusive use. Delivery is guaranteed within four hours; utilisation is running at around 85%.
Once again Lex Autolease was closely involved in the discussions leading to the agreement, which was set up two years ago.
It’s not just external relationships that Leonard believes are critical to running an effective and efficient fleet; he also places great value on the internal relationships with the HR, training, marketing, finance and operations teams.
“If these things didn’t run well, my job would be a nightmare. Teamwork is critical,” he says.
The fleet team has representatives on Speedy’s health and safety committee and its training committee which both meet once a month. It helps to raise awareness and facilitate buy-in to new initiatives.
“We are in a risk business and everything we do is risk averse: if we hire a chainsaw to a customer, then we hire the gloves and the glasses also and then we train them on how to use it. That ethos has bled into the fleet department,” Leonard says.
“For example, we were the first in our industry to have safety gates on tail-lifts and the first to have side-loading protection. We have innovated when it comes to safety and a lot of the solutions have come from working in partnership with our suppliers. The designs that we have instigated are now being used by other companies.”
Two years ago Leonard set up a post-accident review group to look at all motor vehicle accidents, both car and commercial.
The group meets every Monday to discuss the previous week’s road incidents and always has a senior board member in attendance.
A matrix is used to classify each offence which results in an agreed outcome for every type of incident.
Training is the preferred approach for van drivers; car drivers face a financial penalty for own-fault accidents (apart from the first one).
“The post-accident review group has helped to take us from a loss ratio of 100% to less than 70%. We are aiming to get to 50%,” Leonard says.
He believes that making drivers aware that there will be consequences to their action is important, but he’s also keen to raise the profile and professionalism of van drivers within the business, pointing out that they are “our customer touch points”.
“We’ve trained them on customer demonstrations, we’ve given them uniforms and they have state of the art vans. The next step is their driving and we’d like to see a recognised, portable qualification for van drivers,” Leonard says.
“This would improve retention and also give drivers a qualification they could use within the industry saving the sector time and money in re-training them .”