When one company acquires another, a substantial part of the purchase price reflects the customer base it is buying. If customers decide to leave en masse following the sale of their leasing supplier to another company, it is like watching money flowing through the company’s front door to rivals.
For pan-European leasing firm Arval, which bought rival Arma last year, a measure of its success in the UK is the fact that 99% of Arma’s customers remained with the company after the deal.
A key part of that loyalty must lie with Liam Donnelly, formerly managing director of Arma in the UK and now sales director for Arval.
After five months in the role, he is getting to grips with a company that is one of the most well-known names in the fleet market, particularly through its ownership of brands including AllStar, the fuel card accepted at more than 12,000 filling stations nationwide and its Overdrive outsourced fleet services brand.
It also has a history that is packed with other well-known brands, including PHH. Despite such large brands, Donnelly is retaining a personal touch in his approach to customers at the firm.
‘People still call me direct,’ he said. ‘It is the way I like to do business. When I was at Arma I was selling direct to customers, so customers have bought from me.’
But he only views personal service as part of the equation which makes the variety of fleet products on offer – ranging from fleet management to fleet funding and alternative cars schemes – into a unique package.
He said: ‘If we have given a fleet a car it is then how we supply the relevant information for management. Our role should be making sure running the fleet is easier. Products are not so much the proposition as how you use them together and how you report back to the customer.
‘For example, offering an online capability. Even though actual use is not huge, because many fleet operators still want to talk to someone, they still want that service available.
‘Perhaps they don’t use it every day, maybe they talk to an employee most of the time and just download online reports once a month, but they still want that service there.
‘We need to be able to present information to the fleet manager that is easy to use.’ Arval is backed by the major world bank BNP Paribas, which bought the firm in 2000. It is looking to Donnelly to grow the funded fleet at the business, which currently stands at about 73,000 vehicles.
In addition, the firm has a vast fleet of managed vehicles, currently about 200,000, along with nearly a million fuel cards.
For a company looking to grow its customers’ base, it is clear where Donnelly needs to look first.
He said: ‘We have an objective to look at the customer base and cross-sell products that customers need.’
This approach needs to reflect the vast range of fleets the firm will deal with, from very small companies with only a few vehicles to some of the biggest businesses in the country.
As a result, the firm has a dedicated telemarketing team dealing with smaller fleets of predominantly less than 50 vehicles.
In addition there is a middle market team covering fleets of up to 2,000 vehicles and finally a strategic team covering fleets of 2,000 vehicles and above.
Arval also has a strong international presence, so it also has a business unit which deals with cross-border fleet business.
Although companies will never say never, it is likely that a focus on cross-selling, particularly to sub-50 and sub-100 fleet customers, will provide the growth the firm needs over the next few years instead of by acquisition.
Donnelly said: ‘Our advantage is that we have a huge fuel base that we will be regularly contacting anyway. However, if there is the opportunity for the company to grow share in another way then we will look at it.’
This growth is likely to take the firm’s funded fleet size over 100,000 vehicles in the next three years, but despite its size, the firm is aware that competition isn’t limited to similar-size rivals.
He said: ‘Clearly there are not many competing large companies, but there are a lot of small, flexible operators, which is why the structure of our business is designed to reflect that. We promise to manage fleet customers so all their needs can be met in a cost- effective way.’
Specialist knowledge to aid fleets
Looking to the future, Arval intends to raise awareness of its variety of products and some of its unique selling points, such as its fuel card network and international operations.
Its expertise in the fuel card market has paid dividends with its knowledge and advice being brought to bear on the impact of the recent announcement regarding the European Sixth Directive, which rules that VAT reclaims on pay and reclaim fuel systems in the UK breached official rules and should be outlawed.
Donnelly said: ‘We have shown that, potentially, by not losing a fuel card to ensure you can reclaim VAT, the lost tax VAT could be £20,000 a year for the average fleet. We are pulling services and advice like this together and packaging them in a way to show the way our management services and products make a fleet manager’s life easier.
‘We can then use all this information to develop our relationship with customers. If we are doing our job properly, we won’t simply see our customers regularly, we will have a dialogue with them about how the management information we have can be used to improve their fleet operations in future.’
Liam Donnelly fact file
1972-1975 University of Strathclyde
1976-1981 General Manager - Grand Met Airport Services
1981-1986 General Manager - Aramark Offshore
1986-1988 MD Aramark Environmental Services
1988-1995 MD Chevron Foods
1995-2000 MD Lex Vehicle Leasing Business 2 Business
2000-2004 MD Arma
2004-current Sales Director – Arval