Fleet News

Unmasking the mystery men

Think about the process you go through when getting hold of a new car. You deal with a manufacturer or a dealership, right?

Well, not exactly. The chances are that you’ll have dealt with a company called Network Automotive.

Doesn’t ring a bell? Well, that’s hardly surprising, as Network enjoys its anonymity – it’s probably the most ubiquitous fleet company you’ve never heard of.

Yet the company has been around since 1978 and has acted as the behind-the-scenes facilitator of manufacturers in all sorts of areas, mostly in fleet.

So what does it do? Well, in its own words, it “provides people, programmes, professionalism and profit”.

In short, Network has fingers in all sorts of pies. It acts as consultants to – and often on behalf of – manufacturers with the aim of registering as many cars as possible.

“The market is so tough out there,” explains Network’s managing director, Colin Bruder. “Fleet is such a large chunk of manufacturers’ volume that they can’t afford to leave any stone unturned en route to market. We see ourselves as the stone turners.

“They don’t have the expertise and knowledge in-house to deliver on these upturned stones, so we also deliver the people to do it as well as the know-how.”

Of course, manufacturers aren’t generally keen to show a lack of knowledge, which would explain why you’ve never heard of Network.

“We always keep our name hidden,” Mr Bruder says.

“Many of the programmes that we’ve conceived and implemented are better known than we are, but that’s the way we like it.”

Walk through Network’s unassuming Bedfordshire headquarters and it’s clear how seriously the staff take their commitment to the customers. Each client has a room dedicated to it, and those rooms could well be part of that manufacturer’s own headquarters. The pictures on the wall, the clothing the staff wear and even the furniture is in line with the manufacturer’s own branding.

THE FUTURE

“As the marketplace changes, so do the needs of the client,” Mr Bruder says. “The internet has completely changed things. Car buyers do a lot more research, they know their rights, they have more information, choice and consumers, and therefore they have more confidence.

“Their expectations are higher and the service we supply to clients has got to be one step ahead.”

So expect Network to adapt as the market does, and provide more expert fleet knowledge for manufacturers. Just don’t expect to ever hear about it.

Customer relationship management

“CRM is becoming far and away the biggest service we offer and it’s nearly all fleet customers,” Mr Bruder says.

“Some manufacturers will have a database of 30,000 fleets but the fleet sales managers have got to spend as much time as possible selling face-to-face. The manufacturers use us to chase leads and keep their diary full.”

Tender processing

“There’s a whole set of rules for finding a tender, replying to it and chasing it up. We don’t just send it on – we analyse it and say ‘we think this might suit you’.”

Motability

One in 14 new cars are bought through the Motability charity, which equates to around 150,000 vehicles each year. “Manufacturers know it’s important but don’t have the people or expertise to do it themselves,” says Mr Bruder.

“We offer call centre support for the manufacturer, dealers and users. We also offer marketing and training aimed at the disabled.”

“Pricing assistance is very important – although it’s a charity, Motability’s operations are run very much like a business. They’re very sharp on agreeing residual values because Motability buys all the cars back and sells them.”

Driving schools

Mr Bruder says: “300,000 or so people pass their driving test a year and people tend to buy the car that they learned in. To access that whole sector of the market takes quite a lot of organisation.

“We do all of that for the carmakers. Driving schools want dealer contacts, signage and so on, and manufacturers can help.”

Dealer-based daily rental

“Dealer rental is one of the most underused routes,” says Mr Bruder.

“Manufacturers spend around £900 per car on national advertising with the aim of getting a bum on a seat for a test drive. Daily rental does exactly the same but the customers pay for it! We would go through a manufacturer’s network to identify dealers that would be suitable.

“Everyone would then be trained on the rental side to show them what to do. Marketing and advertising is all included. It’s a total package.”

Converter programmes for vans

“From horse box to ambulance to motor home – to get a vehicle from a factory to a converter’s premises and to make sure that the right money is charged and the right bits go where they should is an enormous administrative exercise,” says Mr Bruder.

Dealer and staff purchase schemes

“These are an enormous volume of sales. Dealers have lots of relatives and friends as do the people that work for carmakers,” says Mr Bruder. “There’s administration involved in making sure the discounts are right and nobody buys five when they’re only allowed two, for example.”

Recruitment

“We find fleet sales people in the field for manufacturers. We’ll recruit, train and put them in a manufacturer’s sales force. We do it through adverts but also through word of mouth – the best way to do that is to head-hunt.

“The best people aren’t necessarily looking to change their job because they’ll be doing very well.”

Mystery shopping

“We take a car into a dealership and monitor how we’ve been treated from the telephone call to the booking of the assessment and so on. Then we report back to the manufacturers.”

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