Tag Archive | "Van fleet"

FLEET MANAGEMENT WITH A MODERN TOUCH

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FLEET MANAGEMENT WITH A MODERN TOUCH


Hot industry news earlier this year was an £85 million cash injection from auto giants Hyundai and Kia into London-based Arrival, an electric vehicle start-up whose cubist Gen2.0-EV van is tipped for adoption by a raft of huge logistics firms including Royal Mail and UPS.

It’s a significant breakthrough for commercial vehicles, which have lagged somewhat behind their passenger counterparts in terms of electrification and autonomous capability development. The high-profile tie-up could also be a promising sign of things to come for smaller fleet operators – particularly factors – in the UK, who are engaged in a constant battle with rising fuel costs, wage allowances and insurance premiums, as well as ever-stricter emissions regulations and MOT requirements.

Take Euro Car Parts as an example. As of August 2019, the Tamworth-based distributor has around 2750 cars and vans running between its 16 distribution centres, and making around 60,000 parts deliveries daily from its 200-plus branches. It’s quite an operation, and the man in charge of coordinating it, Ted Sakyi, said the key to things running smoothly is that “suppliers and their customers continue to talk to each other ”. It would have to be – the demand for ultra-fast delivery, which I call the ‘Amazonisation’ of today’s e-commerce sector, means customers (including garages) aren’t as willing to twiddle their thumbs for days on end while crucial components are delivered, and communication issues are less excusable than they were in the pre-smartphone era.

JUST IN TIME

Darren Wykes, Managing Director of nationwide supplier Motor Parts Direct (MPD), concurred: “The simple question of ‘when is it needed?’ is now a priority to avoid over-servicing customers.” MPD’s fleet consists of a mixture of vehicle makes and sizes and serves 128 stores across England and Wales, but is equally dependent on the justin-time business model that ensures no fuel or time is wasted by its delivery drivers. “Each branch carefully manages its own logistics, bearing in mind customer demands as regards arranging each delivery schedule,” Wykes added, ‘ensuring van runs are done in the most efficient manner’. Unnecessary delays brought about by garages returning parts or calling the factor out multiple times in short succession can threaten the firm’s ability to meet its quotas.

So how long does a factor of this size allow for each call-out? Wykes considers a case-by-case approach to be best practice: “At present, in line with competitors, there are no hard and fast rules. It is down to the branch team to apply a common sense approach.” It’s unlikely that a factor would consider sending a van and driver out for an hour just to deliver a £10 part to a remote workshop, but would more likely incorporate that delivery into a larger route with multiple stops.

ECP’s Sakyi elaborated: “Ultimately, we want to help independent garages deliver top quality repairs for their customers with the shortest possible wait-times. This means both parties need to communicate effectively – us asking whether they need anything and, if so, what time they need it, and them letting us know what they need, where possible, ahead of time.” The message is that efficiency is a two-way street, and factors can’t be held accountable for disorganisation on the customer’s part. 

ELECTRIFICATION

But just as important as timing deliveries right is considering which vans to use for them. ECP recently bought 300 diesel-fuelled Peugeot Partner vans, showing a commitment – at least in the medium term – to combustion power. Currently, there are only a couple of alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles on sale suited to the firm’s needs, which offer usable ranges and relatively low purchase costs, but would entail such significant investment in supporting infrastructure that they are presently an unrealistic option for any large distribution firm. Sakyi said: “While battery technology and charging infrastructure are still developing and improving, higher-mileage job roles will be best-served by the newest, cleanest diesel and petrol options.” He added, however, that ‘electric vans are already suitable for relatively low-mileage job roles, provided there is access to adequate charging facilities’. As electric commercial vehicles become more accessible and their ranges increase, it’s likely that factors will start to explore their suitability for use in urban areas, particularly where low-emission zones restrict the use of combustion engines.

For now, though, MPD’s Wykes said that “no suitable electric vans are available bearing in mind range and re-charge times,” adding that the Essex-based company is currently trialling a Nissan e-NV200, and looking forward to an electric version of Citroen’s Berlingo arriving next year. ‘Van choice is decided based on various criteria, such as fuel efficiency, overall running costs and initial purchase price,’ he said.

Amanda Brandon, Director of Fleet Services for the British Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association, acknowledged the issues. “The lack of availability of suitable electric vehicles, inadequate charging infrastructure and significant up-front cost differential are all factors affecting the uptake of electric in the CV sector,” she said, echoing industry bosses who bemoan the slow roll-out of chargers and tax incentives. “In the van sector, the consensus of opinion is that the future is electric, but this transition will not happen overnight until the issues of availability, affordability and access to charging facilities are resolved.”

It remains to be seen how firms like EPC and MPD will be affected by the expansion of London’s ULEZ and the creation of low-emission zones in cities like Bristol and Oxford. One thing’s for sure, though – it’s unlikely the commercial vehicle parc will look the same in 10 years time.

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CLUBBING WITH THE TRADE

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CLUBBING WITH THE TRADE


Mitch Cameron shows us around a relocated TPS Branch in Slough.

New logo on signage

You have probably noticed the quiet growth of trade clubs over the past decade. At first, these were a way for the VMs to get the independent garages that wouldn’t normally consider queuing at a franchise’s parts counter to use genuine parts.

The idea worked, and today some of the clubs are as busy, and as lean and sales-focussed, as any branch of an all-makes factor chain.

Take TPS for example. Launched 11 years ago the trade counter started its first month with four branches selling mostly dealer-only parts and bodyshop supplies. Today, it has a nationwide network of 75 centres and has recently been through a programme of modernisation and rebranding.

To find out what these changes mean in practical terms, we’ve headed west to the Berkshire town of Slough to have a look at a branch that has recently relocated to a more modern site.

When we arrive at the allotted (and very precise) time of 11.15, the first thing to notice is the large signs across the driveway. “We were one of the first to receive the new branding” said Branch Manager Mitch Cameron, adding that the new silver logo (TPS originally stood for Trade Parts Specialists, but now has no official designation) looks very professional when combined with the new corporate colour scheme.

The new look continues inside the building, as staff are wearing a redesigned uniform that matches the silver logo. Customers, according to Cameron, appreciate all of these tweaks. “We hear a lot from the front counter that it is a pleasant place to get parts from” he said.

Actually, a partition screen between the counter and the telesales floor has a dual role as on the reverse it has a large sales board, filled with targets broken down in ways that no doubt makes sense to the nine people rattling the phones.

FIGURES
While the board of figures doesn’t mean a lot to us, it is clearly very important to Cameron and the team as monthly targets are broken down into weekly, daily and even hourly productivity goals. Like most factor branches, there is a morning rush, which finishes just after 11 (hence the time we were given to arrive) followed be a spike in activity in the early afternoon, mostly from garages who want to make sure their parts are ordered ahead of a vehicle arriving first thing in the morning.

Part of the programme of branch modernisation is a phone system that will be able to monitor call volumes, lengths, number of outgoing and incoming and so on. “When we get it, it will give us a much better handle on what the peaks are during the day” explained Cameron, adding that, in common with the practice at most factors, each operator has their own list of ‘regular’ clients that they build up a relationship with and a few customers can be in touch with the branch ‘seven or eight times a day’. One of the team is a bodyshop specialist, so he deals with the panel beaters around the town.

9,000 items including many crash repair parts

Another relatively new system is a ‘gap analysis’ tool, something many readers in factors may well be familiar with. Simply put, it looks at what customers have been purchasing alongside what they haven’t been. For example, a customer might buy many sets of brake pads from the factor, but never any hydraulic fluid. The tool can pick things like this out and the sales rep can then find out why, and see if there is an offer that will persuade the garage owner to change their buying habits.

VAN FLEET
The branch’s fleet also deserves a mention. There are 11 vans, which is not untypical for a branch of this size. However, the branch has also acquired a small hatchback car (a VW of course) that has been converted to carry a small amount of stock and be used for client visits. “The idea of that is we have some part time drivers in the morning to cover the busy period. In the afternoon when it is a little quieter, we can send some of the telesales guys out so they can meet their customers face to face” explained Cameron. “This is something we’re building on, that we hadn’t been doing particularly before”. It has been said many times before, but there is never any substitute in the aftermarket for getting out and shaking hands with people.

The factor’s fleet also boasts a motor scooter for local runs. Traffic in the area immediately around the industrial estate can be pretty gnarly first thing in the morning and the bike is just the thing for small deliveries.

Some 9,000 lines are kept in the stockroom. Brake parts, oil and filters are the fastest moving lines as you might expect, although around 15 percent of stock holding relates to crash repair and body refinish (On our visit, the side panel for a Caddy van was waiting to be delivered to a customer). As you’d expect, TPS delivers many OE parts from the parent company, but in a move to compete with others it also has a second-tier line called ‘FourPlus’, which as the name implies are parts for vehicles old enough to be out of the warranty period. All products in the range come with a two-year guarantee and meet the VM’s quality assurance standards.

The phones start to get busy again as the afternoon rush begins, so its time for us to leave. However, if you are in Slough and you notice that there are a lot of Volkswagen Group cars on the road, now you’ll know how they stay there.

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