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Independents’ day?

By / 5 years ago / Comment / No Comments

One of the few positives to emerge from the economic downturn is a greater appreciation of value for money. Rewind four years and, with the possible exception of bankers and politicians, cost control became at the very heart of most businesses. Indeed the fleet management sector has long prided itself with the sourcing of vehicles according to their whole life costs. Today those finely honed skills are exactly what's needed to make it through these straitened times.

As a fleet boss one of your major expenses is SMR. Garage time is expensive, inconvenient and takes your drivers off the road. So maybe it's time to consider the two main options available to you: franchised workshops at your local main dealers, or independent garages.

Firstly let’s clear up some myths. Your new cars do not need to be serviced or repaired in franchised workshops to safeguard their warranties. Times have changed, so, thanks to the EU, have the rules and regulations.

The best independents should be able to prove to you that they can repair to the same standards as their franchised counterparts and use bona fide original parts to safeguard manufacturer warranties. Indeed many of them have provided excellent fleet service for some years by investing heavily in the necessary equipment and technician training.

So just how good are the cost savings? 

I put that question to Gary Killeen, Fleet Services Commercial Leader at GE Capital UK, the fleet management specialist. He’s noticed a growing trend towards fleets using independents, attracted by their high standards, low labour rates and ability to source parts cheaper than franchised dealers. ‘It could mean a typical £30,000 saving based on a 500 vehicle fleet covering an average 10,000 business miles per annum,’ he said.

There is, of course, a caveat. While franchised dealer workshops share a degree of consistency, thanks to the massive investment by car manufacturers and their retailers, independents can be a disparate bunch ranging from under the arch sole traders to high profile national networks. This is where it is important to check out credentials. The starting point here is accreditation from Motor Codes, who regulates and enforces the Service and Repair Code, a national scheme, with teeth, which currently oversees 6,600 approved independent and franchised garages. 

The national chains have also sharpened up their offerings to go beyond fast fit consumables to get a piece of the fleet action. Probably the best known name here is Kwik Fit Fleet which has significantly grown its share of fleet servicing and MoT work as vehicles cycles get extended. 

Another equally well known national brand actively targeting SME fleet work is Halfords, with its chain of 250 Autocentres. The business has grown rapidly after recently buying the Nationwide Autocentre chain and plans to have 400 outlets in 2015. The Fleet Support Group uses a network of 500 independent garages, all vetted and monitored, to offer fleets nationwide fixed price vehicle servicing. Choice is not a problem.

Finally, it's worth considering that a manufacturer's stamp in service books is no longer a gilt edged guarantee of higher residuals, unless the cars in question have premium badges. That’s the view of Tim Hudson, vice chairman of the National Association of Motor Auctions, and he should know as he runs his own auction business.

‘What is essential is that company cars and vans have a documented service history across their fleet life to ensure top residual values are potentially achievable,‘ he said.

When it comes to sourcing your SMR needs, it's a buyer's market and you're holding the purse strings.

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