Photo credit: La Cantera Resort & Spa
By Rich Mallek, Director of Business Development, FLD Remarketing
Like many of the attendees at last week’s annual Automotive Fleet Leasing Association (AFLA) conference, I was decidedly unsure how the event would turn out. After more than 18 months of virtual meetings and halting interactions, I wondered whether my colleagues in fleet were ready for what usually turns out to be several days of face to face meetings, close contact with long-time friends, and commiserating with people we may not have met before. Especially considering that the annual NAFA show held the previous month in Pittsburgh had a markedly smaller crowd than years past, and many notable participants in NAFA’s usually bustling conference floor missing in action.
As I boarded my flight to San Antonio, many unanswered questions swirled in my head.
Would fleet professionals want – or even be allowed – to travel with the pandemic still claiming roughly 2,000 American lives each day?
Would these same folks be willing to hob knob in what usually entails hours of close contact and intense professional and social interaction?
And would the crowd show the kind of enthusiasm and meaningful exchange of ideas that are usually the hallmark of AFLA, especially after last year’s event was forced to go virtual?
Well, after nearly a week of what turned out to be some of the most intense interactions I’ve experienced in my fleet career, I am happy to report the answers to these important questions are:
Yes. Yes. And – definitely – yes!
This year’s AFLA fleet conference was not only meaningful, but chock full of elements that attendees can leverage as the industry looks to establish its new normal. And while there many notable changes, the bottom line is that this year’s conference had a lot of positives for the fleet industry to rally around.
For one thing, interactions at the show were warm, inviting and genuine. In my opinion, attendees seemed not only glad to see each other, but decidedly engaged – and enthused – throughout the proceedings. This was evident in the myriad warm greetings and squeals of joy as friends, foes and new faces gathered for the very first night’s events, until the time everyone parted ways days later. That included robust and well-attended sessions and break outs right up until the final day when discussions around electric vehicle kept attendees enthralled up until the show’s last minutes.
And while this year’s event was markedly smaller than in year’s past, attendees seemed not only thrilled to see each other, but ready for an intense exchange of ideas, anecdotes and best practices. This included not only friends and colleagues who had obviously been missing each other, but even among competitors who seemed to realize that the pandemic had left them rowing the same boat as providers they had been trying to best for decades.
From a personal standpoint, this year’s conference was definitely more productive for me and the contingency of my four FLD Remarketing colleagues who also attended. And as someone who was unsure if the week’s events would even be worth the trip, I can definitely say it was that and then some as just about every session – and certainly every social interaction – felt intense, informative and welcoming. And while there were several missing elements from years gone by, this year’s AFLA did much to restore not only fleet’s hope for a better future- but also people’s excitement around this great industry.
Looking back on a week that will very likely be remembered as a “kick starter” for the resurgence of the fleet space, here were some of my key takeaways:
*For starters, a preliminary (unofficial) count showed slightly more than 300 confirmed attendees – lower than the usual 400 to 450 – proving that the pandemic continues to effect corporate travel. Less than 10% – or roughly 30 registered attendees – appeared to be no shows, a positive sign that those in attendance were ready for meaningful engagement.
*While attendance was lower than in years past, attendees were well-established fleet entities that were enthused, engaged and anxious to share with their colleagues. Just about everyone in attendance demonstrated a spirit of camaraderie that felt much stronger than at pre-pandemic conferences. and it was encouraging to see a strong contingency of first-time attendees – a positive sign for fleet’s future.
*Conversations about Covid seemed to be at a minimum, with most attendees anxious to move on, but mindful of their responsibility to do so with caution and sensible steps forward.
*There seemed to be strong agreement among attendees that while the industry has changed no matter what role a person or company plays, fleet is finding its footing and marching ahead with confidence.
*A temperature check of the room shows that fleet is in a “re-set” mode similar to after the .com bust (2001) and real estate meltdown (2008.) And that everyone in attendance – while decidedly in the dark – acknowledged a strong sense of camaraderie and a feeling that the industry is moving “Forward Together” (the theme of next year’s conference.)
*Conversations and sessions were dominated by talk of “doing more with less” as the chip and labor shortage – as well as ongoing supply chain issues – continue to hobble the industry. EV’s were perhaps the hottest topic of the week.
*Conference sessions were well attended even up to the last day with attendees anxious and willing to exchange information and share best practices as a way of helping their colleagues – and in some cases even the competition – find their next normal.
*From a remarketing perspective, most experts seemed unsure if the re-sale space will experience a hard or soft landing, but most acknowledged that higher re-sale prices were offsetting higher acquisition costs.
Of course, these are just some of my key takeaways. Doubtless others may have felt differently, but from the attendees I spoke with at the show – and considering the interactions I’ve had since – fleet is not only alive and kicking, but poised to thrive as we move into the next stage of this great industry and beyond! A big congratulations to AFLA Executive Director Elizabeth Schlicht and her team for throwing such an important and meaningful event.
Richard Mallek is a Director of Business Development for FLD Remarketing, a pioneer and leader in the fleet remarketing space. To share your thoughts with him or to learn more about FLD, log on to our website at www.fldinc.com, or give Rich a call at 1-800-754-1522.