By Ed Pierce, Contributing Editor
Listening to Fleet Street President Steve Bender speak about his company’s passion for remarketing innovation in an industry with tried-and-true solutions seems to be unorthodox at first. But his abiding respect for the industry and the lessons he learned from his predecessor, industry stalwart Kevin McGrath, balance his passion for lateral thinking with traditional remarketing tradition.
“Fleet Street has been doing corporate fleet vehicle remarketing for 30 plus years, and I had the opportunity to help design many of our original systems,” says Steve. “Having an IT background, I am hands-on and believe in taking a creative approach to problem-solving that emphasizes ideas that are not immediately obvious.”
His emphasis on lateral thinking allows Fleet Street to generate ideas that may not be obtainable using just traditional logic. In other words, the company looks to avoid familiar patterns and seek new, unexpected ones.
Connectivity with Customers
As important as innovation is the human connection. “Connectivity is critical to successfully building a relationship with repeat customers,” he notes. “The core of our success in terms of being able to be flexible and innovative starts by asking ourselves: Are we listening to what the industry needs? Are we listening to what the fleet managers’ needs are? And, can we adapt our mindset and our deliverables to come up with better ways of doing things? The solutions might not even be fully there yet, but by using imagination to look at the customer’s pain points, we can solve any problem in a fresh way.”
Every fleet supplier needs to recognize that fleet managers know their jobs and have specific, measurable expectations. Steve reinforces that premise: “What customers need from us is an understanding of all of the opportunities that are out there and proof that our solution can both help them in their jobs and exceed expectations. When you’re talking about selling cars, it’s time and money. The traditional remarketing channels work extremely well. That’s why they’ve been around forever. But can we bring new ways to add new programs that focus on time and money?”
When Time Is Critical
Steve references Fleet Street’s development of direct-to-consumer programs as an additional opportunity for upstream remarketing, which began with selling to a company’s employees and families. Fleet Street saw that there is no reason to stop there. “We can save time and take out some of the middle transactions, going direct-to-consumer, solving several problems without interfering with the traditional remarketing channels,” Steve contends.
“We’re not taking away a single thing from the traditional channels of paying attention to the cycles, picking up a vehicle when it becomes available, pushing it through the auctions, and through dealer networks. All the tools and places that the fleet management companies and remarketing companies offer are still in place when they are the best option. But timing sometimes precludes navigating all of the traditional layers before a vehicle actually gets to the consumer.
“Many times, traditional retail cannot be accomplished in a 30-day cycle. There’s just not enough time to get a vehicle ready, properly advertise it, get it out in front of the consumer, and give the consumer a chance to kick the tires virtually or in person. It’s more of a 45, 60, sometimes even 90 days cycle. For fleets, time is of the essence, and they can’t wait that long, it’s just not practical for them especially when they are replacing another vehicle and have two vehicles on the books. Time is money in that situation.”
So, what’s the solution? Steve explains that because the company learns of the need to replace a vehicle approximately eight weeks ahead of time, pre-selling the vehicle can begin. But he cautions, the ability to pre-sell a vehicle comes down to trust. “Nobody is going to pay for a car that they can’t have yet and don’t even know when they’re going to get it unless they trust the seller,” says Steve. “Trust brings us back to the idea of connection. Because we have long-standing and mutually beneficial connections, we have established trust. We have nurtured relationships for 30 years.”
Trust works both ways, too, notes Steve: “As you work with the same clients over and over, you can learn patterns in their own fleet. You are aware of what they’re doing with their drivers, programs, and incentives. Are their drivers encouraged to be treating those vehicles like their own? Or is there no incentive? Are those vehicles being turned-in repetitively super clean and well-maintained? As a remarketer, we must pay attention to those patterns and make sure that we are presenting to the consumer the right vehicles with detailed information.”
He acknowledges that the resources to support expansion mean more overhead, but the broader available market is well worth the investment for his company’s fleet customers. “The fleet managers are more likely to jump on board because they can see the vast market opportunity,” says Steve, “and we alleviate any doubts through our dealer’s license, which protects them from any kind of liability because the shift of ownership still comes through our dealer license. In this way, we create an opportunity to connect on the human level direct from corporate to consumer through a familiar upstream fashion in five days instead of 30 to 45 days.”
Influencers Are Not Just a Consumer Trend
The power of influencers, who caught on years ago in the promotion of tech, fashion, and other retail products, has spread to other fields, including fleet remarketing, according to Steve. “It’s not necessarily about the product; It’s their personality and personal connections. Influencers can give companies like Fleet Street the ability to get in front of a targeted audience and establish trust. That leads to organic growth.
“In our business, you can’t expect trust to come from throwing millions of dollars at advertising on TV,” says Steve. “But if a fleet manager has great experience with a provider, others listen and are more likely to seek the same positive experience. Today’s technology helps us collect performance and trending data that leads to a great experience, and influencers can build bridges to build trust. But nothing takes precedence over building our own personal connections with fleet decision-makers, fleet management companies, consultants and other potential influencers at AFLA, NAFA, CAR, IARA, and other trade association events. These are great investments to collect first-hand information and connect with influencers.”
The Price Point Still Rules
Steve cautions that innovation, connection, trust, and influencers still only get a company to the point where they have the opportunity to negotiate a deal. “At that point, the price point is critical, and in many cases, another attractive trait of a direct-to-consumer vehicle is a competitive price compared to the dealer down the street who purchased the same car from an auction but had to build in advertising other holding costs. After overcoming price and the transaction is done, earning trust remains a high priority. If the vehicle experience is poor, the buyer will never trust you. That is why a guarantee, a warranty of some sort makes sense. ‘We will always make this deal right, no matter what.’ helps preserve trust.”
Where does Steve see Fleet Street and the industry go in the future? “Ultimately, our success over the past 30 year and for many years to come revolves around delivering on our promises. I think we can scale this thing up. We want to be the solution for remarketing direct-to-consumer coming out of corporate America. To do that, I just want to build the right relationships with the people that I have learned to trust in our industry and offer a service that further enhances a lot of things that we’re already doing. I want to create a platform that blows the fleet industry out of the water in terms of meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations!”