Putting digital in the driving seat
- You don’t have to be a tech business to benefit from digital. It can make a positive impact on any business. If you’re unsure of how it can help you, seek advice from an expert.
- Data can be used to give a more accurate picture of your business. This will help you make more insightful decisions on how to move forward.
- Digital doesn’t have to replace your personal service. You can combine the two.
- Bring your staff on the digital journey with you. Make sure you keep them informed of changes and provide training where needed.
Once hesitant about how digital could support its vehicle leasing business, Autohorn Fleet Services has totally transformed its outlook by embracing new technology in a relatively short space of time. And it’s now reaping the benefits of this investment, as Scott Jenkins, Sales Director at the York-based company reveals.
Seven years ago, technology accounted for very little of Autohorn Fleet Services’ operation. Neither were they particularly keen to adopt it.
Openly admitting to an ‘if it works, why change it?’ approach, the business was - like many - reluctant to invest significantly in something that they didn’t see as vital.
However, through the acquisition of the Flexed.co.uk website in 2014, which focused on search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) - “a risk”, they admit - within a year, lead generation had increased by 200%, and continues to play a vital, indeed transformational, role in the business and its ongoing development.
Since then, its adoption of digital methods to generate business has been followed by significant investment in creating its own bespoke CRM and software. To date over £500,000 has been invested and counting – which has enabled it to deliver a better service to clients, run a more efficient operation, and crucially, sets the business up for the future.
In what they believe is a direct result of their adoption of technology, Autohorn - which provides fleet solutions to businesses and individuals across the UK - has seen its fleet size grow from 300 vehicles to over 2,000, and the creation of 40 new jobs to help keep pace with demand and stand out from the crowd in a hugely competitive market.
And their investment in technology – which began when the company benefited from a Digital Growth Voucher from Digital Enterprise – shows no signs of slowing, with plans already in place to develop and launch an app, ideally this year, working alongside fellow Digital Enterprise Top 100 business Netsells.
It also recently completed its £380,000 in-house system (ALFI), which manages new enquiries, customer orders, billing and contracts, and has automated regulatory processes - allowing Autohorn’s team to free up more time to spend on developing the business and push into new markets.
“Technology has been a massive help,” says Scott Jenkins, Sales Director at York-based Autohorn. “We manage our assets a lot more successfully, we can be more efficient as a business, and it’s made our employees’ lives better too.
“But it’s also helped us to futureproof the business. We are now all set for further growth and our investment in technology has been hugely important in allowing us to do that.”
The app is the latest stage of preparing for the next phase of growth, and will accompany a move to purpose-built premises in Clifton Moor in York - again, a result of its ongoing progress - as being the next significant development for the business.
Autohorn - which has led the way in its sector by becoming the first to introduce a subscription-style lease that includes everything from maintenance to insurance - has also committed £7.5m to the first phase of its new headquarters, and anticipates creating new job opportunities as it continues to grow.
“The app is another big technology-based investment for us, but is again a very important step for us in preparing for the future and helping to continue and increase our growth,” says Scott.
“It will give a huge amount of information around vehicle choice for the customer, and help us greatly in terms of keeping in contact with the customer and the asset. To do that via an app will be huge for us.
“Technology has had so many benefits to the business already and there will be more to come.”
And while technology has already proved its worth to Autohorn, the support it gave the business during the pandemic has been invaluable, says Scott, as its ability to give instant information about stock levels and logistics enabled the team to make decisions quickly.
The company, which was founded in 1995, has a core business of short-term leasing, where a customer takes a 28-day rolling contract and can return the vehicle at any point within that time without penalty.
“In the first lockdown, a lot of people didn’t need their vehicles anymore and we went through a few days when it felt like every one of our customers was returning them - we did go through a period where we were worried about answering the phone,” reflects Scott.
“But our software was vital in showing us where we were with our stock levels and enabled us to make decisions quickly, making informed strategic decisions about what was happening and how the future looked.
“It showed that what seemed to be happening wasn’t as bad as feared, and things did stabilise and pick up quite quickly - in fact, by the end of 2020, we had the highest-ever fleet level out on rental.
“Many customers came to us because they didn’t want to use public transport, and a lot of people who shared vehicles now wanted one each because you couldn’t social distance properly in one.
“To have information so readily available to us through our technology was very important.”
But alongside the technology and benefits it helps deliver to customers, the commitment and dedication of its team in delivering an excellent service is something Autohorn sees as fundamental.
“We run this company with a set of values and we’re proud of that,” says Scott. “We didn’t want to put customers in positions where they couldn’t afford the payments on their vehicles, but neither did we want to leave them without their cars if they needed them.
“We proactively contacted every customer and took the decision with quite a few of them that the cars were better off with them than sitting here with us.
“It’s really good that we could help them out in that way, and I’m sure we will get loyalty from them in return as we know how much it was appreciated, but the business is built on values that make us want to do the right thing.”
With a loyal client base that continues to grow, both in its private and commercial hire divisions, the expansion into new headquarters will add to the efforts to serve them better - as well as supporting efforts to create a sustainable Yorkshire. Based just on the outskirts of York, its new 23-acre site will feature a state-of-the-art, modular HQ, which will be home to multiple businesses onsite.
Additionally, the development will feature up to 20 new electric charging ports, which will help to charge Autohorn’s electric fleet, which currently accounts for 25% of its total fleet.
The charging ports will also be open to the public, free of charge, in a bid by the company to demonstrate the benefits of having an electric vehicle and hopefully encourage change from ‘conventional’ vehicles.
“We have actually scaled down our original plans due to the pandemic, but what we are planning will still absolutely set us up for the future, with plenty of potential too,” says Scott.
“And alongside the building investment, we will also continually invest in the personal development of our staff so they can progress their careers with us - they do a fantastic job for us and we’ll always reward that.”
Building on its foundations of a strong business offering and outstanding customer service, technology has enabled Autohorn to unlock the business’ future potential. Its approach has won recognition with inclusion in the Digital Enterprise Top 100.
“We’ve taken a lot of risk and chances to be where we are today and to be able to showcase that, and prove that companies like ours can do this, is a great feeling,” says Scott.
“Having been in York and supplying the local area for the past 25 years, we have seen first-hand how quickly this region has grown and adopted the use of new technology. “It’s a phenomenal honour to be part of this group of great Yorkshire businesses.
This profile interview features as part of the Digital Enterprise Top 100 special report, which showcases the most digitally transformational, resilient and innovative businesses in the Leeds City Region. Read the full report here.