The big, household-name van rental fleets do not have a monopoly on wisdom or on a proactive approach to customer service.

Smaller businesses can come up with bright ideas too – which is why What Van? has given its rental company of the year award to County Car & Van Rental.

It has 629 light commercials, trucks and passenger vehicles on its books, far fewer than the thousands and thousands boasted by the big battalions.

“We’re possibly the first rental company in the UK to publish a written fair wear-and-tear guide for daily rental,” says project executive Sara Orritt. “It has helped our customers by reducing the amount of damage that is chargeable.

“We have always abided by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association’s fair wear-and-tear guide for leased vehicles, but we felt all customers deserved the same consideration,” she continues.

“Furthermore, the rental guide gives a comprehensive list of prices for certain types of damage, so there are no surprises.”

This year has seen the firm expand its fleet. In doing so it has recognised that not everyone wants an ordinary panel van; some customers have more bespoke requirements that need to be satisfied. It is now offering seven-seater crew-cab tippers as a consequence, among other more specialised vehicles. Also available is a big-capacity so-called ‘Jumbo’ Ford Transit, with six seats and a roomy cargo area.

The company has also recognised an increasing problem for the road transport industry: the growing shortage of drivers with the necessary licence entitlement to drive certain larger classes of vehicle.

“This has been a particular issue for fleets that need to operate 17-seater minibuses,” says Orritt. “We have therefore adapted our offering to include drivers for these vehicles, with excellent feedback received from many clients as a result, including St John Ambulance.”

The retention rate for corporate customers is more than respectable – County has worked hard to hang on to them while not neglecting efforts to attract new business. Those efforts have paid off.

“Thanks to further sales training, developed and delivered in-house, many new accounts have been opened and have been progressing successfully,” Orritt reports.

County has branches in Chester, Stockport, Oldham, Warrington and Preston and has enhanced County in the Community, its charity scheme, over the past year. “We’ve switched the focus from in-house fundraising to collaborative fundraising with our clients,” says Orritt.

One satisfied County customer is Manchester Airports Group (MAG).

“County are always there to support our needs,” says MAG executive Lee Lane.

“Their willingness to go the extra mile and the diversity of their fleet mean their service is second to none.”

Highly Commended: Arnold Clark Car & Van Rental

The effectiveness of its online corporate rental system is a key reason why Arnold Clark Car & Van Rental has won our Highly Commended accolade.

Customers can access bookings, create personal address books and monitor driver and hire history. Linked to the online system is an app that drivers can use to capture mileage information, which can be monitored by fleet managers.

Its digital platforms have been enhanced and have allowed the company to generate more than £15m in online revenue since 2013 with over 140,000 transactions.

With upwards of 55,000 vehicles, Arnold Clark offers customers plenty of choice. Its fleet embraces everything from double-cab pick-ups to Lutons with tail-lifts.

Its clients include Portakabin. The portable building specialist needs more light commercials in the summer, when it is busy, but fewer in the winter, so it hires them in from Arnold Clark accordingly. Vehicles can easily be sent back when they are no longer required.

Says Portakabin events manager, Kevin Keenan: “Arnold Clark’s continued support and flexibility when it comes to meeting the demands of our changing working environment is much appreciated.”

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