Real Business recently sat down with Gary Rose, part-business owner, and Operations Director at Planet Leasing, to discuss how and why offering outstanding customer service has allowed his business to stand out in the market.
What was your motivation to establish Planet Leasing and start a business within the vehicle leasing industry?
In March 2007, we started the business in the depths of the financial recession. It wasn’t the reason we started the business, but it did not put us off starting a new business because we knew if we could launch, survive, and grow at such a low point in the world economy, then you know it’s a business and service that people are looking for.
Since 1989, I have been self-employed, running my own successful cleaning business that operated in both domestic and commercial spaces. I had quite the breadth of knowledge and experience running a business and managing a team so when my childhood friend and now business partner, Darren Nash, proposed the idea of Planet Leasing to me, I was very interested in taking on the new challenge. Darren had been highly involved in the car industry, within the retail sphere, for over ten years at that point. He had expert knowledge of cars, sales, and customer service, and he saw a great opportunity in setting up an independent vehicle leasing company. It was a risk to make that jump by himself, so he had asked me to partner with him, and bring my business acumen to the table.
What is an aspect of your business you are particularly focused on?
Our priority is delivering legendary customer service. There are a lot of challenges for a business like ours right now, specifically the massive supply chain issues and the rising cost of living. I describe Planet Leasing as the Waitrose of the broker world: we are not the cheapest, but we offer fantastic customer service, value for money, and everything we do is given high-quality care and attention. Building our business with customer service at the forefront has paid off for us, especially right now, as we deal with significant delays on vehicle orders. Products might not be arriving for many more weeks or months. We know how to manage our customers’ expectations, their frustration, and their anxiety about the situation. Our method for handling issues is to be proactive, reaching out to customers with updates and letting them know what is happening. Customers deserve that level of reassurance and acknowledgment.
What do you think is the main challenge in building that level of customer service?
Well, we are seeing it happen across the UK right now. Recruitment is quite the buzz word. Customer service starts with the quality and abilities of your staff. We have a very strong team of smart, experienced professionals that help us deliver the customer service we want and expect. Retaining employees during a period of highly competitive recruitment is a struggle for many companies. We lead with ‘family first’ values, we truly get to know the people we work with, and we invest in them as hardworking individuals who have lives outside of the workplace. As a result, we have a good retention rate.
Is there any element of running a vehicle leasing company that you found frustrating or difficult to manage?
I think the majority of my industry finds the audits and licenses quite frustrating to deal with. If you are involved in lending or any kind of consumer credit, you need a license and you are very heavily audited by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority). Every lending institution, including banks or brokers like ourselves, must undergo this audit in order to maintain the license. It keeps the market regulated and prevents customers from being sold products or services that don’t suit them or their circumstances. Customers should be treated fairly; you should be informed of all the advantages and disadvantages before you lease a vehicle or take out a loan. Within our industry, quite a few of our competitors view it negatively, ad an expensive inconvenience because the FCA can and will find a business that isn’t meeting the standards. However, Planet Leasing has always welcomed the process because it assures us and our customers of our quality.
You have mentioned before that many of your competitors style themselves as lifestyle brands. How would you distinguish your business from those competitors?
Other companies in the industry have adopted the strategy of presenting a certain lifestyle goal and that their service or products will help their customers live that lifestyle. But you have to present an example of that lifestyle to your customers for them to understand and desire it. Often, the business owners end up spending a lot of their income sustaining a lifestyle and an image; money they could be re-investing in their business. I have seen a few businesses like this hit a period of financial instability and unfortunately not had a strong foundation to fall back on. We are very much the opposite. We work to fortify ourselves and the business, financially speaking, and allow ourselves the flexibility for growth when we look towards the future. We look at business sustainability and profitability from an incredibly practical point of view.
You have already expanded the brand into Planet Escapes? Would you like to talk about that branch of the business?
That’s quite exciting! Planet Escapes is a trading style of Planet Leasing that rents out motorhomes to holidaymakers. We had purchased a motorhome with the intention of using it with our families and renting it out rather than leaving it empty. We decided quite quickly that we didn’t want other people using it, but we did identify a gap in the rental market in Essex for small motorhomes. Due to the nature of the business, we already had relationships with manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes, so we decided to take the chance and purchased a fleet of six motorhomes. We’re doing very well, we probably launched at the right time considering the impact of COVID-19 and people looking for holiday alternatives. Our motorhomes are fully booked, and we are looking at expanding the fleet.
So, you first purchased the motorhome for family fun, and it has organically flourished into a new part of the business. How important is it for you to find time to spend with your family?
It is really important for business owners to have that work-life balance. I want to provide for my family, but I do not want to miss out on spending time with them. This business is much more self-sufficient, so it has become more of a personal priority to take time away, to let myself relax, and be with my loved ones. It’s one of the many advantages of being your own boss.
Finally, what would be your top three tips for young or new entrepreneurs?
One of my tips is to be very aware of your own motivations and hold yourself accountable. No one is around to push you to get up, get into the office, get tasks finished, and work hard for your goals. You need to establish your own rules and be disciplined.
Secondly, building a business is not a journey that follows a straight line. There will be obstacles that you need to anticipate and negotiate. Do your best to be flexible and learn to pivot. Finally, let yourself take breaks. Balance is key.