The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the transport industry hard, with much uncertainty still ahead. Yet demand has risen sharply in some sectors. Companies servicing a surge in online deliveries, for example, have been forced to rapidly increase fleet size, manpower and logistics to keep up.

When it comes to ramping up services on such a wide scale, efficiency is critical. Fleet vehicles must operate at optimum safety and security, while logistics must be responsive to the fast-changing transport environment. During lockdown, many firms relied on suppliers to stay in the game, and Handsfree Group – a fleet installation company, who work across the UK, Ireland and the USA – stepped up to the plate.

“We began planning for increased demand as soon it looked like the pandemic would have a serious impact on our customers,” says Craig Thomas, Sales Manager at Handsfree Group. “This meant working with our suppliers to make sure we had access to all the products we install, from charging cradles to telematics and anti-theft systems. We anticipated there would be a need to scale up quickly, so our project managers ordered over and above our regular capacity.”

Even so, requests for fleet upgrades came pouring in much faster than expected.

“Luckily, we are an agile company,” says Craig. “We have FCS 1362, FITAS-accredited installation technicians posted throughout the country, so they were able to respond quickly to meet the demand. We also have a fantastic group of dedicated staff who went beyond the call of duty. Our relationship with customers doesn’t stop after the installation is complete. We have an after-sales service to make sure things continue to run smoothly, so it has been a huge project management challenge.”

Handsfree Group have been in the fleet installation business since 2004, so were well-equipped to help businesses deal with the crisis. At a time when communication, safety and security are a top priority, there are significant advantages to installing much of the equipment that Handsfree Group provides.

Telematics systems, for example, help companies improve communications by tracking vehicles and keeping driver, HQ and the customer fully informed. The technology crunches live data to optimise operations, adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and make the most of a commodity vital to every industry: time.

Safety is essential, too. When you’re relying heavily on your fleet, the last thing you need is time out dealing with accidents, repairs or injured drivers. That’s why kit such as CCTV, sensors and quality cabling help to substantially decrease the chances of an accident. It also keeps insurance premiums down to affordable levels; a major benefit, particularly when you run a large fleet.

Protecting your fleet from criminals is another important consideration. A 60% increase in vehicle thefts over the last 3 years has added urgency to improving fleet security with tech such as alarms, guards and locking devices.

At a time when many businesses are struggling, it is something of a privilege to be dealing with high demand. But the desire to keep vehicles on the road extends to Handsfree Group’s corporate and social responsibilities, too.

“We lent out our Paxster vehicle free of charge to Help for London, which is a charity that provides essential help to vulnerable people in the capital,” says Craig. “The Paxster is a last mile electric vehicle, so it’s also environmentally friendly.”

Many other public and private organisations benefit from being able to maintain an efficient fleet during this period. For instance, Handsfree Group is helping the Emergency Services Network (ESN) improve communication, safety and security so they can continue to respond quickly and efficiently within the new, challenging environment.

As lockdown began to ease, you would think that demand would have reached a plateau. But requests for fleet installations continued to roll in. “I think companies now realise the importance and added value of having security, safety and communications technology installed in their vehicles,” says Craig. “Beforehand, many companies saw it as a ‘nice to have’ but now view it as a necessity.”

“We are very proud of the part we have played, and continue to play, in keeping the country moving during this pandemic,” says Handsfree Group’s managing director Matthew Johnson. “We’re determined to carry on offering a quality service, undiluted by the rate of demand we experience, so we can continue to serve our customers big and small.”

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