When I set up Great Escape Cars it was all about a classic car version of conventional car hire. So in place of a Ford Mondeo for 24 hr periods you got a Jaguar E Type or Jensen Interceptor. Lots of companies started doing this. And for many years it seemed to work.
Except, quite frankly, it didn't. There are now far fewer companies offering classic car hire and, as my hairline attests, there is one simple reason. It is hard and stressful. Most customers rent a classic car to celebrate a special birthday, a wedding or an anniversary. And, most of the time, they have a great time. But some of the time they don't because however well you maintain a classic car and however much money you spend on them, they are old cars with old car woes. And most of these old cars were never much cop when they were new.
The place where a celebration and an unreliable classic car meet is not necessarily a stress-free environment.
The majority of customers hiring our cars by the day, weekend or week understand this risk, and it is one that we highlight in big bright letters on our website and in our confirmation paperwork. But some just don't. They are a small minority but they are angry and often vengeful. And social media is their breeding ground.
Bad maintenance or just what old cars do?
And still we receive emails and reviews criticising us for hiring out poorly maintained cars. This is particularly galling because it is simply untrue - everyone at Great Escape Cars is focussed on reliability. But a 50 year old E Type that was poorly designed and built when it was new, will always be a poorly designed and built old car.
Social Media Be Damned
After receiving a three-page complaint accusing my business, amongst other things, of causing dehydration because the customer forgot to take water with them on a hot day, I have decided it is time to do something.
The Cost of Breakdowns
Alongside the emotional cost for customer and supplier, breakdowns are an expensive business for a small business. We have RAC cover but generally aim to attend with another vehicle. As the cars can be anywhere, this incurs a heavy penalty in transport and staff costs. Because we recognise the emotional impact we tend to be generous when it happens, including free hires and refunds.
Very quickly a £200 hire can become a £300 loss in direct costs.
Of course, all businesses deal with customers across the emotional spectrum. We are no different. But we have a choice. We don't have to do what isn't worthwhile. And it is sound business sense to limit our exposure to problems and the cost of rectifying them . So we are.
We could do as other classic car hire businesses have done and simply shut up shop. But that isn't my way. I enjoy what I do and I'm proud of what we've achieved. Why would I give that up?
Luckily Great Escape Cars is in a good position to respond. Because of the problems and risks associated with daily, weekend and weekly hire we have been migrating away from this for a while. We've introduced new products like our road trips and classic tasters that seem to deliver what customers want more effectively and reduce our risks.
So 2019 is going to be different. We're taking 60% of our cars off daily car hire and making them only available to drive on our road trips and tasters. This leaves 9 cars on self drive daily hire, but we may well review that as the year goes on. Alongside this change we're altering our Terms & Conditions and introducing an insurance policy covering the risk of breakdown.
The problem with classic car hire
classic car hire is about a deeper issue. Driving a classic car, even one you have dreamed of driving for decades, is all about the first 1-2 hours. In that time the thrill, enthusiasm and joy are fresh and untainted by familiarity. As most classic car owners will likely attest, a little of a good thing is often enough.
However great or enjoyable the classic car, the reality is that the longer you drive the more you see its foibles and idiosyncrasies. I own a 2003 Audi RS6, which I adore. But driving it daily kills my enthusiasm because I notice the hard suspension, the noisy exhaust and the wallet-draining fuel economy.
That's why we introduced our road trips and classic tasters. That these achieve much greater satisfaction levels than our daily hire services indicates it may have been the right choice.
Not everyone feels that way of course, which is why we aren't exiting daily car hire completely. But feedback from our road trips and tasters - and their huge popularity - suggests many do.
Road trips and tasters
Removing most of our cars from daily car hire means we can improve the proposition on our road trips and tasters and guarantee availability of certain popular cars on our events. Alongside this we have also added duplicates of our most popular cars - including E Types, Mk2s and XJS'. This means that we can improve availability, even when we suffer breakdowns, and ensure that everyone on our road trips gets to drive our most popular cars.
I am looking forward to 2019. I am sorry that the trials and tribulations of daily classic car hire means less choice for customers. But that is the reality. We're looking forward to delivering more of the road trips and classic tasters that customers clearly want.