MINNEAPOLIS-Looking at the job facing fleet managers, Larry Brandt couldn't help wincing. He saw cash flows reduced to trickles, dammed by obtrusive piles of debt and unnecessary paperwork.
Seeing money headed down the proverbial drain, the recently retired Team Tires Plus Ltd. executive knew there had to be a better way. Teaming with Pat Madigan, Tires Plus' vice president of business development, Mr. Brandt sought a way to improve fleet management using the Internet.
``We knew going into our research phase that the commercial fleet opportunity was enormous,'' said Mr. Brandt, who did not remain retired for long, but is now Fleet Team's CEO. ``But the system for managing this business was archaic....So we set out to develop a solution that would improve cash flow, reduce bad debt and reduce customer acquisition and retention costs typically associated with the fleet business.''
Out of that concept, Fleet Team was born. Still in its infancy, Fleet Team offers managers a chance to streamline their activities, conserving time along with financial savings.
Fleet Team has developed software that includes a Web-enabled, rules-based purchasing system. Fleet Team will enable fleet managers to control everything through one program. Via the Internet, managers can access all purchasing controls and have real-time reporting capability.
Using the software and the Internet allows service providers to receive payments within 24 to 48 hours-a substantial improvement over standard cases, where transactions can remain on the books for 30 or even 60 days. For national accounts, Mr. Brandt said, doing it the old way often meant a turn-around time of three to four months.
Bad debt also can be avoided. Where providers once might not have been paid if a national account transaction was not filled out properly, Mr. Brandt said the Fleet Team system ensures that will not happen.
Mr. Brandt said that even though his system is still in the test stages, customers are flocking to it. Likewise, Fleet Team is marketing itself to suppliers, none of which has turned it down, according to Mr. Madigan, Fleet Team's president.
``From the very first exposure to Fleet Team's business plan, TBC Corp. and its subsidiaries have expressed interest,'' said Andy Dudash, TBC's vice president of logistics. ``In our view, Fleet Team is a unique service provider that presented us with a sound business plan that included the key elements that ensure a successful fleet program. A fleet point-of-sale system, support systems, operational processes and access to substantial new fleet customer base are just a few of these elements.''
Mr. Dudash praised Fleet Team's ability to address such problems as detailed reporting, standardized pricing and accurate billing. He conceded that TBC has yet to begin the test phase.
Users of the Fleet Team system purchase the software, which allows them to perform tasks online after logging on to www.fleetteam.com with a name and password. The system is currently being tested in Minneapolis, Des Moines, Iowa, and Madison, Wis. Mr. Brandt's plan is for a nationwide rollout within 12 months.
Though Messrs. Brandt and Madigan began Fleet Team while together at Tires Plus, the companies are not affiliated. Fleet Team originally was to have been what Mr. Brandt termed a spin-off of Tires Plus, but once the latter was sold to Morgan Tire & Auto Inc., the ties were cut.
Fleet Team currently employs nine, but could increase to 50 by the third quarter of 2002, said Mr. Brandt.
The software being tested is in use at 100 service providing locations, with service vehicles primarily in the Twin Cities area.
``We found there was a real need for standardization of commercial processes,'' said Mr. Madigan. ``There were just as many problems that existed on the customer side of this. We figured that by developing this technology team, we could position ourselves between the fleet and the customer.''
Mr. Madigan also envisions broadening the scope of the product and is already working on making it available on a licensing basis.
For now, though, they are validating the software, which is still in a beta version. Customer feedback will be sought, then the software will be redesigned as determined by customer response.