Merchants Fleet seeks to expand outside US market
In the realm of vehicle leasing and fleet management, there are several companies around the world that have opted to expand through inorganic growth by acquiring other companies or by creating alliances to gain leverage on a larger scale.
For instance, Donlen and Wheels in the United States – who are working with private equity firm Apollo – have taken this approach and have gained clients through this strategy.
However, there are those such as New Hampshire-based Merchants Fleet - headquartered in Hookset New Hampshire just outside of Boston Massachusetts – which have taken the approach of growing organically through repeat and referred business. It offers services such as long-term leases, monthly rentals, rent-to-lease, own-to-lease, as well as those associated with electrification, charging, financing, maintenance, and remarketing.
“We have taken the route of organic growth by doing things like the Merchants Fleet Summit to impress clients and grow that way. We are expecting another year of high double-digit growth in 2023 and are looking to continue in this manner,” Mechants Fleet CEO Brendan Keegan (pictured left) told Global Fleet, explaining the recent acquisition of the company by Bain Capital.
Merchants Fleet was acquired by Bain Capital - the sixth largest private equity firm in the world – in October 2022, so it has been about a year now. Bain Capital is also a partner of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, ADIA, which is the fourth largest sovereign fund in the world. ADIA does not do direct investments in companies, instead they invest alongside a private equity firm.
“There are many investors in Merchants Fleet. Bain and ADIA are one and two and I am the third largest investor,” said the executive.
When questioned about the company’s relationship with BNP Paraibas, Mr. Keegan explained that all fleet management companies have a bank group, or to say a bank that provides debt financing for the leases.
Merchant Fleet’s lead bank for its debt financing is BNP. Besides vehicle leasing and fleet management company Arval, BNP also participates in other fleet companies such as Element, Enterprise, and Rider, according to the executive.
Once a bank likes an industry, whether it be aviation, mortgages, fleet leasing, or something else, they tend to stay in that industry because they gain expertise in the market.
In a nutshell, our market is quite recession proof. First of all, we have vehicles which act as collateral for the banks. Also, without vehicles on the road, companies do not make money. Even during a recession, companies such as utilities, delivery firms, and even pest control still need vehicles on roads, the executive said.
Besides demand sustaining during recessions, vehicle leasing companies have assets to back up investments with. As such, when banks look at the fleet industry, they see it as a great place to park their money, he added, explaining that some of the banks commonly involved in fleet leasing are Citizens, RBC, and Huizhou, as well as BNP.
First of all, Merchants Fleet collaborates with dozens of OEMs, data, and upfit partners to ensure every client is connected to the service, technology platforms, and products that will support their fleet customers, and this includes preparing them for the transition to electric vehicles (EV).
In terms of collaborating with other companies, Merchants Fleet does have a relationship with Germany-based Business mobility and financial services company Alphabet, but it is not really focused on the European market right now, according to the executive.
The company has some clients that have European entities, and they are referred to Alphabet and vice versa, but the alliance is not as formal as some of the others in the market.
“As for Canada, I believe we were working more with Jim Pattison Lease in the past but that was before I got here so I’d say about a decade ago. We also had a closer relationship with LeasePlan but that too was years ago,” the executive said.
”By 2024 or 2025, we seek to expand in North America, which includes Canada and Mexico. I don’t see European expansion on the horizon, at least for the next five years. That doesn't mean that it won't happen, just not that soon" said Mr. Keegan.
As I said, the focus is on North America where business has been good for the company, and that still includes the United States. “There is a lot of business here and we don’t want to get distracted from the domestic market. We don’t want to go into markets like Europe or Asia, and then someone from our Summit raises their hand and says that they feel like they are being underserved here in the US,” the executive said.
Of course, a company could set up operations in let’s say Germany or China and it could be wildly successful, but it could also end up hurting the main market you started in so one must take calculated steps, he added.
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