Company Profile – Renting with a difference

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Why in an era of rapid commoditisation of consumer electronics and electrical products, would anyone choose to rent their equipment instead of buying it?  Yet, in fact, the rental market is doing well and its popularity is increasing due to the growing sophistication of  technology which evolves so fast that products become out of date almost as soon as they appear on the market. Moreover, their servicing is increasingly complex and expensive.
“Customers rent appliances from Forbes in the knowledge that if anything goes wrong, they will be sorted out in 24 hours at no extra cost. They can also upgrade their products at any time if they require,” explains Malcolm Forbes, chief executive officer of Forbes Direct.
Based in Redhill, Surrey, Forbes Direct, is the largest independent rental company in England with around 180 employees, a turnover over £15 million and more than 90,000 customer accounts.  It grew from an electrical store which in 1926 built and sold radios and offered battery-charging services, to become a rental specialist offering televisions and audio products from leading brands such as Sharp, Panasonic, Toshiba and Philips and domestic appliances. 
The company is growing steadily, mostly through acquisitions, buying rental lists from retiring electrical dealers. “We have done over 30 acquisitions over the last two years,” says Steve Edwards, special project manger at Forbes. One of the latest acquisitions were the rental accounts of Lancashire-based retailer Plumbs, which went into receivership earlier this year. Forbes has also set its sights outside the industry by moving into the hotel sector where it started installing televisions and other AV equipment in major hotel chains such as Butterfly Hotels (Ramada and Express by Holiday Inn), Elite Hotels and the Best Western consortium.
Points of differences
The focus of Forbes’ activities are its customers who receive superb service and after-sales care. “We look after our customers very well because we want them for life,” explains Janice Englefield, sales centre manger in Redhill. “We build a relationship between sales advisors and our customers. We listen, question and advise our customers about the best choices for them. Our sales team receives training on every new product which comes into the showroom, and we monitor future technology changes so we can pass this knowledge to our customers.”
The company has two showrooms – in Redhill and Wigan – to which customers can come to see and touch the products on offer. Forbes operates a ten-day trial policy which allows customers to change the product if they don’t like their look or feel.
Another key factor in the company’s strategy is its service expertise. “Forbes has a state-of-the-art service department which deals with repairs to increasingly sophisticated CE equipment but also with domestic appliances.  Because this is an in-house department, the company can offer same-day service to its customers,” stresses Steve Edwards. Moreover, “Forbes has 15 field engineers operating across the country. All service vans have so called trackers which enables the call centre to locate them and send them to customers in their locality without time wastage,” adds Kevin Herring, Forbes service director,
A family business
Despite the growing size of the company, Forbes has managed to retain the spirit and the flexibility of a family-owned company. “Being a family business counts for a lot. You get this feel when you go around the company and this is conveyed to our customers. We are prepared to spend a lot of time with them making sure that they are totally satisfied with our service,” says Janice Englefield. Malcolm Forbes explains the operational and strategic advantages: “We can take much longer view of things than if we were a public company. Our management structure  is much flatter and decisions are taken faster.”

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