THIS year has been one of big changes for John and Arlene Garriock, writes Alex Purbrick.
They not only successfully navigated their business Bolts Car Hire through the economic challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, but they also transitioned their company into new premises at the former Grantfield Garage in Lerwick.
The couple bought the building from Magnie Williamson in November last year and began refurbishment. With a final coat of Bolts Car Hire trademark colours of red and white paint brightening the exterior, the company opened their doors earlier in October marking a new chapter for John, Arlene and their team as they combine car rental, fuel sales and a taxi service (Sinclair’s Taxis) under one roof.
John and Arlene have owned Sinclair’s Taxis since 2008 when they bought the company from the late Laurie Sinclair and his wife, Fiona. What started off as five taxis flourished into 21, with 27 drivers employed as well as seven escorts for vulnerable passengers and two car cleaners.
Lockdown resulted in the majority of their staff being furloughed, something that proved to be incredibly challenging. Fortunately, most taxis and drivers are now back in operation but as John concedes, “since lockdown, taxi hire has been very quiet”.
“But we are lucky in that we still have all our contracts and are busy taking folk to the hospital, doctor appointments etc,” he adds.
Lockdown however had a far bigger impact on Bolts Car Hire as the reduced numbers of visitors to Shetland had a knock-on effect on car rental demand.
“We’ve had about 1,400 cancellations this summer,” John reveals. “That’s a lot of cancellations. Our car hire enquiries went from being very high last year to well down now.
“A lot of people have said they want to come to Shetland next year, but we’ll just have to see if they’ll still be able to come. We’ve had a few tourists hire cars but most of them have been coming with their own cars because they don’t want to fly and they don’t want to leave their car in Aberdeen.
“It’s cheaper for them to drive to Aberdeen and take the boat to Shetland and drive their own car when they get here.”
Arlene and John have owned Bolts Car Hire since 1995, originating in the Toll Clock Shopping Centre. It owns around 300 vehicles and employs 14 full-time staff as well as nine part-time drivers.
Although John said that the car rental sales had picked up slightly over the last couple of months, he also has to accept that “it’s nothing compared to what it should be”.
“We’ll probably not get back to full strength next year but hopefully the following year things will be back to normal or near normal,” he says.
John, however, remains optimistic for the future of his company in new premises as daily life slowly returns to a more normal way of being.
He is already planning to extend the car hire business to include electric vehicles which he sees as a future necessity.
The extensive space at Grantfield means more parking space for vehicles and in the next couple of years John hopes to have charging ports at the rear area of the building.
Ultimately John sees the move to Grantfield as beneficial for the business mainly because as he says “everything is under the one roof”.
“Previously we had different car parks and when we were at the Toll Clock there wasn’t enough room for the rental cars. It was fine when we had a small fleet but as we expanded the business, we outgrew the space.
“It’s also better for refuelling the fleet of vehicles having the fuel pumps on site rather than going elsewhere for fuel. It’s much better all around us being here and I hope all goes well for the future.”
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