The history of the company came about due to a strange set of circumstances.
On 26th March 1989 the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound Alaska. The ships captain was drunk and a proper watch had not been maintained. Exxon is United States 'speak' for Esso, and the ship was full of crude oil. The oil spill was at that time the worst in history.
Exxon were liable for millions of dollars in compensation to the people of the area, the cost of clean up ran into hundreds of millions. Exxon then squeezed all their associated companies for additional profit and Esso UK had to come up with their share. Cost cutting and efficiency savings were the call of the day. The rolling stock, ie the delivery tankers were now regimented to work 24/7, the drivers now working nights delivering fuel. Now, this is accepted practice but at the time there was a lot of bad feeling with the work force who were told take it or leave it.
The retail side was hit as well, its a little known fact that Esso is a wholesale company. When you drive onto an Esso forecourt it is either an independent retailer or company selling you that fuel. Very few sites existed where the retailer owned the freehold of the property, it was usually owned by the oil company who allowed you to operate the business of selling their fuel under lease or later under licence. It was this system that left retailers open to the margin squeeze that Esso applied in 1989. There was a 60% reduction in the margin overnight, new lease and licence contracts were issued and as with Esso's own employees it was take it or leave it.
That's the background so now lets apply the facts to the lives of real people. Adrian and Marie Cooper had been running Esso sites in London since 1982. At the Esso Goldhawk Road site in Shepherds Bush they had a Godfrey Davis vehicle hire franchise as well as 7 bay workshop and a million gallon a year forecourt. They were both in their late twenties and looking to start a family and get out of London, an opportunity arose to operate a site in Fareham. It was a straight forward site just retailing fuel and developing the idea of selling groceries etc in the shop. It used to be that you purchased oil and car polish at a petrol station and that was it, it was early days in a new retail concept and the retailers needed educating as much as the public. So they sold up in London and moved to the south coast.
A new start for them, new friends to make, house to buy, staff to find and employ and a financial commitment in a new business. They had been there a year working very hard to develop their new garage when the Esso area manager Norman Dampney turned up with the new contract. It was the 60% reduction in margin with the take it or leave it option. What could they do, they now had a son and a mortgage and needed to work. A lot of people would just walk away in this situation and Esso lost a lot of good retailers. Norman Dampney though was a decent bloke having to do a 'shitty' job, and he knew it. Norman and Adrian talked through the new contract and it was obvious that the only way to make a living was to introduce a new profit centre. Out of this it was decided Adrian would use the knowledge of running a self drive operation and introduce a van hire service to Fareham.
Fareham Van Hire was started up. First things first, it was no good just trying to sell a product there was not a market for. A demographic survey of the area showed about 250,000 people lived on the Gosport peninsula, a lot of the transient population were navy people. There were two other competitors to compete with, Southern Self Drive and Anson's. Ansons were in Gosport and had a slightly different catchment area but with SSD, they were everywhere, Havant, Fareham, Gosport, Portsmouth they were and still are the big player in the area. The only way we could compete was on price and the advantage that Fareham Van Hire had was that the business was an 'add on' profit centre, the staff were already in place, the rent and rates were already being paid, the telephone and a lot of other expenses catered for. The only new expense was the purchase of the vehicles and the running costs. We also had the added advantage of customers being able to collect and return vans during the garage opening hours and we were by then 24/7.
The first van bought was an LDV Pilot in green and it went out on hire for a Saturday morning for £12.00. Several different trading names were tried, Gosport Road Van Hire, Cooper's Van Hire but the one that said it all was Fareham Van Hire. People pick up the yellow pages and see U-Drive or Enterprise with a 0800 number but it never said where they were, we were Fareham Van Hire and we were in Fareham. Job done.
A fleet of 12 vans was quickly established and it became a good profit centre. It was about then that those nice Esso people decided that they wanted to up the rent to cover the sometime parking of the hire vehicles. That was not going to happen. So Adrian contacted Total Oil and their area manager Peter Smith about a retail petrol station with workshops that was available in Fareham, the two men both being from LA, Little'ampton that is, did the deal and West End Service Station became the new rent free home of Fareham Van Hire.
After that every service station that Adrian operated for Total he introduced cheap affordable self drive vehicle hire. When Youngs of Fareham the Ford main agent went into receivership Total Oil asked Adrian to operate the site and the forecourt, the Ford franchise had gone so self drive was introduced. The same happened with Littlehampton Road Service Station and West Tarring Service Station in Worthing which Adrian operated for Total, but this was called obviously, Worthing Van Hire.
Adrian went on to run Hayling Island Service Station and West End Garage Southampton for Esso, but self drive was never ever an option, once burnt.
Eventually in 1999 the head landlords of West End Service Station Fareham, Fareham Borough Council, had the lease returned to them, the site was demolished and it became a Portsmouth Housing Association project. Fareham Van Hire had since become Fareham Car & Van Hire Limited as the demand for cars grew, and now it was time to re-invent the company.
A decision was made to purchase two units at Regent Trade Park on the main A32 half way between Fareham and Gosport and so serving both towns. A more up market approach was needed and Fareham Self Drive Limited was created, offering a range of now 82 Cars, Mpv's, Vans, Lorries and Minibuses from 7 - 17 seats. But still at very competitive prices. A niche was identified in the market for cheap affordable vehicle hire and Fareham Self Drive is still filling that niche. Likewise in Winchester we are Alco Van Hire, in Southsea, Southsea Self Drive but strangely in Worthing we are now Getaway Cars. We have recently lauched our enhanced minibus focused side of the business: South Coast Minibus Hire.
All offering great value for money for self drive vehicle hire.
© Updated 07 October 2012