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INTERVIEW: Heather Matthews, Little's

Quietly driving innovation in chauffeur hire

Heather MatthewsThere are many who claim to be keeping the wheels of the economy moving. Heather Matthews is not only driving it forward, her business is doing it much more quietly these days.

It is all down to the five top-of-the-range Lexus GS 300 hybrid saloon cars which have recently joined the fleet of chauffeur-driven hire cars at Little’s.

The sleek machines make barely a sound as the battery kicks in during slow-moving traffic, adding to the overall comfort of the journey.

Matthews believes she has raised the bar for luxury car hire by adding the eco-friendly vehicles to the 45-strong fleet of top marques. Their introduction was a response to a growing demand from clients.

“More and more corporates are focused on being very environmentally-friendly, so it is a big sales tool for us,” she says.

“We are very excited about the new cars. Until now hybrid technology wasn’t right and the specification wasn’t good enough. At the end of the day, low emissions are important but the customer wants a nice car. Now we think we have both.”

While fuel-efficient cars present a clear bottom line benefit for Little’s, this is more about the customer. “It provides a cost saving for us, but more important to us is perception,” says Matthews.

“We are trying to innovate as much as possible. We did a full re-brand in the last year to reflect our identity.”

The branding exercise involved working with the design innovation workshop, a project supported by Scottish Enterprise and Glasgow School of Art.

“They led us through the process to get a design brief which we took to fruition with changes to our brand identity. It was very interesting and worth it.”

Heather Matthews 2

It was introduced to coincide with Scotland’s big year – the extraordinary series of global events which included the Commonwealth Games, MTV Awards and Ryder Cup, all of which created a huge increase in business for Little’s.

This year will not repeat 2014 but growth will be as much as 20% higher than in 2013. Matthews attributes this directly to the re-brand and better online presence through a revamped website.

Little’s employs 20 full-time staff and calls on up to 40 fully-trained chauffeurs, which include ex-policemen or salesmen. They tend to be in the 40-60 age group and work part-time through personal choice.

The company has its roots in Little’s, a three-car business which Matthews’ father and his brother acquired in 1966. Little emigrated to Australia but his name lives on in the Central Belt. Matthews joined the business in the 1990s after graduating from Glasgow university with a degree in psychology and a  postgraduate degree in management and marketing.

“I worked one day a week to start with, helping out my dad. I realised I liked it and spent five years working in reservations to find out how the business operated.”

Succession planning began in 2002 and when her father stepped down three years later Matthews took over as managing director. Ten years on, she is as enthusiastic as ever about the business and its prospects.

Now 44, her thoughts have turned to expanding the business beyond its core territories. While it has hire agreements in cities at home and abroad, she is looking particularly at London.

“With a family business it is important that growth is slow and steady,” she says. “We do not have a five year exit plan or anything like that.”

One other item on her agenda will feature in November. She has just been nominated in the female business leader category in this year’s Scottish Business Awards whose guest of honour will be the actor George Clooney. Who knows? She may even provide him with a luxury Lexus for the occasion.

 

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