Shetland car hire firm switches lanes to secure future

A Shetland-based car hire business has diversified its operations with the support of a £1 million funding package.

Read time: 3 mins      Added: 20/03/2023

Family-run Bolts Car Hire has been run by John and Arlene Garriock since 1995, providing tourists visiting Shetland with rental cars to explore the island.

In 2008, John and Arlene acquired Sinclair’s Taxis, expanding a five-car fleet to a 21-car fleet to cope with the demand from tourists.

Bolts Car Hire

When Covid-19 hit and a stop was put to travel, Bolts Car Hire was left with 1,500 cancellations and 150 unused cars.

To ensure sufficient cash flow, the business decided to tap into the rising demand for commercial vehicles from firms building new windfarms across Shetland. The firm also furloughed 15 of its full-time staff and all 30 part-time drivers.

Four taxi drivers remained working along with John and his daughter.

The business approached Bank of Scotland for support, securing a £1million funding package to purchase 55 commercial vehicles including 20 vans and 31 4x4 pick-up trucks. Bolts Car Hire also consolidated its four depots into one larger premises in Lerwick with full garage facilities and petrol pumps so it could provide a one-stop shop for customers.

In 2017, the firm had an annual turnover of £1.5 million and is now focused on building back its business to similar levels within the next couple of years.

John Garriock, managing director of Bolts Car Hire, said: “Tourism to Shetland had been on the rise for years, but the pandemic saw visitor numbers virtually stop overnight leaving our fleet of rental cars and taxis at a standstill.

“We saw an opportunity to diversify our operations and supply construction firms on the island with commercial vehicles for their work. Thanks to the support from Bank of Scotland, we were able to buy the new vehicles and reach a new customer base that we will continue to service as tourism starts to pick-up once again.

“Tourism levels are still far below what they should be at this time of year, but we’ve seen a steady increase in bookings as lockdown measures ease and we hope to see this trend continue as we head into summer.”

David Henderson, relationship manager at Bank of Scotland, said: “Tourism has been one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic with most businesses seeing customer numbers dwindle. Shetland had seen its tourism economy grow by over £12m in 2019 but this growth halted when the pandemic hit last March.

You may also be interested in:

Asset Finance

Invest in the assets you need for your business, without affecting your cash flow.

Business guides

Practical guides to support you in developing your business - from starting up and scaling up, through to exporting internationally.

Business loans

Whether you’re looking to expand, invest in new equipment, or borrow to manage your cash flow - our business loans can help you thrive.