For the September/October issue of Auto Rental News, we profiled independent rental companies and asked them what makes them tick. Their success stories seemed to converge around these six ingredients, in varying forms.
If you’re an independent rental company thinking about how you’re going to survive in your market, heed the advice of these entrepreneurs. Not only have they survived, with 150 years of rental experience between them, they’ve prevailed.
- Find your niche.
This is an Auto Rental News mantra. You can’t run a car rental business with the idea that you’re going to simply “rent cars.” There are other companies in your area that have been doing it a lot longer, and better, than you.
Inevitably, however, there are people in your market that need vehicles who are underserved or served poorly. Find them.
Matt Holowinski of Greenberg Rent A Camper started out renting cars, but he now rents RV trailers at campgrounds in Orlando and Key West. After spending two months living in a trailer at an Orlando campground, Holowinski learned that none of his competitors placed trailers at the campsites.
For Holowinski, finding this niche has paid off with a listing on Expedia – almost unheard of for a small independent brand.
- Know your customers, and make yourself indispensable to them.
When it comes to the transportation needs for the Hollywood film industry, no one does that better than Avon Rent A Car Truck and Van. Avon’s average employee tenure is 22 years. The company leverages that experience by being able to talk shorthand with clients, an invaluable asset in the “need it yesterday” world of film production.
Avon’s owner and founder, Nelson Silver, understood years ago that the film studios have specific requirements when it comes to transportation. While Avon’s competitors rent basic box trucks, Avon builds them with a purpose — going so far as to find side slats with a specific hardwood from the Philippines. The trucks cost more, but then, clients aren’t about to trust their transportation to a national rental brand that doesn’t “get it” just to save a few bucks.
Avon doesn’t need to advertise. When a service fits a customer so perfectly, it sells itself.
- You won’t win on price, but you can on customer service.
The larger brands will always be able to buy vehicles cheaper than you can — and therefore rent them cheaper. Instead of tightening your profit margins past the tread depth of a bald tire, go the opposite way — look for the added value you can provide.
Avon is always prepared to service the 2 a.m. client phone call or deliver a truck six states over.
Holowinski discovered that vacationers want trailers with extra amenities such as fire pits, outdoor tables and camp chairs. Greenberg-branded towels give the trailers a premium, personal touch.
Renters willingly pay more for Greenberg’s trailers and Avon’s trucks. They pay more for better service.
- If it’s not working, try something else.
Since 1978, Jack Vercollone and VERC Car Rental have served Boston’s South Shore with insurance replacement and neighborhood rentals.
VERC found a niche with vans, from 15-passenger and wheelchair accessible to conversion vans with upscale trims. Yet when competing with the majors as a local independent became increasingly more difficult, the company joined Sixt’s growing U.S. franchise network.
In so doing, Sixt gave the company its biggest challenge yet — serving Boston’s Logan International Airport.
- Get your culture right.
You may have heard the phrase, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It’s true, because your employees are your strongest brand ambassadors.
Driving Force, a Canadian truck rental company primarily serving the petro-chemical industry, holds an annual awards night at all 30 locations to recognize employees who best embody the company’s values.
It also surveys its 500 employees annually to determine their level of satisfaction within the company. “How would we expect our employees to satisfy our customers if they aren’t happy themselves?” says Jeff Polovick, president, CEO and founder. The company has been ranked among Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies multiple times.
- Have passion.
Passion and entrepreneurship are synonymous for these business owners. Regarding starting his own business, “I wanted it so bad; I knew I could do it,” Holowinski said. Without this mindset, he never would’ve negotiated three right turns in his business to reach his present success.
Passion is infectious. Today, Silver has employees answering those 2 a.m. phone calls, but they wouldn’t do it if his passion hadn’t rubbed off on them.
“If you love what you’re doing, then you really aren’t working anymore,” says Polovick.