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Commercial and Leisure Renters

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The backbone of the car rental business is the commercial renter- the business traveler. Signing up commercial accounts and enticing them with corporate rates, frequent traveler programs, and other incentives are prime activities.

The growth side of the business, though, has been the leisure renter. Car rental companies have created a new form of travel package fly/drive (a combination of airline travel and car rental). Negotiating with airline and tour operator partners in order to be included in their packages and currying the loyalties of travel agencies through incentives and promotions are key responsibilities for car rental marketing and sales departments.

The leisure business is likely to expand markedly due to the growth of airline travel, particularly when discounts and low fares abound. The maturing of the Baby Boomers into family units will also help since fly/drives offer more appeal and convenience than do very long trips with the family car.

One of the central changes in the car rental business is that "the customer" is no longer the car renter but the travel agent or the corporate travel manager who has to be presold to choose a particular car rental company. Fifteen years ago, few travel agents booked car rentals and only 10 percent of the industry's revenues were generated by agents. Today, about 60 percent of the industry's revenues come through agents (car rentals are now the second largest source of agency revenues after airline tickets). The change reflects dramatic shifts in marketing, commission structure, and computer reservations systems.

"Increasingly, this is becoming a technology-based industry with global computerized data communication networks," commented an Avis executive. "The only way to survive is to be quick and accurate."

People Power

The largest category of people power in the car rental business are the rental sales agents. They work the counter and have consider-able responsibility in determining whether a customer is fit to take possession, however temporarily, of an $18,000 vehicle. The counter agents are sent for two weeks of training before they can assume a position.

Handling people proves to be the challenging and even creative aspect of the job. "Someone who has been on an airplane for six hours has not had control of his life where he sits, where his bags wind up, what he eats, who sits next to him. The first time he retakes control of his life is at our counter, where he asserts himself," said an Avis executive.

What do car rental companies look for when hiring counter agents (or rental sales agents)? They prefer someone with good communications skills, someone who is adept at dealing with people, someone who enjoys challenge and is not timid, and someone who can make judgment calls.

The second-largest category are the service agents. They clean and prepare the cars. If "love of cars" is your motive for entering the car rental business, this position can best realize your objective. Service agent positions, however, are more assembly lines in nature since they involve repetitive tasks and little decision making.

The third-largest category are the "shutters." These people move cars from one location to another. Other entry-level positions in a rental outlet include bus drivers, service mechanics and helpers, and clerical support workers. The number of office positions varies largely by location.

Salaries at entry level are slightly better than minimum wage, but there are bonuses for everyone in the field based on performance.

Management positions include those of the shift managers (outlets are open 24 hours a day), the assistant city manager, and the city manager, who is in charge of a facility. The city manager also has marketing responsibility. Every city develops its own marketing contacts, including contacts with airline managers, local travel agents, and tour operators. The city manager tries to get group business and may participate in sales blitzes throughout the country (for example, the Miami city manager may come to talk with New York City travel agents).

Aspiring to a management position is a realistic goal for rental agents. A typical career path might be from rental agent, to "lead agent" (who answers customers' questions) or quality assurance supervisor (who talks to customers to find out how the car performed and assists customers generally), to shift manager, to station manager, and then to city manager. From city manager, a person can move up to division manager and then to regional vice president or can move into general financial management.

Headquarters positions include those in operations (personnel, car control, fleet control, fleet utilization), fleet administration (making deals to buy and sell cars), sales and marketing; reservations; and finance (accounts payable/receivable, data processing). Alamo, for example, employs about 400 people (out of 2,000 people system wide) in its headquarters in personnel, car control, fleet control, fleet utilization, fleet administration, marketing, reservations, and finance.

The marketing function (planning, forecasting, designing the product, pricing, and physically selling the product) generally is consolidated at the national level, but there usually are marketing managers in each region. Marketing specialists are the individuals who try to negotiate alliances with airlines, tour companies, and hotels. Sales programs are also established at the national level, but in major markets companies usually maintain sales offices that have sales representatives who call upon commercial accounts and travel agents.

Technology is a growing part of the car rental business. Avis, for example, a company that made early inroads into computer systems, has 400 computer specialists and maintains a training department just for this "special breed of cat." The computer specialists are divided between Avis's world reservations center in Tulsa, OK, and its Garden City, NY, headquarters, where the mainframe is located.

Among the top management positions for car rental companies are the fleet acquisition/positioning specialists, fleet coordinators, accounting people, and controllers. There are also specialists who negotiate with airlines and tour companies. While there are quite a few of these senior-management specialty positions, there are not very many positions as compared with the legions of lower-level jobs. Therefore, many people at the management level move from company to company or from city to city in order to advance. Some examples of specialties and salaries include:

Automation Training Manager, $44,000

Director of Sales and Marketing, $60,000

Regional Vice President of Sales and Marketing, $60,000

Vice President, Travel Industry Marketing, $150,000

Getting In

To get leads for jobs in the car rental industry, start with the local Yellow Pages.

It is best to apply at the district office or head office for the area in which you wish to work.

The oldest and largest car rental company with 4,500 outlets worldwide, Hertz is considered one of the best training grounds for the industry since there is much movement from company to company. Hertz employs some 19,000 people in the United States. While most of the hiring is done at the local level, the company does have training and development programs at the corporate level.

Avis has a new hire program for incoming rental sales people, which involves training at one of seven major training centers for two weeks. The training familiarizes the individual not only with the computer but also with how to rent a car without it and, even more importantly, with how to handle situations such as qualifying a customer, computing a rate manually, and dealing with travel vouchers and travel agents' commissions. The myriad details are what make the job interesting (not to mention the people contact and the airport activity).

A multinational company like Avis affords only a few opportunities for Americans abroad most of these positions are filled locally. However, if you have foreign language capability your chances of being posted abroad are better.
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