If all of the women who have been inducted into the Birmingham (Alabama) Business Hall of Fame for the past six years came into Sallie Creel’s Thrifty location to rent a car, they would be able to rent a two-seater. That’s because Creel can count herself as one of only two women who have received this honor, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, since 1997. The 30 men who have also received the honor would need at least a couple vans.
One thing is certain, though — each of these business leaders would readily turn to Creel for any of their auto rental needs. That’s because Creel’s formula for success includes a generous helping of community involvement and activism. Serving on countless boards and committees, she readily acknowledges that giving to the community has more than doubled the returns.
It hasn’t always been an easy road for Creel, though. In 1972, after working in sales for both Budget and Thrifty, she decided it was time to strike out on her own. But it was Birmingham, Ala., in 1972. Women just didn’t do things like this at that time. Nevertheless, Creel pressed on. After receiving countless rounds of loan rejections from banks, she finally convinced GMAC to advance her enough money for a modest fleet of 20 cars.
Creel traveled down to a local auto dealer and placed her order for 20 Monte Carlos. Then she found the perfect location — the front end of a service station just half a mile from the airport — and started booking reservations. But the cars never arrived. It turns out that the dealer, like so many others before him, failed to take Creel seriously. When the cars arrived on his lot, he sold them at retail.
Faced with customers due to arrive on an empty lot, Creel hastily concocted a temporary fleet. “I had to do something to keep the doors open. I even rented out my mother’s car,” she recalls.
Her tenacity paid off, and in the first year of business Creel grew the fleet to 80 cars.