In any business, if you have a problem you find a solution. You don't wait for someone else to fix what's broken; you put out your own fires. So, why do so many people expect others to change a law for them when it's crippling their own industry? It might be that they just don't know where to begin, or they think they won't be effective when it comes to politics - the most frustrating, slow moving, at times ineffectual, often confusing process that exists in the world today.
Your state is a permissive use state. How can you change it? There is another discriminatory tax for automobile rentals. How can you stop it from happening again in your state? The government thinks that anyone who has a license, regardless of age, should be allowed to rent your car. How can you make sure this bill doesn't move forward? Every year countless bills are introduced in Congress and in state legislatures that will affect your business, most of them negatively. So what can you do?
Start by knowing that you usually can't do it alone. Most of the time it takes numbers to stop, support, or introduce legislation. Join your state's rental organization and become active by attending its meetings. Even if you don't think of yourself as a political animal or a joiner, you can't ignore that the car rental industry is plagued by government regulations and taxes. At the minimum, you need to stay informed of the political climate surrounding your business.
Meet the Politicians
When you want to introduce a bill or an amendment to a bill, you need an elected representative on either a local, state or federal level to introduce that bill or amendment. That's where the real politics begin. Being a part of your community and meeting these representatives is very important. It's always harder for someone to refuse assistance when they know you. This principle applies to industry events, such as the Car Rental Show. At this annual industry gathering, you have the opportunity to meet and greet the people who can help you improve your own business -financiers, software providers, insurance company executives, manufacturers and the vendors.
Getting to know the politicians and lawmakers and, more importantly, getting them to know you, make the business of doing business easier. So goes politics. Start with your local chamber of commerce. Most chambers have an annual breakfast meeting where the state senators or house members are invited to speak on the state of the state. This is a great place to begin your own campaign to meet the people you will be asking for support in the future.
If a bill regarding our industry is introduced, it goes through 53 steps, and sometimes more, before it becomes a law. Therefore, most bills introduced in Congress don't become a law. Some bills don't even get noticed, but those that do can be extremely detrimental. That's why you also need to join and support your national association, the American Car Rental Association. ACRA can be there when you're too busy running your business to go lobby at your state capital. ACRA watches the bills that are introduced, tracks their progress and makes every effort to influence the outcome of new or amended bills that will be a problem for our industry.
Check ACRA's Website for information about the current bills that are being watched or acted upon. When a bill is introduced to amend an existing law or when new legislation is introduced that will benefit the car rental companies, which are members of our association, ACRA aggressively lobbies legislators for passage.
Besides joining ACRA, what can you do? Communicate with your legislators. Don't know where to start? Start by writing and explaining how legislation will affect you and your customers. Can't seem to get it started or get it done? ACRA can provide you with the tools that you need to lobby on your own. ACRA will provide you with sample letters to put on your letterhead and give you your legislator's contact information so you can submit your correspondence. ACRA will provide you with updates on the combined lobbying efforts to halt or promote the legislation that directly affects you.
Become an Advocate
Becoming an effective advocate on legislative issues isn't easy. Being successful at it is even harder. But it can be accomplished. ACRA, with the aid of its members, has stopped taxes from being added to our rentals, has reinforced our stance against the return of vicarious liability, and has monitored thousands of legislative matters affecting you and your company.
Every day you are an advocate for your customers, your employees and your family members. You need to add your livelihood, the car rental industry, to your advocacy group. Our industry can accomplish much more as a common voice than any one person can do alone. Become a part of the solution to your legislative problems. You fixed the car wash, you upgraded your software and you hired an experienced manager. Now you can also put out the legislative fires before they ever get out of control.
Sharon Faulkner is the executive director of the American Car Rental Association. As a former Dollar and Thrifty franchise owner, Faulkner played an integral role in shaping auto rental-related legislation in New York State and nationally.