Friends from college, the three founders of Fox Rent A Car didn’t really consider their engineering degrees a competitive edge when they launched the business 15 years ago in Los Angeles. And they were right. Though Mark Mirtorabi, Mike Jaberi and Allen Rezapour relished the challenge of entrepreneurship, their advanced education in math, technology and science largely went untapped.
That is, until the World Wide Web transformed how consumers research and book travel arrangements.
What began as a modest, low-tech enterprise — a 10-car fleet and no reservation system — has evolved into one of the most technologically advanced independents in the industry. Fox today has seven locations serving the airport market — three on airport (Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland) and four off airport (San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco and Phoenix).
The company’s in-house IT staff, overseen by Jaberi at corporate headquarters in Los Angeles, has made Internet marketing a company priority. For operators serving the airport market, this strategy’s return on investment dwarfs that of Yellow Pages advertising, Jaberi says. What’s more, he and his IT staff have developed software that automatically calculates and issues commissions to online travel portals, such as Sidestep, and other Web sites driving online reservations to Fox’s Web site. In collaboration with TSD Rental Management Software, Fox also developed software to manage the company’s extensive customer rewards program.
And most importantly, Fox has rolled out a new reservation system with connectivity to both the Internet and the major global distribution systems (GDS). Fox hopes to continue to expand its brand awareness by making the reservation system available to a new network of Fox Rent A Car affiliates, composed of small independents.
“We have been working on the reservation system for quite some time,” Jaberi says. “We have been one of the early pioneers in Internet reservation delivery, and development is still ongoing. We’re still tinkering with the bells and whistles on the Internet side of delivery. On the GDS side, we’re connected to all four GDS [companies], with an optimized rate management system.”
With the car rental affiliate network in place, Fox’s goal will be to have a presence at 20 major U.S. airports by the end of the year.
The Value of Internet Marketing
The rent-a-car affiliate network’s primary selling point will be Fox’s strength in Internet marketing, Jaberi says. GDS connectivity will be a secondary benefit.
“After signing up a new affiliate, we can then start promoting that airport location on the Internet to drive reservations for that affiliate,” Jaberi says. “It would take less than 30 days to promote that particular airport location with specific keywords, in addition to the keywords we already have.”
Because of Fox’s efforts in Internet marketing, the company’s reservations volume through its own Web site is more than double that from the four major GDS companies — Sabre, Galileo, Worldspan and Amadeus. And with Internet bookings, the return on investment is considerably greater, Jaberi says.
Fox will market affiliates through all channels of the Internet.
“The cost of a rental sale on the Internet is much lower than the cost of a sale on a GDS,” Jaberi says. “Though sometimes [Web site] affiliates get paid commission, it’s much lower than the traditional commission you pay to offline travel agencies. We’ve invested a lot of money in GDS connectivity, but the majority of our marketing funds and tools will be directed at the Internet part of the system.”
Today there are about 700 different keywords that Fox relies on to market the company through search engines, including such major sites as Google, MSN and Yahoo. With 80% of those keywords, Fox will land on the first page of search results.
“With the remaining 20%, we’re constantly pushing those to come to the first page,” Jaberi says.
There are Fox Rent A Car links on no fewer than 2,600 Web site affiliates, some of which draw heavy traffic from the traveling public. Fox is also involved in third-party affiliate programs, which supply affiliate sites.
“Fox is utilizing an aggressive marketing strategy in building cross-site, link-to-link relationships,” explains Joe Knight, executive vice president. “Fox has established preferred vendor relationships with travel Web portals through its extensive affiliate program. The Fox Rent A Car brand is viewed and shopped by tens of thousands of potential customers each month through the multiple cross-site selection network that has been built from the www.foxrentacar.com platform.”