“I love that name. You can’t forget that,” says mega car dealer Jack Fitzgerald, referring to the primary reason he bought the company with the funny name in early 2006.
Expertise in car sales was a factor too. Starting in 1966 and selling some 20 brands, Fitzgerald owns and operates 12 Fitzgerald Auto Malls in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida, making him one of the largest dealer groups in the U.S.
“We know how to buy cars and sell cars, and that’s mostly what you do in the rental car business. And frankly, it wasn’t very expensive,” says Fitzgerald, in keeping with the down-to-earth, tongue-in-cheek culture that Rent-A-Wreck has cultivated since its founding in 1973.
Fitzgerald is no stranger to car rental. He has owned an in-house dealership rental company since 1985 called NextCar and had been a Budget franchise owner for more than 20 years, until selling in 2007.
Today, Rent-A-Wreck of America Inc. and partner franchise system Priceless Rent-A-Car are run by Fitzgerald’s JJF Management Services. (Rent-A-Wreck Canada, a separate company since its inception in 1976, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Franchise Services North America, owners of the U-Save brand.)
Bill Cash, president, is involved in the upper level management of both the dealerships and the car rental operations. Jason Manelli is director of marketing and communications. Michael DeLorenzo, vice president, handles operations. DeLorenzo has car rental experience dating back to 1969. He was a Budget franchisee and in 1985 sold to Fitzgerald, who then hired him to run the franchises and NextCar’s multiple local market rental stores. “Jack knew instinctively — as did I — that for this deal, the real value was to be at some point in the future, not what we were buying that day,” says DeLorenzo.
The Rent-A-Wreck franchise system needed modernization, tougher standards and better communication with its licensees if it was to survive. The challenge was to maintain the company’s traditionally strong brand awareness while rethinking old business philosophies. The new ownership team had work to do.