Although eight million households own an RV (up 15 percent from 2001 to 2005), people often let their RVs sit in the driveway for 51 weeks a year while paying a note equivalent to a mortgage, the Memphis Daily News reports. Janet Rast Williams wondered why they would spend so much for something they used so little, saying, "It makes more sense to rent one."
Williams launched Midsouth Motorcoach (www.midsouthmotorcoach.com), a recreational vehicle (RV) rental company, last October to fill a hole in the local RV rental market, and to meet a growing demand for RVs nationally, according to the Memphis Daily News.
Williams bought six coaches and began renting them for $599 to $1,600, depending the size of the rig and the duration of the rental.
Consumers can be turned off by the RV rental industry, especially the national chains, because rental RVs often show signs of wear and tear, are too expensive to rent or both.
Williams differentiates Midsouth Motorcoach with a personal touch. She carefully screens renters to make sure they can handle driving a 34-foot-long coach and includes 500 free miles for a four-day rental or 1,000 free miles for a seven-day. Between rentals, a mechanic inspects the RVs, and Williams herself cleans them thoroughly.
Renters must be insured, either through their own insurance company or through Midsouth’s add-on policy. Midsouth is also affiliated with Coach-Net, an RV roadside assistance provider.
Williams refuses to splash the company name, logo and phone number on the side of the RV, something many national companies do, and something that screams "tourist" on a highway or at a campground.
Surprisingly, rising gas prices haven't affected business. If anything, Williams said, rentals are up as people realize that the costs of airfare, hotel and dining far exceed the cost of renting an RV, which can be used for sleeping and eating.
"It's more economical," she said.
Less than a year into her new business, Williams is looking to grow. She is working with a travel agency on setting up ski trip vacations and at the possibility of becoming a broker, which means finding people who own RVs and then renting them out, with a split of the profits.
And even though Williams has a found a niche locally, swiping customers from national companies thanks to a more personalized approach, she already has an exit strategy in mind.
"Hopefully," she said, "one day somebody will jump in and buy me."