Marlon Walls came to ICRS for first time this year and shared these experience and takeaways after the show.
On Wednesday, April 20, 2022, I was on a Zoom call with Don Hubicki, the managing director for Global Toll Services (GTS). We were discussing how I would be able to utilize his company's services as an integration tool with HQ Rental Software, the management software that my company, RebuShift, looked forward to utilizing as we aimed to transition to managing our rental business outside of peer to peer platforms like Turo, HyreCar, and Getaround. We had to have spoke for about an hour as we went back and forth about the pros and cons that between CarSync, the current software that I had been using for managing tolls, and GTS. The biggest leverage point that he had was that GTS could send invoices to our customers at the end of their trips, even for trips that are not on the peer to peer platforms. This was music to my ears.
For the past four months, I had been in constant search of the complete formula for how the big rental car operators do it. How do they grow their fleet to over 1,000 cars? What management softwares do they use? How do they keep up with expense tracking? Who are their insurance providers? How are they able to reduce overhead and maximize income even during the slower seasons of the year?
My list of questions was extensive, but my answers were few. I could tell that Don had worked with several other rental car companies in the past as he showed example after example of different strategies that they had used for charging additional fees on tolls through their service. So, as I had done with several other industry connections that I had spoken with to start our transition to "offline" rentals, I began asking him all those questions in hopes that he'd share some of his experiences with other rental car operators.
As I continued interrogating him about how we could improve our operation, he mentioned something that planted a seed in my head. He said: "I know it's short notice, but why don't you come out to the International Car Rental Show? A lot of the questions that you have will be able to be answered there. It's a three-day event, where you'll be able to network with other rental car operators and relations in the industry."
In my head, I was jumping for joy! This was going to be the answer to all of my questions. But then my heart quickly sank as I realized two things that could prevent me from going:
- This event was literally four days away, so it felt impractical to book a ticket so last minute.
- I was supposed to be onboarding our new operations manager on that Monday and Tuesday and needed to be present for that.
I told Don that I'd consider going because the opportunity sounded great, and he said that he hoped to see me there.
ICRS Presents an Opportunity
After hanging up and thinking about it, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to attend. But in the back of my mind, I knew it'd be great. The answers that I'd been looking for to significantly scale our rental car business have not been readily available in my network of people. We all were just trying to figure it out as we went. But if I haven't learned anything else during our business building journey, it's not what you know, it's who you know.
I didn't need to have all the answers; I just needed to know the right people who already had the answers and then implement what they knew. The problem was that I didn't know the right people. One person I did know was my business coach, Alleah Clarke, who had a consultation session with me the next day to talk about how we could continue to grow our business. At one point, she mentioned the company "ACRA" and it immediately rang a bell. That's the same name that I saw just the day before! I told her that they were the main partners for the International Car Rental Show. Once she learned that I knew about the conference, she was thrilled, because she recognized how perfect of an opportunity this would be for me to get the answers that I was seeking.
Then I made the worst (best) mistake that I could've made... I told her that I didn't plan on going. That set off a ticking time bomb in her soul apparently, because for the next 30 minutes, I got an earful of reasons why I was downright insane for not having already booked the ticket. "That operations manager must be worth a whole lot if you're willing to miss the biggest opportunity to network with hundreds of connections who have all the answers you've been looking for," she said.
That was the push I needed.
Planning for the Show
That same night, I booked the ticket to the conference, booked a roundtrip flight to Las Vegas, and purchased a three-night stay at the Rio, which was down the street from where the convention was being held at the Paris. Now that I was committed to going, I had to prepare. I didn't want to be the person that was just excited to be in the room. No, I wanted to maximize every moment while I was out there! So I asked myself two questions:
- What pieces are we missing to significantly take our business to the next level?
- What companies will be at the conference that could be our missing pieces?
This is when I began to search through the vendor list to see who was going to be at the event and if the service they provided matched with what we needed. For each service we needed, I came up with a list of three to five questions that I could ask to maximize my time while speaking to them.
I knew there would be over 50 vendors at the event, and after investing all that money to get into the room, I wasn't going to let any time go to waste! I knew this was going to revolutionize the way our business was going to look moving forward.
My ICRS Experience
Registration opened on Sunday at noon and I was one of the first few to walk in. Chandeliers were hanging in the wide hallways, the carpets gave us as a guests a VIP experience, and there were banners to my left and right of the different vendors and sponsors that were at the event. The first one I remember seeing was none other than ACRA! It was hard to miss them because they had a table that sat right at the entrance as you first walked into the conference area of the convention center. Afterward, I went through to see where the conference rooms and exhibit hall would be located at so that I'd know exactly where to go when each speaker series began.
As I went through the rooms, I sat back and thought, "there's a reason why I'm here." I believe that everything happens for reason. The fact that I'm the only one from my Turo community at this conference, the fact that I happened to have that call with my business coach the day after speaking with Don Hubicki on the phone, the fact that we had just scaled our fleet from 10 cars to 24 cars the previous two months, the fact that we were teetering between being peer to peer hosts and becoming a legitimate rental car agency, everything was aligning for this moment. And I took full advantage of the opportunity.
During the conference, I attended every speaker session and was able to network with several industry leaders. It was an amazing experience to watch as Fox Rent A Car, founded by Mike Jaberi and Allen Rezapour, successfully sold their business to Europcar after 30+ years of business that started from the ground up. Their story was truly inspirational because they began similar to how we did! They started with six Nissan Sentras, all purchased in their personal names; we started the same with four Sentras. But through resiliency, networking, and with the goal of creating a sellable business model, they were able to attract the attention of another powerhouse rent-a-car company that wanted to purchase their entire business model.
I believe that we're capable of doing the same thing for our business, and this was just the inspiration that I needed.
One thing that excited me the most about this conference was that no matter how much experience the other rental car companies had in the industry (some having been in the industry for over 25-30 years), no one had seen a market like the one that we're in today. This meant that it's currently anyone's game. One key takeaway I learned was that you can either wait for things to return to "the way it used to be" or you can become a trailblazer and innovator for a completely new way of operating a rental car business.
This reminds me of one of the keynote speakers that stood out to me the most during the conference. The last speaker session of the conference was titled, "The Future of Car Rental - If You're Not Hertz, Enterprise, or Avis." This was a panel discussion that included four speakers, one of which was Karim Kaddoura, the founder of Virtuo, a company in France whose goal is to end the desire for car ownership altogether.
From the moment I heard Karim's vision for the company, I knew he was a genius. His company provided a service where someone could book a vehicle on the app and have it delivered to directly to them. Then when they were done with it, a Virtuo employee would come and pick it up. No traditional brick and mortar service necessary! This is what innovation looks like, I thought. That's what it meant to be in the midst of a transition era and be forward thinking instead of waiting for things to revert.
These are the stories of people who will go on to revolutionize the way that people live their day to day lives. And that's a goal that I have for our company as well.
On top of the excellent speaker sessions, I networked with several of the companies that I had previously identified on my list and was very calculated with the questions that I asked each of them. I obtained over 30 contact cards and spent the entire next week sending follow up emails with the people that I wanted to have a lasting connection with.
From this experience at ICRS, I can say that not only will I be returning next year, but that I will also be joining ACRA as a member who seeks to influence other peer to peer rental car hosts on how to scale their rental car business beyond the peer to peer platforms.
I aim to be an ambassador for the both ACRA and ICRS because I recognize how valuable it is to be in the room with the people who have the answers that you are seeking. I'm beyond grateful for both Don and Alleah for their encouraging words that pushed me to attend this conference. Without them, I would still be aimlessly searching for what my next step should be. Now that I have the network of people I need, I can rest assured that it's only a matter of time before our business takes a significant leap of growth into this ever-changing market.
Now armed with financing companies, exit strategies, insurance options, and management software providers, I am fully capable of taking our business offline and look forward to bringing along other peer to peer hosts that I know are looking to do the same. I hope to serve as an inspiration, showing that with the right information, anyone can become successful in any endeavor of life. Even with as far as we've come, I feel like this is only the beginning of the journey, and I look forward to what lies ahead.
About the Author: Marlon Walls Jr. is the CEO of RebuShift rental car company in Houston, Texas, and is blazing a trail for other small business entrepreneurs to follow.
This article was authored and edited according to ARN editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not necessarily reflect that of ARN.