One key area that strong personal relationships go the distance is with legislators and government officials. Car rental professionals shouldn’t forget the power of trust with elected leaders to...

One key area that strong personal relationships go the distance is with legislators and government officials. Car rental professionals shouldn’t forget the power of trust with elected leaders to help advance key issues for their businesses.

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Fresh off of the American Car Rental Association’s (ACRA) D.C. Car Rental Conference and Boot Camp, which provides an immersive day of education, networking, and advocacy on Capitol Hill for ACRA members, I am struck by several observations.

The Power of Trust

Effective government lobbying is often not about the particulars of an issue, but rather the relationships you develop. The most effective kinds of relationships can’t be formed via email or Zoom. To really connect with someone so that they remember you, you need to do it in person.

Connection in person is incredibly powerful, and those personal relationships stack up over time. When done right, if you really need something, you’ll have a network of legislators who know and trust you, and as a result, will go the extra distance for you. ACRA’s annual summit in D.C. is a great opportunity for building those personal relationships!

Trust versus Money

In business, we learn that money is often the most important element for solving a problem. So it’s understandable that there would be a belief among business owners that elected officials would be most motivated by money. But really, money is just a stand-in and substitute for something that is more important, which is trust. And trust is a fancy way of saying, if I say I'm going to do something, I'll do it; If I say I can deliver something, it will be delivered.

Trust is also saying to politicians that if they need something from us, they can count on us to be there for them. For elected officials, this is actually more important than money, and I continue to be amazed how many doors are opened by trust, that all the money in the world can’t open. If somebody doesn't trust you, they don’t care how much money you have, and they certainly don’t care about you or helping you achieve your goals.

How to Build Trust in the Car Rental Industry

When we're thinking about how do to advance the industry’s goals in terms of government policy, it's easy to think that we just need to cut some checks and make some donations to get what we want out of the exchange. The truth is, that might open the door a hair, but it doesn't go as far as you think it will.

What is incredibly effective is finding a way to connect with somebody as a human being. Build trust by simply talking to people about their lives and what they're interested in, and share your life and your interest with them, too. Once someone has a sense that you're going be there for them, they will move mountains for you. And that is something that our industry needs to work on.

The people I speak to within the car rental industry are all incredible, honest, hardworking people doing everything they can to build and sustain businesses and get customers from point A to point B. We're very fortunate to be in an industry where we are a plausible part of a more sustainable future from an energy policy standpoint. But what we haven't been great at doing is building personal relationships with policymakers.

Let me give you one example: The bus industry built a very positive and deep relationship with a state senator. When the CARES Act was being drafted, they were able to finagle billions of dollars directly earmarked for them — even as a small industry, especially compared to the rental market. We were not as successful in getting this level of attention, despite having the CEOs of the three biggest companies formally writing a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury.

The Future is Bright, The Time is Now

My takeaway from all this is: The time to start building those relationships was yesterday, and the next best time is right now. But remember, it’s not about writing a check; it’s about asking someone what they’re working on that they’re excited about. It's the same kind of stuff that you would do at a cocktail party with somebody you just met. Just get to know them as people a little bit, and then build from there. This creates an environment where they are more likely to care about what you need to grow and succeed. This is how we create a more promising future for our industry.

This takes just a small investment of our time, with the potential to deliver literally billions of dollars in returns, especially as we go into this next phase of spending infrastructure money for EVs, and taking our rental operations to the next level. This is a huge opportunity for us!

Over the next few years, ACRA will be working to help train people on how to have these conversations with their elected officials. If we can get better at this as an industry, we can move mountains. Let’s go!

About the author
Sharky Laguana

Sharky Laguana

President, ACRA | CEO, Bandago Van Rental

Sharky Laguana started a van rental company, Bandago, to serve touring musicians, growing it over the next decade to hundreds of vehicles with locations in cities across the country. Laguana joined ACRA as a member in 2005, became a California ambassador for ACRA in 2014, joined the Board of Directors in 2017, and was elected president in 2020. He is also president of the San Francisco Small Business Commission.

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