What better way to inform the public about your product than through event marketing? For John Quick, founder and president of American Van Rental (AVR) in Atlanta, the marketing technique has helped grow his enterprise into a multi-million dollar business. AVR, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is one of the largest minority-owned car rental businesses in the region.

“An event would be an occasion where one entity takes a large number of our vehicles,” says Quick. “A major golf tournament, for example. We may have 15 to 25 vehicles assigned to that one event for seven to 10 days.”

AVR employs an event marketing coordinator whose sole purpose is to nurture corporate relationships that bring in volumes of repeat business. These relationships can include perks that are mutually beneficial to AVR and its customers.

Event producers will often promote AVR in their program ads, or they may travel with AVR’s name prominently displayed on the rented vehicles. Radio or television stations may provide ad spots in exchange for transportation.

“We have developed relationships so that every year we know that as long as we properly serve our client, we have that business,” Quick says. “And we don’t limit ourselves to Atlanta. We do business throughout the Southeast.”

Nonprofit, corporate and government organizations make up 50% of AVR’s active market. Leisure, which tends to be seasonal, makes up the other half. Fortune 500 companies are segments of AVR’s market and represent a significant portion of its repeat business.

With event marketing, AVR employs other effective strategies to draw clientele.

Yellow Pages ads account for approximately 60% to 70% of AVR’s marketing and advertising budget. Radio and cable TV ads are also used on a limited basis. Then there’s direct mail.

“We have such a targeted audience, direct mail tends to be very effective. We probably do 10% to 15% using direct mail. It works,” Quick says.

Creative marketing techniques were instrumental to AVR’s growth, but meticulous personnel screening and risk management were just as important. [PAGEBREAK]

Employees Foster Customer Loyalty
Quick started AVR in 1992 with only 12 vehicles and one employee. Today, AVR boasts more than 30 employees and, with a growing fleet of 300-plus vehicles, has opened a third store in the Atlanta area. Quick attributes much of AVR’s growth to the company’s employees.

“One cannot do it alone,” he says. “You must surround yourself with capable, willing and dedicated people.”

The marketing effort does not end with getting customers in the door. There has to be a successful and mutually beneficial trade between both parties. This, Quick says, starts with respect for the individual.

At AVR, Quick wanted staff who not only understood this concept, but could employ it in every customer interaction. Opportunities to upsell products, extend contracts, and make package deals existed, and he needed to ensure that his employees had the right attitude to make such things happen.

“If you can’t satisfy the customer, then the customer won’t return,” says Quick. “Most of my employees are multifunctional. They’re able to reach over and give a hand when and where necessary. No one is above the most menial task.”

AVR consults with personnel services to recruit the best possible candidates for available positions.

“We very seldom use classified ads or any other general search mechanisms,” Quick says. “We use two or three personnel companies that screen candidates and provide us with the top three.”

AVR then interviews and selects from the top three and employs the selected candidates through the personnel service. “This gives us a chance to look at them and also a chance for them to look at us,” Quick says.

In return for exceptional customer service, AVR offers employees a competitive benefits package and pays a high percentage of employee health insurance premiums. AVR also provides access to programs in which a percentage of non-taxed dollars from an employee’s salary are set aside to assist with expenses such as childcare. [PAGEBREAK]

Vehicle Maintenance a Priority
Quick ensures repeat business by upholding three basic standards: Vehicles must always be clean, mechanically fit and safe. Vehicles in top condition — inside and out — market themselves, he says.

“Too many companies have lost sight of the small details,” says Quick. “Cleanliness is a small detail that there is no excuse to overlook.”

AVR holds its service people to stringent standards. Agents are required to sign a rearview mirror hanger stating that they’ve inspected a vehicle and that it’s ready for rental. Agents who fail to adhere to company standards face strict disciplinary measures. Agents know they’re in for an earful when they see Quick or another manager heading their way with a mirror hanger in their hands.

“That means that we’ve found something that doesn’t meet our standards,” says Quick. “You don’t get the opportunity to have that happen a next time.”

Risk management is a major concern at AVR, and the company takes several precautionary measures to ensure safety.

“Because of the types of vehicles we carry, we don’t rent to anyone under 25. We service a mature audience only,” Quick says. With the safety of 15-passenger vans a hot issue in the news, AVR has taken steps to inform its customers of the risks involved when driving the vehicles.

“We’ve met with our insurance carrier to discuss proper ways to inform our customers,” Quick says. AVR has posted safety tips on the proper way to drive the large vans.

For school clients, AVR offers an activity bus from its fleet of 35 to 40 buses that meet federal requirements for the transportation of children.

Colleges and universities rent the 15-passenger vans, but whenever possible, AVR provides alternatives such as the activity or commercial buses, which carry from 15 to 34 passengers.

“Each situation that you encounter in the rental business is unique. Sometimes you find that you have to go through extraordinary means to satisfy the needs of the customer,” Quick says.

How has his business survived 10 years, including the past year and a half when so many independents were forced to close their doors?

AVR survived the recent economic downturn, and even grew with the opening of an additional store, by “constantly finding different ways of doing things,” Quick says. “We sought out new and different markets and evaluated remarketing aspects for the same product line. We tried to pay more attention to detail. And lastly, we expanded our product line and thus the people we serve.”