Last year, Advantage Rent-A-Car set out to bolster incremental sales — a goal that had long eluded the company. After years of relying on in-house training programs, Advantage decided to seek the help of an outside training specialist.

“We had struggled with incremental sales for years, and when I looked into the future I realized that we just would not be able to survive at the current revenue per day,” explains Mark Haws, Advantage’s director of fleet and revenue. Haws contacted Khoury Consulting Inc., a consulting company in Winter Park, Fla. KCI specializes in counter sales and customer service training for the car rental industry.

After investigating Advantage’s approach to counter sales, KCI tailored a training program for the company. To Haws’ surprise, the investment paid off immediately. “It’s been like a whirlwind,” he says. “We started to see results in the first month and continue to see them today.”

Haws says he’s certain that the increase in both incremental sales volume and daily dollar average is attributable to KCI’s training. Like many other RACs, Advantage has discovered that sometimes an outside trainer’s perspective is what’s needed to improve performance.

Outside trainers can share practices that have a proven track record elsewhere. They’re also less likely to be constrained by a corporate culture’s biases and notions of “how it’s always been.”

In Advantage’s case, the company’s willingness to make such an investment, in fact, changed its corporate culture for the better.

Gina Brennan, Khoury’s vice president of organizational development, explains the philosophy behind KCI’s training: “The consulting division of our business helps clients identify and capitalize on revenue opportunities in the areas of front-line service and sales performance, transforming the traditional order-taker organization into a sales and service machine.”

What makes KCI unique, Brennan says, is “our hands-on delivery approach combined with a relentless focus on results. We spend most of our time at the counters with front-line agents and managers.”

What kinds of results is Khoury talking about?

“Most of our customers realize over a 500% return on their investment with us,” Brennan says. [PAGEBREAK]

Avis Turns to Delmar for Technician Training
It’s not just customer service personnel that can benefit from dedicated training. Faced with increasing numbers of under-skilled technicians, Avis turned to Delmar Learning, based in Clifton Park, N.Y., to develop a training program specifically for auto technicians. With the costs of recruiting new staff soaring, Avis sought a cost-effective way to raise the skill set of its existing technicians.

Tim Waters, product development manager for Delmar Learning, observes that many companies waste training dollars by simply sending any available staff member to company-sponsored training. “Assessment is the key,” Waters explains. “We can actually reduce the need for some training by first focusing on identifying areas of efficiency and performance.”

The Delmar solution included online and hands-on tests to determine the skill level of each technician. This was followed up with a tailored training program for each technician. By focusing on mastering core mechanical skills, the technicians are not only better able to perform their job functions but also more likely to pass certification tests from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). With 94% of its “A” technicians ASE-certified in one or more areas, Avis far surpasses the national average of 45%.

How do these highly skilled technicians improve the company’s bottom line?

“I think of ROI as return on instruction,” Waters says. “If we can get a vehicle prepared right the first time, quickly and accurately, then we experience fewer breakdowns and have happier customers. This all translates into dollars for the company.”

Avis also experienced a secondary benefit from the new investment in technician training — a 2% annual turnover rate that defies the industry average of 30%.

Ford Rental Managers Tap Dealers Group
Rental managers at Ford dealerships have come to rely on Dealers Group, a division of Scher Group, for a broad range of training programs and consulting services. Dealers Group is based in Streetsboro, Ohio.

“We do everything — from fleet planning to operations analysis,” explains Dealers Group’s Don Marshall. “We also provide software to track the data.”

Dealers Group also shares composite financials with its clients, providing a barometer of sorts. “Most dealers out there have a feeling of being a lone soldier,” Marshall explains. “They don’t have a benchmark or way to compare themselves to others. We can provide that information and can measure progress going forward, hopefully sharing in some of the accountability and direction.” [PAGEBREAK]

Dealers sometimes view the rental arm of their operation as non-core and fail to approach revenue potential and growth. Marshall points out how this approach creates a lose-lose situation. When dealers fail to offer clients the quality, service and price that an alternate rental agency can, the clients look elsewhere for replacement rentals. The customer moves outside of the dealer’s care, setting up the opportunity to be won over by another automaker’s vehicle. A rental, after all, can serve as an extended test drive. On the other hand, renting a new Ford model just might help persuade a customer to trade in for a newer Ford.

Rentals help promote car sales — and sales of extras like navigation systems and satellite radio. Making dealers realize this is the hardest part of his job, Marshall says. But when they do, the rewards can be considerable.

“There’s not a dealer out there that we can’t make even more profitable in a business that is non-core, ” Marshall says.

Affordable Options Available for Independents
Contrary to what many smaller operators might assume, the use of outside trainers isn’t cost-prohibitive to independently owned rent-a-car companies. Trainer Jim Schalberg has found a niche leading seminars for small business owners and franchisees.

“The off-airport or local market operations, even with franchises or associations, don’t often have the opportunity to do outside training. I fill that gap,” Schalberg says.

Schalberg also specializes in collaborating with in-house trainers. By reinforcing what they have previously addressed, Schalberg can assist employees in retaining the information.

These training sessions can produce immediate — and measurable — results. For example, Schalberg recently provided on-site incremental sales training for Merchants Rent A Car, headquartered in Hooksett, N.H.

“We were in the second day of a three-day seminar, and by noon there was one girl who had sold six out of her seven customers an collision damage waiver,” Schalberg recalls.

While training successes are hard to argue against, finding the right fit for your training needs can be a challenge. Whether you run a small operation or a large one, employees are your biggest asset. Training is a way to maximize their effectiveness. By investing in training, managers can promote a sense of empowerment and loyalty among employees. This can ultimately lift staff productivity and curb turnover.