Most businesses want to grow-the question is, how much and how fast? How well a company manages this process often determines its success.
Fox Rent A Car's growth trajectory began in 1989 with a 10-car fleet. Today, with 13 corporate airport locations and $140 million in annual revenues, the company now stands as one of the largest independent discount car rental companies in the U.S.
That growth continues, and the strategy includes adding partners to Fox's affiliate program, which was officially re-launched on Nov. 1, 2010. Fox hired industry veteran Jeff Wedemire to run the program. As of this writing, Fox has 14 affiliate locations up and running (three domestic, 11 overseas). Six more affiliates are planned for the first quarter.
For independent car rental operations looking to become an affiliate, one of the prime criteria for consideration is the desire and ability to grow.
"It doesn't matter how small or big they are, they have to be aggressive in wanting to expand their business," says Mike Jaberi, vice president and co-founder of Fox Rent A Car. "When they join the system they'll be generating many more reservations than they have in the past."
That means the potential affiliate must demonstrate it has the credit line, or access to credit facilities, to increase its fleet. Also, rental units cannot be older than two years.
Fox's primary focus for its affiliate markets is in leisure destinations frequented by the American traveler, such as the Caribbean islands and Central American tourist locations. Domestically, Fox's strategy is to work with affiliates that serve second- and third-tier airports. Although they've had requests from companies serving major airports in the U.S., Jaberi explains that the larger markets are part of Fox's corporate expansion plan.
Fox affiliates are dual branded. The affiliate keeps its name and logo, though airport signage, airport shuttles and rental offices serving the airport must display the Fox logo along with the affiliate's name.
Along with the ability to grow, the affiliate must be aligned with Fox's other two core principles: discounted rates and quality customer service.
Because physically visiting each potential location is prohibitively expensive, most of Fox's due diligence is done over the Internet and by phone. Fox starts the vetting process by asking candidates to send photos of the location. Wedemire will check the company's online reputation through review sites such as Yelp, and he'll call on people in the know from his vast Rolodex of business associates.
"Word of mouth is the best thing to go off of," says Wedemire, who has nearly 30 years of car rental experience in North America for various companies and in various positions. "I've turned people away because of what I've heard from some of my reliable sources."
However, the due diligence does not end once the rental car company signs on to become an affiliate.
In addition to an 800 number for customers to give instant feedback, Fox sends out a customer service survey after each rental to both its corporate and affiliate customers. The surveys are tabulated and analyzed, and the results are relayed back to the management team. Affiliates can be-and have been-cancelled within 30 days for a low customer service ratio, according to Jaberi.
Once onboard, affiliates are immediately displayed on all of Fox's reservations systems. This includes all third-party travel agencies and global distribution systems, the Fox Rent a Car Web site and the company's social media tools, which include a blog, Twitter and Facebook.
Indeed, Jaberi and Wedemire maintain that the main difference between Fox and other affiliate systems is the strength of Fox's reservations system, along with the fact that it enjoys a healthy market share on airport as a medium-sized independent. "Out of all of the medium-sized car rental companies that are involved in this kind of business, Fox has the most visibility to help another car rental company that wants to grow," says Wedemire.
Affiliates also gain access to Fox's technology. "There is no printed manual, it's all online and automated," Jaberi says. "They can have access to everything we have through the Internet."
Affiliates can access online their reports, billing and manifests, as well as reconcile their commissions.
Affiliates can also utilize the company's robust rate management system. Almost all new affiliates, explains Jaberi, need help in rate management, including getting a grip on automation. Fox's rate management expertise is where the company really shines, Jaberi says. "I would say this is one of the biggest points to joining the system."
Affiliates can tap into Fox's expertise in any other area as well, and Wedemire and his two staffers are always ready to help.
Wedemire understands the pressures of growth. "I've worked in operations before and I know that you usually don't have time to breathe," he says. "The companies that look positively at [the idea to affiliate] will think that they'll be able to hire somebody because of the growth. I want to have the places that understand that this will really help them grow their businesses."