When Ziad Khoury first emigrated from Lebanon to the U.S. to attend college, he knew he wanted to start his own business. While he may not have originally thought of a career in car rental, he found opportunity as a rental agent at Alamo Rent A Car’s highest volume store in Orlando. “It was a mecca for incremental sales,” Khoury says.
He quickly became a national leader in sales and parlayed his way into a job as incremental sales manager at Dollar Rent A Car for the state of Florida. When his sales seminars started drawing Dollar corporate managers and licensees from around the country, Khoury knew he had something.
In 1993, he broke away to start his own company. “I was young and driven and I saw opportunity,” he says. “I always wanted to go out on my own and I just did it. I left a six-figure job at 26 years old to do this.”
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Frontline Performance Group (FPG) has grown to 150 associates and has brought its message of service-based sales to new travel verticals such as hotels and theme parks, as well as 22 countries.
Auto Rental News talked with Khoury about his company’s achievements and direction, and how car rental has changed over the past 20 years.
ARN: What were some of the key things that you learned in the early days about car rental?
ZK: It was a business that was full of opportunities with the customer that you already had, and the staff that was already a part of your business. If you look at all the revenue opportunities (incremental counter sales, phone sales, walk-ups at airports, outside sales) you could easily double your profit by implementing the right sales management system with your existing team and from your existing business.
When I started 20 years ago, most operators didn’t know how to measure incremental sales properly. Huge opportunities still exist, but the understanding is a lot better.
ARN: What were two of the biggest turning points for your company?
ZK: After a few years, I think it was the realization that customers are buying the bottom line results. Once I understood that this was the goal, the best way to help them achieve that end goal wasn’t for me to fly in for three days and come back again the next year. I was able to get my customers bigger results by having my consultants there on an ongoing basis. It helped me grow the business and helped me get better results for our clients.
Another turning point was understanding what I am teaching isn’t rocket science. It’s a process. Salespeople aren’t born; you can develop them as long as they have the right attributes and are within the right culture.
We systemized everything that we did. The systemization of our process came from studying Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth” books and understanding that by systemizing things, you could scale and grow for better service.
ARN: What is Frontline’s mantra and keys to success?
ZK: We are in the business of driving service-based sales. The more you can service the customer, the more value you are giving them and in turn, the more money they will give you. People are driven by value and value comes from both the service and sales side.
In addition, you have to treat your people well. If you create the right environment for your employees, they will then take care of your customers.
Everything we do is measurable. Our only focus is service and sales results. We are willing to back up our results. We are willing to put ourselves on the line when it comes to service and sales performance. We are coming in to help move both those numbers up.
ARN: How does your company hire team members?
ZK: We look for team members that are sincere, empathetic, driven, energetic and likable. We have our own culture and a certain level of expectation. We live by the Performance Blueprint that we try to implement with customers.
When we interview someone, we ask them to interview us. We want to make sure that we are right for them as well. I take the responsibility of bringing someone into our company very seriously.
It is a two-way street; we are paying them to do the job, but they are generating revenue for the company. When you have that kind of understanding, it creates a more loyal group.
Five years ago, we had about 40 associates. We have grown quite a bit in the last three years.
ARN: What is an opportunity that most car rental companies don’t take advantage of?
ZK: I think the biggest opportunity is to go from a cost mindset to a revenue and sales mindset. You prosper from the revenue/sales side while keeping your eyes on the cost side.
Many companies dabble in revenue, but the revenue side is not being capitalized on.
Look at all the revenue touch points that you control and those you can go after; for example, what agents can do at the counter, over the phone or with walk-ups and what your local market managers can do with outside sales. The cost side is important, but it’s not the driver to maximize results.
ARN: How has the car rental industry changed in the last 20 years?
ZK: There has been consolidation from nine companies to basically three, which is both a challenge and an opportunity for operators to find their niche. And online travel agencies (Expedia, Priceline) to some degree have commoditized the product. Therefore, you have to find your distinction.
I don’t think there is anything scarier than opening up a car rental company at an airport that rents a midsize car. Instead of being in the bloody waters of competition, swim to the blue ocean and find your own niche.
Find your niche, whether it is a unique service program, a sales channel or how you deliver your product and services. Without finding your niche, you are just another car rental company that could find itself crushed.
After looking at the huge success of Hertz and Enterprise and how well many independents are doing, car rental isn’t the ugly duckling of travel anymore. The marketplace has a lot more respect and admiration for car rental. Today, we can hold our heads up high and say this is a very successful industry.
ARN: With the development of new technology, how do you see the sales model evolving with automated systems?
ZK: As technology evolves, there are still revenue opportunities through technology. You have to do it well and it needs to be user-friendly.
We have clients that do reservations through e-chat. There is no voice, but you are chatting with the customer online. If customers are displaying buying behavior, you pop up and ask the right questions to engage them and sell them. Virtual kiosks are also a great example of combining technology with people and sales.
ARN: How has Frontline adapted and evolved with the changes in car rental? What are your plans for the future?
ZK: We are trying to stay within travel and within our core of Frontline service-based sales, but we are broadening our offering to help organizations capitalize on multiple revenue opportunities.
We want to continue to expand globally. We have expanded into Central America, Latin America, Europe and soon to be in Australia and New Zealand.
We want to get stronger in the hotel space; we now have Ritz-Carlton as a client and are growing in that vertical. Theme parks are another vertical and we have had incredible success with Universal Studios.
We have also added products. We introduced a travel tablet about three or four months ago. It is a travel concierge tablet that features GPS, free phone/text and customized software.
ARN: Can you give us one key for better customer service results?
ZK: You have to treat your people well. If you have the understanding that your first customer is your own employee and you create the right environment for them, they will then take care of your customer. People are moved most by emotion.
You need systems and logistics, but when it comes to what your people can deliver, it’s the emotion of a positive experience. That will only happen if you have a culture of taking care of your own people. In turn, they take care of your customers.