After working in various positions in the car rental industry for 19 years, Matthew Holowinski was ready for a change. He decided to pursue a niche market: recreational vehicles.
“I always liked RVs and decided to go to Florida to start doing RV rentals,” he says.
In 2011, Greenberg Rent A Camper was born. Renting travel trailers at several campgrounds near Walt Disney World in Orlando, Greenberg has recently expanded to a second location in Key West.
Although he is no longer renting passenger cars, Holowinski owes a big part of his new company’s success to his prior experience. “It has opened the door for my camper business. That’s how I was able to get the financing. I convinced my lender to slowly switch to RVs.”
From Corporate to Independent
Holowinski started his car rental career as a sales agent for Avis Rent A Car at Chicago O’Hare Airport. A few years later, Avis gave him the opportunity to run his own store in suburban Chicago as part of its agency operator program.
After running the Avis store for 10 years, he was ready for his next venture. “It was time to move on,” says Holowinski. “At one point you ask yourself, ‘What do you like to do?’ I decided the best way for me was to get out of the nest, spread my wings and try to create something from scratch on my own.”
In 2008, Holowinski opened his own car rental company with one car: an eight-year-old Ford Focus bought for $3,000. He named the company Greenberg Rent A Car, the translated name of his hometown in Poland.
Building from the ground up, Holowinski got his start by offering to take competing car rental companies’ cash-only declined clients. “A lot of cars were coming back with slight damage or damage,” he says. “It was really hard to collect. We learned from our mistakes and it changed our direction completely.”
By moving Greenberg’s original rental location in Norridge, Ill., to the Radisson Hotel Chicago O’Hare, Holowinski was able to improve his customer base. He also partnered with Economy Rent a Car’s new affiliate program to gain more reservations from Economy’s listings on Expedia and Orbitz.
Exploring a New Market
Leaving his business partner, Edwin Pacheco, in Chicago to run Greenberg Rent A Car, Holowinski traveled to Florida to learn more about the RV market. “Because Orlando is a family destination, I thought it would be the perfect spot to start the business.”
After spending two months living in a trailer at an Orlando campground, Holowinski learned what the typical customer was looking for. To his surprise, he discovered that people were willing to pay more to have fully-stocked trailers delivered to the campsite — along with extra amenities, including fire pits, outdoor tables and camp chairs.
“No other competitors placed the campers at the campsite for customers,” says Holowinski.
At the beginning, Holowinski used word of mouth and Craigslist to advertise his brand. Then with help from The Web Guys, a web design and Internet marketing agency, Greenberg Rent A Camper’s website went live in September 2011. “I started getting more and more calls and then added more trailers one by one,” says Holowinski.
As interest grew in his rental trailer company, Holowinski knew that he couldn’t run it by himself — he needed Pacheco to move to Florida and help him. Additionally, his car rental company in Chicago was holding up a significant part of his credit line — and turning out to be not as profitable as hoped. Ultimately, Holowinski decided to close the rental car location and sell the cars in order to buy more rental trailers.
Today, Greenberg Rent A Camper works with several campgrounds in Orlando — with most of its trailers delivered to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground. Greenberg will deliver up to an 80-mile radius from Orlando, which includes St. Augustine and Daytona International Speedway.
“We have transitioned from a car rental company to an RV business,” says Holowinski. “By the end of the year, we are looking to grow to 50 trailers.”
Whether it’s creating his company’s website or designing the rental trailers, Holowinski has made it a priority to keep Greenberg’s branding looking professional. It’s all about the details that give the premium trailers a personal touch, he says. From creating posters to hang on the walls to providing guests with Greenberg-branded towels, Holowinski adds extra touches to each fully-stocked trailer.
Two months ago, Greenberg Rent A Camper opened its second location in Florida in Key West.
“When we were thinking about a second location, we first considered Miami because it’s a big city,” says Holowinski. “But we did some research and found that the people from Miami were renting RVs and driving to Key West. People renting RVs didn’t stay in Miami.”
The process to set up in Key West hasn’t been easy. Because land is limited and expensive, storing the trailers can be costly.
“I think that’s why there are no other rental RV places in Key West,” says Holowinski. “Another challenge is getting spare parts and cleaning supplies. Because Key West only has a few stores, I order all the replacement parts and supplies on Amazon Prime.”
Partnering with two campgrounds, Holowinski pays a monthly rate to park each of his trailers. The challenge has been learning how to manage the number of trailers in Key West. According to Holowinski, you want enough trailers to satisfy customer demand but don’t want too many unused trailers — that the company pays rent on.
So far, Holowinski has bought eight trailers in Key West, adding them one by one as the demand continues to grow. “Vacation RVs are becoming more of a trend,” he says. “An RV makes it possible to stay together as a family while on vacation; that’s harder to do in a hotel.”
To gain more brand exposure, Holowinski made several attempts to get his car rental company listed on Expedia, but he was turned down each time. It was a surprise when Expedia recently accepted his rental camper company onto its websites, he says, where Greenberg Rent A Camper is listed under “specialty lodging.”
“Greenberg is our first partner that offers the camper, already delivered and set up at the campsite or RV park,” says Kim Cournoyer, Expedia’s associate market manager for the Florida Keys and Key West. “He [Holowinski] has taken camping and made it a bit more luxurious. It’s truly the best of both worlds: a camping trip with the guest services of a hotel.”
Holowinski sees Expedia as a key part of his company’s growth, especially since Expedia and its travel sites can reach larger audiences worldwide.
“With Expedia’s global reach, Greenberg is now featured on 150 sites in 70 countries, and its information is translated into 35 languages,” says Cournoyer. “Travelers from around the world are able to book their vacations and reserve these luxury campers.”
On Expedia, the demand for Greenberg’s campers has been growing daily at a fast rate, according to Cournoyer. “I’m excited to see how quickly Greenberg has grown in a short time and look forward to the future success of this company.”
For Holowinski, it’s been important to be a hands-on owner — from living in a trailer for two months to study the RV market, to decorating each trailer and adding personal touches, to addressing each customer’s concerns and responding to reviews.
When asked about his company’s secret to survival, Holowinski immediately answered flexibility and customer service.
“I always compare prices and react pretty quickly if there is a market change,” says Holowinski. “Initially, we had higher prices in Key West, but customers didn’t want to pay the higher prices. We had to re-adjust to get more bookings.”
As demand for his luxury trailers continues to grow, Holowinski hopes to expand to other cities in Florida.
“You have to make a sacrifice and be willing to take a risk,” says Holowinski. “My company is constantly evolving and adjusting. We have been evolving by updating our website consistently, by opening a second location in a new area and by entering a partnership with Expedia.”