Natural disasters can disrupt a car rental company’s business for weeks, making timely fiscal recovery seem nearly impossible.
As Hurricane Irene came and went, car rental agencies along the eastern seaboard still remain affected. Many auto rental companies prioritized community service and safety over profiting from Labor Day weekend.
A Time of Crisis
Enterprise Rent-A-Car offices located throughout eastern North Carolina — an area now burdened with heavy flooding and calamitous conditions — have shut down retail to take care of insurance partners and victims during this time of need.
“In retail, you book a reservation and your car is waiting for you,” says Osvaldo Santos, Enterprise regional vice president, Wilmington N.C. “But as things erupted here, our folks were called by utilities companies trying to restore power. They needed specific types of vehicles, and they needed them delivered. Our folks understood why we needed to mobilize in a manner that we typically don’t.”
Since the storm hit, all of Enterprise’s nearby resources have been utilized in the transportation of vehicles to devastated regions. In the process, countless individuals willingly performed duties that exceeded average job descriptions.
“There has been an all-hands-on-deck mentality — everyone needs to be involved when you have to move this volume of vehicles into an affected area,” Santos says. “Transportation trucks are not enough … you need extra bodies, and everyone has been volunteering.”
According to Santos, there is an added sense of ownership among his staff because employees are taking care of potential neighbors and friends. Megan Reed, an Enterprise area manager stationed in the outer banks of North Carolina, rented a vehicle to an elderly woman whose property had been destroyed by the hurricane. Before the woman drove off, Megan offered to personally drive out later that evening to help the woman gather her belongings from the wreck.
“This lady was taken aback that one of our employees was willing to do something other than rent a vehicle,” Santos says. “[Megan] was willing to go to this lady’s house because she needed the help.”
Similar to Enterprise, Ride Share Systems, a New Jersey Dollar licensee with an office located in Morristown, N.J., is submerged in more than five feet of water. The office spent two days without internet and a week with only a single line phone system. Despite the circumstances, Dollar is still in operation, having aided customers throughout every step of the storm.
Dollar even extended a one-day charge courtesy to its renters just in case post-hurricane conditions proved insurmountable.
The company also made it a point to call each and every client both before and after the storm to notify them about the extension and urge them to put their own wellbeing first. “Our main concern is trying to make sure customers aren’t trying to return the car in a hurricane, or doing something unsafe, which is why we gave them a call and a complimentary extension,” says Jennifer Romanowski, manager at the Morristown Dollar Rent-A-Car.[PAGEBREAK]
Facing the Unknown
Days before the storm hit, thousands of people received ample warning, giving car rental companies the ability to set preparation processes into motion early on. “We received several phone calls notifying offices in flood zones to move vehicles so they won’t be at risk for water or tree damage,” Romanowski says.
Both Enterprise and Dollar moved their fleet — and some of their offices as well — to higher grounds off premises and boarded windows, evacuated employees and raised computers and paper documents off desks.
Enterprise even collaborated with FEMA, utilities and other post-Irene recovery efforts prior to the hurricane to team up and offer support. “Our goal is to be functional once [the hurricane] hits, knowing that we’re going to have victims and utility companies needing us — and we have to get prepared for that,” Santos says.
But even after taking extensive precautionary measures, a company can never fully prepare for or predict the outcome of a natural disaster. “It’s one of those things where you just kind of sit and wait to see what happens,” Santos says. “We were expecting a worse storm but the consequences that came out of it were about the same.”
The flooding, the instantaneous need for vehicles and hundreds of daily phone calls are only a few problems car rental companies along the hurricane’s path are facing during the aftermath. “Every member at Dollar Rent-A-Car in Morristown is working as a team to help move vehicles, clean up offices and bring back business as opposed to shutting down,” says Romanowski, adding that new drywall and carpet will be installed in the coming days and weeks, and new shoes will be issued "for everyone after working in mud and dust for a week."
Counter agents, accountants, and maintenance, body and area managers at Dollar are personally taking water out of cabinets, moving garbage and wreckage out of the office, and shoveling dirt and debris off parking lots.
At the Enterprise office in Hackensack, N.J., workers are gutting the building to avoid mold and rehabbing the lobby area with the basics, such as phones and computers, according to John Mattone, regional vice president for northern New Jersey.
According to Santos, a North Carolina-based manager took measures into her own hands and hand-wrote a rental document for a family in need because all the office computers were destroyed by flood water. “It’s been a whirlwind to see what the men and women in the Enterprise offices have been doing,” says Santos, a west coast native, and recent transfer to North Carolina. “It’s been quite a process for me, someone who has never gone through this before. Even though it’s was Labor Day weekend, which could have been a very heavy retail business weekend for us, we’re shutdown and putting victims first right now.”
Mike Astino, area rental manager for Enterprise’s Hackensack office, collects his thoughts before countering 56 tickets already given to renters in Morristown after the storm: “The biggest help to the people around us is honestly just being able to get people into cars so they can get back to their busy days.”
- By Brittni Rubin