Alex Dick of London-based ZOOCars discusses in this web-exclusive Q&A how the company has doubled its fleet over the last 12 months, engages in guerilla marketing campaigns to boost sales and has grown its affiliate member programs.
Our fleet size has grown dramatically within the last 12 months from 58 vehicles to 114 vehicles. Our fleet mix is an even split between cars and vans.
We currently have 1 location based in Shepherds Bush, London. We are looking to open our 2nd location within central London within 2012.
How did the business start and when?
ZOOCars previously traded as D&D Self-drive. D&D Self-drive was taken over in 2004 by the current owners. In Jan 2008 we made the decision to rebrand and change our identity to ZOOCars. D&D Self-drive had been trading for 25 years and was your typical old school local independent operation with the same fleet size for 15 years.
Being a small independent we felt we needed to stand out and create a brand, which is what we have been successful in doing. We have been approached about franchise possibilities solely because of the brand and the image. The franchise tab will be going live on our new website, so don’t be surprised if you see a ZOOCars opening near you.
What's your most popular rental?
This varies depending on time of year. For instance, we ran a promotion on our mini group car throughout the winter. We advertised locally and became renowned for this deal. This promotion made our mini group car most popular in Q1 in 2012. At the same time we were busy on commercial vehicles due to a pricing restructure in Q1.
Moving into Q2 of this year, our most popular rental is the VW Transporter and the Ford Transit due to a successful marketing campaign through Q1 of 2012, which resulted in attracting additional local businesses and residents to use ZOOCars.
What are your primary sources of rental customers (and are you an affiliate)?
Before this year we were not a popular affiliate member, but at the start of 2012 we signed up with multiple brokers such as Rentmama.com, Economycarrentals.com, Easycar and Atlas Choice to name a few.
We have also launched a Hotel Privilege service. This service is also a new strategy for ZOOCars. We predominantly supply prestige vehicles for hotels all around London ranging from 2-star to 5-star luxury hotels. This service is very lucrative but is very seasonal, which means our pricing is key. The introduction of prestige vehicles is a very exciting time and a huge landmark for ZOOCars. At the same time we are focused on not forgetting about our existing local businesses, local residents, local workers and holiday makers who we value and reward for their continued loyalty to ZOOCars.
What's your most typical customer demographic?
Vast range. From holidaymakers, local residents, local businesses to that one off customer requiring a vehicle while their vehicle is in the garage.
Are you pursuing new sources of business/customers? What are they?
We are always looking for new avenues and ways of obtaining new business. The most recent addition as I explained earlier is the new Hotel Privilege Service. We have also just had two ZOOCar brochures printed, (Business tariff & Retail tariff) which is very colorful and friendly to the eye. We have been handing the brochures out during rush hour outside local train stations. The target audience is people who commute to work and who don’t own their own vehicle. This has been very successful and increased utilization over the weekends.
The business brochure has also been successful with some new businesses signing up with ZOOCars. The benefit of this new brochure is that if gives our sales team new literature to approach new and existing customers.
How has the car rental market in London evolved in the past 10 years and have there been any benefits to this change?
The rental industry has changed dramatically in London and the UK over the last 10-20 years. We have seen many corporate organizations, franchises and independent companies close or reduce locations due to the Recession, bad management or hiked insurance premiums. The benefit for me is that I have worked for the likes of Budget licensee, Sixt licensee, Guy Salmon, Europcar and National Car Rental and have seen the good and bad in all these organizations.
We do try our best to give every customer that personal touch that they wouldn’t necessarily get with a corporate organization. For instance, when customers return vehicles, we give them a lift to the nearest train station should they need a lift. Also, 99% of the time we can agree on a make and model of car or van for customers. It’s the little things and the attention to detail that installs faith in the customer to use an independent.[PAGEBREAK]
What does the car rental market over the next five years in London look like?
We are very much looking forward to the next five years in London. The new introduction of low-emission and electric cars is very exciting and we believe it’s very important to demonstrate our green approach.
We are also introducing transparency for all customers. We are launching a feed on our new website, which allows customers to give their feedback about their rental experience. We believe all feedback is good feedback, good or bad. We listen to all feedback and make the necessary changes should we see fit. We have learned a great deal from the small time we have been receiving our customers feedback and this has allowed us to identify areas that we can enhance to give the best possible service to our customers.
We also have a presence on Twitter (@ZooCars) and other social networking sites, allowing us access to millions of people, while targeting our audience correctly — which can have instant results.
Describe your marketing efforts and the payback so far?
We do not spend thousands of pounds in advertising as we do not have a fruitful marketing budget. We believe our local brand awareness campaigns and our continued promotions on certain vehicle groups works for us. Our sales team remains active in finding new leads, and sustaining and improving relationships with existing customers.
How do you buy cars (lease, repurchase, buy)?
We buy and lease. We are always looking at the best deals out there and what will work for us
How do you sell your cars? (sell back to dealers, used car lot, auction?)
We sell back to dealers and advertise with Autotrader, etc. We also have a sale tab on our new website.
How long do you keep cars in fleet?
Prestige for a period of 6-8 months, cars generally for a period of up to 6-12 months and for vans anything up to 2-3 years.
What are your biggest challenges with fleet?
Making sure the finance is in the right place regarding defleeting and purchasing of new vehicles.
What car rental companies are your main competition?
Europcar, Sixt and Avis.
Are there a lot of independent car rental companies in London?
There are many within the M25 (the motorway that circles the city) and we have a good relationship with a number of them.
What types of counter products are popular?
We push counter products very hard and currently sell fuel, satellite navigation systems, baby seats, commercial trolleys and the most popular of all CDW. We are also introducing bike racks and mountain bikes as a counter product this summer, which is a new feature for ZOOCars.
How did you survive the Recession? And what is that economic climate like currently for you in London?
ZOOCars was very cautious through the recession and made key decisions early on. We reduced personnel and micromanaged everything on a day-to-day basis, which allowed us to make key decisions at the right time regarding all operational aspects.
Where do you think the biggest growth potential is for your business?
We see great potential with the new Hotel Privilege service and plan to remain locally active within the area to make as many people aware of the fantastic service and great deals we offer to anyone.