Taking the Plunge

Classic Toyota is all-in with a thriving retail rental car business
by Dan Miller
Nov/Dec 2017
Taking the Plunge
Strategically Positioned
Classic Toyota’s TRAC desk is located next to the dealership’s collision center to better service customers who need alternative wheels while their vehicles are being repaired. That means more convenience for customers and more business for the dealership versus partnering with a third-party rental car company.
Photos by Rex Curry
It goes without saying that Classic Toyota sells cars. But what sets it apart from many of its fellow Toyota dealerships is that it also rents cars — to the benefit of its overall operations and, most importantly, its customers.
“It can be a bit scary when you’re setting up a rental department,” says Brittany Hampton, Toyota Rent a Car (TRAC) manager at the store in Tyler, Texas. “There are a lot of unknowns. But I can tell you that it’s definitely worth it.”
Classic Toyota waded into these uncharted waters about 15 years ago, setting aside 10 cars for use by service customers who needed to get around while their vehicles were in for maintenance or repair work. But it wasn’t long before the advantages of the TRAC program persuaded them to take the plunge with a full-on retail rental business.
So, practically overnight, that 10-vehicle fleet grew to 50. Today it’s more than 100, covering every model in Toyota’s product lineup except for Sequoia.
“The decision to promote rental cars as a stand-alone retail department was the key turning point for us,” Hampton says. “We still offer loaners to our service customers. But the retail side of it is, by far, the biggest part of TRAC.”


Stand-Alone Business
Classic Toyota has gone all-in on the Toyota Rent a Car program, with a stand-alone facility, a dedicated staff and a fleet of more than 100 vehicles representing virtually the entire Toyota product line. 

Unlike some automotive brands, Toyota doesn’t sell many of its vehicles to third-party rental car companies. Yet many customers would prefer to rent a Toyota, if given the choice. That creates a market opportunity for Classic Toyota as well as other dealers that participate in TRAC.
In some cases, it’s a matter of addressing a pressing need. One example is customers who’ve been in an accident and have put their vehicles into the care of Classic Toyota’s collision repair center. Another is businesspeople who must travel to nearby cities, but don’t want to rack up miles on their personal vehicles.
Classic Toyota also serves customers such as the family who wants a Highlander for its weekend camping trip. Or the prospect who’d like to take the C-HR on an extended test drive.
“If someone’s looking to rent a car, we’d much rather put them in a Toyota than refer them to Enterprise or Hertz that’s going to put them in another make,” Hampton says. “It’s a great way to plant a thought in their head about the Toyota product. We definitely have customers who experience our rentals and then come back and buy new cars from us.”
But the return on investment doesn’t end there. Hampton says they replace their rental vehicles every 10 to 12 months and/or 25,000 miles. That makes them ideal candidates to be reconditioned and sold as Toyota Certified Used Vehicles. These units often command higher prices and sell faster than those that come by way of lease returns or wholesale auctions.
To maximize these many benefits, Hampton stresses the need to actively market TRAC. Classic Toyota goes about this on multiple fronts, including an ad that appears on the big screen before the trailers at the local movie theater, graphics on the service department’s shuttle van, billboards around town and “Try Before You Buy” signage in the new-car showroom. And it’s no coincidence that the TRAC department is in the same building as the collision repair center.
“We let people know that we’re here for them if they need us,” Hampton says. “That includes picking them up and dropping them off at the airport. But more than anything, our success depends on repeat and referral business. Word of mouth still has the biggest impact.”
The best, though, may be yet to come.
“We’re in a really good spot with this, but there’s always room to grow,” she adds. “In the end, it’s about serving our customers. TRAC definitely helps us do that.”

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