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THE TRANSPORTATION INDUSTRY

A Q&A with Easirent

How to grow and succeed as a car rental operator

Paul Hanley Headshot Circle

Paul Hanley
CEO and Founder
Easirent

Tim Koehler Headshot Circle

Tim Koehler
Chief Operations Officer
Easirent

When the 2007 financial crisis hit, it left many businesses hurting. For Paul Hanley, CEO and founder of Easirent, it was an opportunity to take his company in a new direction. Founded in 1999 in the U.K., Easirent began as a commercial vehicle rental company before transitioning in 2008 to leisure vehicle rental.

From there, the company continued to grow, moving into Ireland where they still have three locations today. Eventually they made the move across the pond in 2017 after connecting with Tim Koehler, Easirent’s Chief

When the 2007 financial crisis hit, it left many businesses hurting. For Paul Hanley, CEO and founder of Easirent, it was an opportunity to take his company in a new direction. Founded in 1999 in the U.K., Easirent began as a commercial vehicle rental company before transitioning in 2008 to leisure vehicle rental.

From there, the company continued to grow, moving into Ireland where they still have three locations today. Eventually they made the move across the pond in 2017 after connecting with Tim Koehler, Easirent’s Chief Operations Officer, who had been working in the car rental industry since 1996 and helped Easirent find its footing in Fort Lauderdale.

While Easirent sold its U.K. operations to Stellantis in 2021, the company has maintained its Ireland locations and its growing operations in the U.S. Today, Easirent has locations across Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Nevada, and Utah.

Operations Officer, who had been working in the car rental industry since 1996 and helped Easirent find its footing in Fort Lauderdale.

While Easirent sold its U.K. operations to Stellantis in 2021, the company has maintained its Ireland locations and its growing operations in the U.S. Today, Easirent has locations across Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Nevada, and Utah.

What were some of the early challenges you faced in starting Easirent?

Paul: I suppose finding a good location. Like any other business, finding the right people is always a challenge, especially opening new locations as well. You don’t necessarily get the right people the first time around, so you may have to go through a few different managers, assistant managers, some agents, and drivers before you get the right team in place.

I think they’re the same challenges we have today. We open in new states and it is completely new to us. We’ve got to really start off there getting the right people, trying to relocate people from states that we’re in so we know them. Then getting the service right as well. Like anything else, if you haven’t got the right people in place, the service may not necessarily be where you want it to be.

What led Easirent into the leisure car rental space from commercial vehicle rentals?

Paul: In 2008 to 2009, you have the credit crash all around the world, and we were heavily in construction and civil engineering. That market was shrinking but travel was still doing relatively well, so we kind of focused on the leisure side of things.

Leisure car rental has its own problems, but compared to the commercial vehicle rental aspect we felt the risk was less. We’re dealing with individual customers rather than one company having several hundred vehicles, so it just fit better for us. Better for cash flow. We found it more favorable to doing commercial vehicles previously, and we grew from there.

What has been your strategy so far in terms of your expansion in the U.S.? How have you targeted your locations?

Paul: We do our research. We will look at a location, make sure that it’s not saturated with other car rental providers, because we want to make sure that the rates are where we need to be. What we don’t want to do is go into a location where there is oversupply and make the situation worse. We tend to do our own research, make sure we can get the best rates for the vehicle, and make sure we can rent the vehicles out where we need to be.

We also speak to the online travel agents to get their spin on things. There may be things going on in certain airports that we don’t know about, so we need to get some inside knowledge there from our partners. We also speak to the airport authority to see what we need to do to get set up there — are they accepting more airport providers? Then providing all those things are favorable, we start looking for a premises and open a location.

Do you have plans to expand into other locations?

Paul: We’re always looking for new opportunities. We’re not sure where they’re going to be yet, so we need to carry out our research. There’s a few different locations we’re looking at, but nothing set in stone just yet.

What’s the difference you’ve seen between the U.K. and Ireland versus the U.S.? What was your experience like moving operations into the U.S.?

Paul: Setting aside the legalities and the formation of businesses and the tax, everything is pretty much the same to be honest. Making sure the cars are looked after, making sure the cars are serviced on time, everything is pretty much the same. We use the same IT system, albeit changed for different currencies and taxes. We use the same phone system. We work with the same partners — your Expedias, your Pricelines, your Booking.com — so most things in general are very similar.

It’s a matter of moving from one market to another and finding the right people. We’re very fortunate we met up with Tim in the early days before we opened in the U.S. Tim had a lot of local knowledge in car rental in the U.S. Between him and myself, we managed to get established pretty quickly and make a success out of it.

Given this experience, has it made you consider opening in other countries?

Paul: We were in the U.K. for 18 years before we came over to the U.S., and the reason for doing that was we kind of opened in every major airport in the U.K. The same in Ireland. We went to Ireland and there are only three big airports in Ireland — we opened in three big airports. In the U.S. there’s a lot more than 24 airports — a lot more than three airports. It’s going to take us a long, long time to get open in every major airport in every city in every state, so at the moment no. Never say never. We may look at some other markets, but I think we’ve got our work cut out to cover most of the states in the U.S in the future before we go anywhere else.

We have more of a driving culture, too, in the U.S. A two-hour drive in the U.K. seems a lot farther than a two-hour drive in the U.S.

Paul: Absolutely. It is a driving culture. I think people like the cars more as well in the U.S. than they do in Europe. I think they will lean toward public transport, taking the train, more than they would do here. We were worried when they opened the Brightline from Orlando to Miami, thinking that might affect some of the business. But it’s not. People still like to get in a car. They like to be in charge of their own destiny so to speak.

Have you thought about doing any franchising with Easirent?

Paul: We’ve considered it in the past, but it’s not something we’ve really progressed much. It looked like a lot of work for little return. We would rather keep control ourselves. If we’ve got a service issue in the branch, we can go in and resolve it very quickly. Where if it’s a third-party operator, you’ve got a bit less control and it’s hard to get things done.

Have there been any strange or off-the-wall requests or questions you’ve received in your time in the car rental business?

Paul: We’ve had some strange things left in cars — all sorts of wonderful things left in cars. I was actually in Dublin and a guy came in with a provisional license, not even a full driving license, to rent a car. He couldn’t understand why the agents on the counter wouldn’t supply the car. He went on for about 15 minutes, and the poor guy couldn’t fathom why we wouldn’t give him a €40,000 car for him to go practice with.

What is your strategy in maintaining your vehicle fleet?

Paul: Obviously oil change is very important. If you don’t get the oil changes done when they need to be done, we’ll have engine problems, break downs, and then we’ll struggle when it comes to sell them as well. Tires are very important. Some cars will go through tires a lot more than they will on other cars. Damage as well. If the car gets damaged, then it’s important we get that car fixed quickly.

We also have regional managers. They go round their branches every week. They carry out an audit. They’ll audit at the ready line, audit at the office, audit at the parking lot. That’s done through an app. As soon as the audit is complete, that gets emailed to myself and Tim. We go through the audits, and if we’re not happy with something, we’ll speak to that regional manager and make sure that action is taken straight away. It’s very important the fleet is kept serviced and tidy.

How much of your fleet is electric?

Paul: We’ve got about 60 electric vehicles. I just don’t think it’s the right time for it at the moment. I think if a lot more people in the U.S. were driving electric cars themselves, then they would be more inclined to rent an electric car. The problem is they’re not. I think it’s a very low percentage of the people in the U.S. who have electric cars, so they’re nervous getting an electric car in a city they’re not familiar with. It was good to give them a go, but I don’t think the timing is right now or in the near future to grow that side of the business.

Being in the car rental industry, have you found it’s been a challenge to get certain lenders on board with car rental?

Paul: We’ve tried to get some main banks on, and they kind of shy away from the car rental sector for various reasons. I don’t think car rental is necessarily the only one out there, but we have heard that from the mainline banks.

What led Easirent to seek commercial financing for your business, and how did the relationship with United come about?

Tim: We were growing and needed additional funding for cars to help the growth. We had meetings with them at the car rental show in Vegas.

Paul: We started talking and we got the relationship off the ground, and it’s been successful since. We use finance companies and credit lines to buy the vehicles and expand our fleet.

What do you look for with lenders that make you want to do business together? What qualities do you value most in a financing partner?

Paul: Obviously cost is very important. Interest rates are very high at the moment, so cost is very important.

Tim: We are a low-cost brand carrier, so we are always looking for cheaper funding and companies that are willing to grow with us.

Paul: Relationships are important as well. We liked how you guys came to see us. You brought your executive team down to Fort Lauderdale; we had a good conversation. We can always reach the people we need to reach as well. Communication is key. Costs are important, but the relationship is as well. We need to make sure we’re working with the right people and that we can get things done.

In less than a year, we’ve provided $7.5 million in financing for Easirent. How has your relationship with United made a difference in your day-to-day operations?

Paul: If we’ve got some cars and need funding, we can pick up the phone and speak to you guys there. We can turn a deal around pretty quickly. We appreciate the relationship we have with United. It’s been good from the start.

Tim: It helped us grow into new markets, such as Vegas and Salt Lake City, and helped us grow our Austin location. We were able to buy smaller cars and increase the fleet size in these locations. The ability to fund cars quickly helps us get better deals at month-end from dealerships.

What is your advice to someone starting out in the car rental industry and looking to scale their business?

Paul: Market research is key. Check where you’re going to open an office, look at the rates out there, speak to the online travel agents, and speak to the airports. Don’t go where there are already a hundred other airport operators because it’s oversupplied, and that will just drive the price down. Focus on the areas you know as well and try and open a location in an area that you do know and have good experience. We opened in Florida because Tim had been working in Florida for 20 years, so a lot of local knowledge there. The biggest advice would be to research before you open.

About United Leasing & Finance

United Leasing & Finance is a customer-focused and growth-oriented leasing and finance company committed to providing custom financing solutions to businesses across the U.S. and Canada. For 60 years, United has partnered with clients to achieve mutual success from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies.