A Conversation with Trent Gifford

May 8th, 2024 | by Angela Simoes, Communications Director | Posted in: Insight on Things

Trent Gifford, a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of the Independent Car Rental Association (ICRA), joined me for an enlightening discussion on the Mile Marker podcast.

Video podcast conversation with Trent Gifford

The Journey Toward Independent Car Rental

Trent has a rich background in helping businesses, especially startups and nonprofit associations, to grow and expand using proven sales and coaching strategies. His journey into the world of small independent car rental companies is a story of resilience and innovation, and it was fascinating to dive into this niche market with him.

From the outset, Trent’s enthusiasm for the rental industry was evident. His journey into the car rental space began unexpectedly when he lost his job as the vice president and general manager of an association management software company during the onset of Covid-19. Around the same time, the peer-to-peer car sharing model, exemplified by platforms like Turo, began to gain traction, particularly in Hawaii. Trent’s daughter and son-in-law, living in Hawaii, introduced him to the potential of this new business model.

Opportunity for Growth

Realizing there was no existing association representing small and medium-sized car rental operators, Trent saw an opportunity. His extensive experience with technology and association management led him to establish the ICRA in October 2021. He designed the website and integrated his association management software, providing much-needed automation for these smaller operators.

We Try Even Harder

One of the most interesting aspects of our conversation was the distinction Trent made between the big rental companies like Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz, and the smaller, independent operators that ICRA represents. These smaller players, often referred to as private rental operators or peer-to-peer platform users, typically manage fleets of fewer than 100 vehicles. They face unique challenges and opportunities, especially in adapting to rapid technological and market changes.

Trent highlighted how the rental industry, including the big players, is undergoing significant transformation driven by technology and government policies. For instance, the push towards incorporating electric vehicles (EVs) into rental fleets is gaining momentum. While EVs might not be suitable for every market, they represent a growing trend that operators need to consider.

During the pandemic, the peer-to-peer car rental model flourished as many individuals, including those who lost their jobs, sought to monetize their personal vehicles. However, not all who entered the market succeeded, as many lacked the necessary business acumen. Trent emphasized the importance of having a business mindset to thrive in this competitive industry.

One major challenge highlighted was the resurgence of big rental companies post-Covid, reclaiming their market share with a vengeance. This created a competitive landscape for small operators, particularly in tourist-heavy locations like Hawaii. Trent’s advice to his members was clear: be prepared for market shifts and have a strategy in place to compete effectively.

The Road Ahead

We also touched on the importance of adopting new technologies. Many of ICRA’s members have moved towards contactless solutions, allowing for seamless rental experiences where vehicles can be managed and accessed remotely. This shift not only improves customer experience but also streamlines operations for the rental companies.

Trent shared insights into how smaller rental companies can stay competitive and profitable. He stressed the importance of having robust software systems that manage fleets efficiently, track vehicle performance, and provide detailed financial insights. Additionally, he highlighted the benefits of marketing and upselling services like roadside assistance and insurance to boost profitability.

For those considering transitioning from peer-to-peer to private rental, Trent advised a gradual approach. Start by moving a few vehicles into private rental, understand the market dynamics, and scale up based on the insights gained. This cautious strategy allows for adaptation without risking significant capital.

Final Thoughts

Our conversation with Trent Gifford was enlightening and filled with practical insights for anyone in or considering entering the independent car rental market. His experience and proactive approach to industry challenges make him a valuable leader in this space. The future of car rentals, especially for small and medium-sized operators, looks promising with the right strategies and technological adoption. Thank you, Trent, for sharing your journey and expertise with us.

Watch or listen to my conversation with Trent on the Mile Marker Podcast.

Angela Simoes, Communications Director

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