Peoria Business Continues to Grow
Dollar Rent A Car began as a 15-vehicle loaner fleet for S&K Chevrolet. In April 1997, S&K Chevrolet was sold to Green Chevrolet, and in June 1998, General Manager Bill Pearson acquired the Dollar franchise for Green Chevrolet, a key move for the company.
"When I acquired the franchise for the Green’s, I was able to expand to other cities and obtain access to travel agents worldwide. This enabled us to increase inbound travel at the airport," he said. Pearson also gained territorial rights in areas like Springfield, the Quad Cities, Bloomington and other key cities in the Midwest.
In July 2000, Pearson acquired the business from the Green’s, accomplishing one of his lifetime goals. "I saw a vision for the company that consisted of servicing diverse markets like body shops, insurance companies, corporations, and retail businesses. Early on, I wanted to take steps to grow the business, and did this by building the original location at S&K Chevrolet and then expanding to both the Peoria Airport and downtown Peoria," he said.
In September 2001, he opened his newest location in Bloomington. "My outlook for the next five to 10 years is oriented toward growth and building the business. I forsee several opportunities in the Peoria, Bloomington and surrounding areas. Our staff works towards reaching these goals each and every day," he said.
Dollar isn’t just a traditional rental car company. They offer box trucks, cargo vans, conversion vans (fully loaded), PT cruisers, convertibles, SUVs, mini-vans, luxury cars, and full size cars, along with guaranteed on-time free delivery. "We always try to exceed every customer’s expectations and offer locations from one side of Peoria to the other," he said. Dollar also offers unlimited mileage rates, TV and VCR rentals (TV and VCR units for mini vans), and corporate rates.
In the early stages, Pearson was the only worker at Dollar. Today, there are 20 full- and part-time employees, as well as seasonal help. "Each Spring and Summer we increase our workload based upon last year’s numbers in hopes of retaining all employees and creating more job opportunities," he said. We offer a very small and personable work environment. Our staff works very well together by effectively communicating their goals and objectives each day. There is joy in the work place—we try to have fun at work."
As with any business, competition is fierce, and Pearson said he feels retention is one of the most important things that sets his organization apart from others in the industry. "I believe in providing the very best customer service. We offer every customer our free pick-up and delivery program at each location," he said.
Most rental car companies don’t deliver or offer insurance replacement vehicles.
"As we continue to strive to minimize turnover, it’s our goal to build strong customer relationships by giving them personalized attention. We want people to feel like we’ve met or exceeded their expectations for a rental vehicle. We offer top-of-the-line vehicles at reasonable rental rates. At Dollar, our cars are far from standard. We offer leather interior, keyless entry, heated seats, CD player, sunroof and so much more. We deliver what we promise," he said.
The travel industry has taken its share of hits following September 11, and the rental car business is not immune. "September 11th cut off revenue streams at our airport location. This mostly affected our airport business because people were not confident about flying," Pearson said. "Also, the airports were closed and Dollar was forced to run tighter fleets. Since this tragic event, consumers have had to reevaluate cost structures, and Dollar has had to reduce their fleet costs. We also witnessed a drop in the value of used cars, which affected our industry as well."
Recently, Dollar added a manager to handle the marketing aspects of the business. Her goal is to distribute marketing products, and also meet one-on-one with body shops and insurance agencies.
So what does he have planned for the future? "Our goal is to grow the business. If we continue our efforts towards customer service, the results are endless. By working towards a bigger and better business we can achieve success. Therefore, we truly work hard each and every day to make this happen," he said. "The most challenging aspect of this is being able to retain customers. It is also difficult to manage such a vast variety of stores; it’s a balancing act. There are so many different aspects of the business, like trying to handle each location and the many different scenarios we encounter daily. These are just a few of the things we have to balance to keep things running smoothly. The most rewarding aspect is that our customers are our friends. When a customer walks through the door, we know them by name because we’ve taken the time to build a relationship."
Additionally, Dollar is one of Peoria’s largest minority-owned businesses—and "a very customer service-oriented business and an organization that offers competitive pricing and valued service," Pearson said.
Dollar was named ECHO small business of the year in 2001, and Pearson has participated in Central Illinois Supplier Diversity workshops, and serves on boards for the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, the Heart of Illinois United Way, and the Peoria Area Black Expo Advisory Board. He has also participated in various Dollar Rent A Car advisory commitees and boards. Committed to the community, Dollar also supports the Salvation Army Kettle Drive; the St. Jude Run, Tri-County St. Jude Run, and Peoria St. Jude Run; Steamboat Days; various local schools; Pekin Special Olympics; Cub Scouts, Children’s Home, and the Peoria Fire Department. IBI