By Matt Wolfe
Warren Avis always had a strong for desire adventure and independence. A quintessential entrepreneur, Avis relentlessly opened and grew businesses throughout his career, but his most profitable venture was his entry into the rental car business. Avis formulated his unique concept for a rental car business while he was in the military. A combat pilot for the Air Force during WWII, Avis was constantly frustrated by the lack of good ground transportation everywhere he went. Avis wrote of his frustration in his autobiography; “After we landed, we’d often have to take a taxi to a town that might be fifty miles away. Sometimes we even carried motorcycles in the bomb bays of our planes so that we’d be able to get around after we landed!”
Another Avis acumen was his use of new cars rather than the rent-a-wrecks that traditionally made up loaner fleets. Prior to establishing Avis Rent-A-Car, Avis had built a highly successful Ford dealership through which he decided to annually buy new cars for his rental business. Avis’ decision was beneficial for himself, the manufacturer, and the renters. The renters would be essentially “test riding” a new Ford (a proposition Ford representatives were receptive to), and would be less likely to have breakdowns than if they were renting an old beater. Further, Avis had calculated that if he bought new cars at wholesale prices, used them for six months, then sold them through his dealer on the used market, he would actually make a profit because of the high demand for cars and the Federal government’s control over new car prices.
Warren Avis sold his rental car company in 1954 for $8 million after growing it to become the second-largest rental company. Avis would always consider his car rental business to be one of his “supreme mountaintop achievements”. “That was a time of high adventure that carried me to an entrepreneurial peak. At the same time, more important principles emerged from the experience that have stuck with me ever since.