By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – For the past few months, Mondays and Friday have been hectic days for the Hertz and Budget rental car offices at the Tupelo Regional Airport.
And business the other days of the week haven’t been bad, either.
The big push has come courtesy of Toyota.
As the Japanese automaker moves toward the planned fall opening of its manufacturing plant in nearby Blue Springs, employees are flying in and out of Tupelo. To get around, they need rental cars, which the company pays for.
Also, Toyota sends newly hired employees for training at other facilities, including Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky in Georgetown, which is the “mother plant” for Toyota Mississippi. Rather than driving their own cars, most if not all of those employees choose to rent a vehicle.
“Toyota is the biggest reason why we’ve been doing so well,” said Cory Bolden, the manager of the Budget office here. “It’s been a mixture of people, including those coming in from other areas who are getting jobs in Tupelo and then they go train in Georgetown.”
Typically, Toyota flies in Monday with groups of employees who immediately head to the rental car counters at the terminal, or go to other off-site companies – Enterprise Rent-A-Car on Daybrite Drive and U-Save Car & Truck Rental on Cliff Gookin Boulevard.
On Fridays, the rental cars are dropped off. Then on Monday, the cycle begins again.
“Last Monday, we were hopping,” said Bolden. “We rented out 41 cars. Before Toyota came, we usually kept around 35 cars. As of now, we have 105.”
On Tuesday, only three cars were available.
No wonder that through the first three months of the year, Budget’s business is up more than 90 percent compared to the same period a year ago. For Hertz, it’s a similar story, with business up more than 180 percent.
Not only is the brisk business good for their bottom lines, but it’s also good for Tupelo Regional Airport. Both franchises have office space at the terminal, and the airport gets a percentage of their revenue.
“They’re doing well, and that’s good,” said Josh Abramson, executive director at the airport. “The rental car companies are a good source of income for the airport.”
Bill Stroup, the owner of the Hertz franchise in Tupelo as well as Columbus, says Toyota has been a boon, but cautions that it’s only a temporary one.
“Toyota is flying in people every Monday as far as the eye can see and they have a need for rental cars,” he said. “But I think things will settle down after a few months.”
Nevertheless, Stroup said he’s grown his available fleet by 100 percent to accommodate Toyota.
In addition, He and Bolden say that all of the Toyota employees have specific rental requests.
“They all want Toyotas,” Stroup said.
Bolden at Budget is factoring in the preferences.
“We’ve added 15 Corollas, five Camrys and five RAV-4s,” Bolden said.
At U-Save, manager Chris Lindley said business has picked up as well, but it’s not tied directly to Toyota.
“For us, we haven’t had many Toyota rentals – we don’t get any of those contracts and deals that Budget and Hertz get,” he said. “But we are getting some carryover. When the others run out of cars, we benefit when people come see us.”
Stroup said even without the Toyota bump, business has improved overall and he hopes the trend continues.
“I’m guardedly optimistic,” he said. “It can fluctuate greatly. If it slows down in Columbus and business picks up here, I can pull cars from there. If it slows down here and gets busy there, I can pull from here. And we’re also pulling fleet from other locations.”
And like Budget, Hertz has only a handful of vehicles available for rent during the week.
Business travelers make up the vast bulk of renters, with other business going to leisure travelers and insurance business.
But for now, Toyota is making the biggest impact on business, and nobody’s complaining.
“If you rent a car for four days, business is good,” Bolden said. “If you rent a car for more than that, it’s great. And for us, it’s been great. Last week, sales were up 363 percent. That’s a good problem to have.”
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.