Car hire boss is motoring along nicely with eye on global market
INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: GREG TURLEY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, ARGUS CAR HIRE
Ten years after its internet debut, ArgusCarHire chief Greg Turley hopes that the firm's high profile on the web will make it a major global player in the industry
A BASIC web page created 10 years ago advertising car hire in Ireland at a time when the internet was in its infancy opened up a whole new world for traditional Dublin car hire company Argus.
Company managing director Greg Turley was initially sceptical of the internet, but this first web page resulted in the company being inundated with queries. The response gave him some insight into the business opportunities ahead.
The queries were mainly from Americans looking for car hire throughout Europe and Argus Car Hire seemed to be the only English language site for this service.
"There may have been others, but I couldn't see one out there," recalls Mr Turley.
This unexpected result led to a change of direction for Argus as the company seized on the opportunity to begin a brokerage.
Now, alongside its traditional car hire business, the company gives people access to good value car hire deals all over the world, and Mr Turley believes Argus is on the brink of becoming a hugely successful company.
After developing new technology over the past two years, the company is already profitable. Mr Turley is reluctant to give figures due to the highly competitive nature of the business, but does say: "We break even after 86 bookings. Everything after 86 bookings is profit and we generally have that done by 10 o'clock. It gets earlier everyday."
"The secret of the company is the low cost management base we have," he adds.
"For January of this year, we did the same amount of rentals than we did in the whole of 2002. It's growing at a huge rate," he says.
Business for the month of January was divided between people booking ahead for the summer holiday season, and customers booking just a few days in advance. Typically, short lead in times are for shorter breaks, while those planning ahead for longer trips book further in advance.
The success of the first Argus website, which was extremely basic, couldn't have come at a better time.
Mr Turley's father had started up the company in 1959 and Greg Turley took control of the business around 1987 and grew it considerably, but the pressure was to own more and more cars to make it viable.
"It came to a turning point around 1990," said Mr Turley. "We'd grown in Ireland as much as we basically could and from 1990 to 1996 we were looking at how to get Argus's name worldwide. Without a franchise, there was no way. It would give you access to the global distribution system that tour operators have," says Mr Turley.
Mr Turley had extensive negotiations with a franchise group, but felt too much was being demanded from Argus. "The stumbling block I came across was that they wanted a percentage of your turnover, not your profit. I built this company up over years and I wasn't just going to hand it over," he says.
At this crossroads, Mr Turley decided to invest some money in a website and moved into brokering as a result.
"The car hire I was brokering was actually more profitable than the car hire I was doing myself, which says a lot about the industry," he says.
While the brokerage business was building up well, everything changed in 2001 as the tourism industry was rocked by a a series of events, including foot-and-mouth disease and later the terrorist attacks of September 11. A re-evaluation of Argus resulted in an investment in an IT "management tool", which has led to the system currently used by the company.
In the past, car hire was influenced by the quality of cars on offer, but that variable is now almost ruled out as most cars are now less that six months old. Queueing at airports for the car is also another problem for travellers, but this isn't an issue at the booking stage.
"The third issue was price, and that's the main issue because people hate paying for car hire, so price is a major driving force," says Mr Turley.
He also found that other sites were cumbersome and Argus wanted older people who had little experience of computers to be able to easily find what they wanted.
With these factors in mind, Argus focussed on price and simplicity for the new site, and the investment in the online business is paying off. The site will find the cheapest car hire across several companies in almost any country and, within a few clicks, the deal is done. "We have month-on-month doubling of turnover and bookings," says Mr Turley.
However, he has bigger plans and is pushing to get more and more traffic onto the site. The company employs 50 people, with most working in search engine optimising and forming affiliations with other companies and sites.
Creating a brand from scratch would be too expensive for the company and the internet itself is a key tool for growth. Mr Turley's wants searches for car hire to bring up the name Arugus every time.
The company has just signed a deal with Kerry-based hotels company CNG and anyone who books a hotel through them will be offered car hire through Argus. It is through these type of agreements that Mr Turley hopes Argus will become a worldwide name in car hire.