As part of our series on what makes a "Customer-First" company, I recently spoke with Carla Archambault, General Manager for the Seattle Region for Zipcar, a Boston-based company that is shaking up the old rental car model with a new approach defined by it's urban self-service model and it's tagline of "Wheels When You Want Them".
How do you create a "Customer-First" business culture selling a product most customers don't know they want? And more importantly, how do you create demand by competing against the dream once held by every 16 year-old American? By now the "Zipcar" name and snappy green logo has become a familiar sight to most of us in many urban areas. They have, in a sense, revolutionized the car rental business by creating an entirely new "Blue Ocean" market that focuses NOT on travelers visiting other cities, but on the occasional driver who needs a car for short-term use in their own neighborhood or beyond.
From a marketing strategist's perspective, this would mean that Zipcar is banking on the trend towards higher-density dwellings and improved public transportation to convince more and more people that they can get by without owning a car. Zipcar places self-serve cars in urban neighborhoods that you can rent for a short time to make up for gaps in your local public transportation options. This means that Zipcar's main competitor is the concept of car ownership itself. Audacious? Perhaps. But when you stop to look at the trends referred to above, absolutely sensible. And by all accounts, a market that is set to grow and grow beyond any timeline a Wall Street analyst would care to think about. As one Zipcar customer commented, "Zipcar is the piece of the puzzle that makes living car-free work".