Dave Trott
Aug 30, 2012

Dave Trott's Blog: One way idea is a game changer

The story of the game changing one-way trailer rental business

Image credits: U Haul Facebook page
Image credits: U Haul Facebook page

In 1945, Sam Shoen was discharged from the US Navy.

He and his wife wanted to move from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon.
This is about a thousand miles away.
Naturally they had a lot of stuff they wanted to take with them.
But hiring a firm of professional movers was something the young married couple couldn’t afford.
So they checked out the cost of hiring a trailer.
They found you could hire trailers in LA at a daily rate.
The downside was of course when you’d finished you had to return it.
This was fine for people who lived in LA.
You rent it, you use it, you take it back.
But it wouldn’t work for Sam and his wife.
They would have to drive 1,000 miles to Oregon.
Then bring the trailer 1,000 miles back to LA.
Then drive 1,000 miles back to Oregon again.
That didn’t make any sense.
So they had to leave most of their possessions behind in LA, and just take what they could squeeze into their car.
On the drive to Oregon, Sam kept grumbling about it.
Millions of young men all over America were being discharged from the military.
They’d be moving around the country to different jobs.
They’d all be in the same situation as Sam and his wife.
They’d all need to rent a trailer, but just to go one-way.
And there was no company where they could rent one to do that.
As they drove they talked more.
Sam thought it would be game-changing idea to start a one-way trailer rental company.
His wife said, how could the company get it back if they dropped it off hundreds of miles away?
Sam said, with all those people moving around the country someone was sure to be coming back the other way and needing a trailer.
If you had enough trailers you could just leave them all over the country.
Sam’s wife said, but where could you leave them?
Sam thought for a minute.
Then he said, how about petrol stations?
To rent a trailer you need a car, and cars need petrol so that’s a perfect fit.
We could split the fees with the owners, and most petrol stations are out of town so space won’t be problem.
And if the trailers had a good name painted on the side they would sit around like posters advertising themselves.
And people would see the name wherever the trailer went and know they could rent them.
And so they started to see if they could think of a name.
And by the end of the journey they had a great name.
U Haul.
A name that says exactly what the product does, in a catchy way.
A name that’s also a call-to-action.
A name that’s a mnemonic so it can’t be copied.
By the end of 1945, U Haul had 30 trailers in locations across the northwest USA.
But by 1955, U Haul had 10,000 trailers all across America.
And by 1959, U Haul had 42,000 trailers.
Everyone thinks car-rental companies invented one-way rental, but they didn’t.
In fact it wasn’t until 1954, nearly ten years later, that National Car Rental became the first to copy it.
Soon Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar, and Alamo all followed suit.
Now it’s accepted practice.
Pick a car up in one city, leave it in another.
Sam started his company with $5,000 dollars in 1945.
Now U Haul is a multi-billion dollar business with 16,000 dealerships across the USA and Canada.
So was one-way trailer rental a game-changing idea?
Let’s look at the numbers.
In North America today, 50 million people move every year.
The average person moves 11 times in their lifetime.
75% of all those moves are done using trailers.
Every day, U Haul vehicles cover enough mileage to go around the world 194 times.
Or, to the moon and back twenty times.
Every day.
I think we can call that a game-changing idea.
This article first appeared on www.campaignlive.co.uk
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