Thrifty Car Rental is currently one of the fastest growing independent car rental companies in South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius, with a network of 22 branches. But its story – and that of SAFY Group, its parent company – is one that began against the impoverished backdrop of a zinc house with a broken car and the pure ingenuity of the Moolla brothers.

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Imraan Moolla tells the success story behind the empire his father built. “They purchased a vehicle that needed repairs, fixed it, and sold it for profit. This was followed by a second vehicle. Slowly, they started buying and selling cars and after about a year or two, they were able to save enough money to start a small dealership.”

Part of this legacy is now in Imraan’s hands as he heads Thrifty, the car rental business of SAFY Group, as Managing Director. “I have seen the sacrifices my father made and the determination it took to get Thrifty and the Group to where they are today.

He dedicated his whole life to this business and I can never allow his legacy to fail,” he says passionately. A young leader and a qualified engineer by education, Imraan is keen to take the company into the future through technological optimisation.

“When I first joined, I designed a rate optimisation algorithm that analyses the market every day and automatically changes the rates of our rental cars in order to maximise the yield for every vehicle,” he says. “It keeps our utilisation high, makes sure we are sold out throughout the year, and has been key to our growth in the past 12 months.”

In addition, the firm has also embraced the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to help its teams better understand customers. “AI has allowed us to create a profile for each customer, picking up on patterns in their preferences,” Imraan says.

“This information is stored in our system, which allows us to give them an easier booking and checking out process. We are working on a complete overhaul in the way we are operating, moving away from paper to a completely digitised system. It is not only easier for our customers but also for our staff.”

Imraan acknowledges that the team plays a pivotal role in the success of the business, to such an extent that the company extended its tagline from ‘Great Cars. Great Rates.’ to include ‘Great Cars. Great Rates. Great People’.

There is a trend of people moving away from the ownership of vehicles to leasing, car sharing or carpooling.

“It is employees who become brand ambassadors for the company as they embrace the technology. They welcome customers with a smile or have a friendly conversation with them – making the rental experience more enjoyable for clients,” he adds.

Ensuring that the company sees healthy growth comes not just from maximising margins, but also from cutting costs. The biggest challenges of South Africa’s car rental industry are crime and road safety issues.

“About 5% of our rentals are involved in an accident,” Imraan reveals. Compared to the average accident occurrence rate in Europe, of around one to 2%, this is quite high. One way Imraan has attempted to combat the problem is by fitting Thrifty’s entire fleet with telematic devices.

“The primary objective of these units is to protect our vehicles against crime, theft and hijacking. But it also allows us to monitor driver behaviour so that we can get to know our customers better,” he explains.

This, coupled with an online navigation system that reminds drivers to take breaks, notify them when they are over the speed limit and suggest safer roads to take, will get customers to their destinations in a faster, yet safer way.

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Moving forward, Imraan has ambitious plans for Thrifty’s future. “The industry is going through a lot of changes. I believe that in 2020, 40% of our customers will be from gen Z. These younger customers have very different expectations from our existing customer base,” he says.

They have brought with them interest in a segment of the market that is still rather new to Thrifty. “There is a trend of people moving away from the ownership of vehicles to leasing, car sharing or carpooling,” Imraan reveals.

“They don’t want to deal with the maintenance that comes with ownership. Instead, they want long-term rental solutions that are hassle free.” To capture these customers, Imraan is looking to move Thrifty into the mobility sector.

The company has developed a 24-month long-term rental solution that allows customers to break the agreement before the rental duration is up. For short-term rentals, gen Z customers are also changing how the game is played.

“60% of them want to book online – specifically via their mobile devices – constant alerts throughout their journey and a connected experience,” Imraan says.

The future may hold challenges, but as a techsavvy young leader, Imraan will ensure that Thrifty steps up, rides the new wave and thrives.

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