Javan Matthews has always been a BMW guy.
“I would always go with my mom to purchase the family cars, and I would always try and get her to purchase the BMW,” he said. “But that wasn’t a rational purchase for her – she was a Buick person.”
Today Matthews owns two BMWs: the white 3 Series he drives to work and the black 5 Series he rents out at $195 a day. The latter is the most popular ride at his year-old luxury rental car business Exquisite Rentals.
Based in Scott’s Addition, the company launched last year with the Beamer, a white Jaguar and a Mercedes in its fleet. Matthews added a 2014 Infiniti QX80 SUV this spring – complete with the back-seat DVD system – that he hopes to rent out to families for summer weekend trips.
Matthews is a lifetime Richmond resident and a graduate of George Wythe High School and Virginia Commonwealth University. He was at Altria for 13 years working in finance, human resources and compliance before leaving and launching Exquisite Rentals in May 2013.
The wheels started turning in his head for the idea about 11 years ago, and Matthews began running numbers and working out a luxury car rental business plan in about 2010. It’s a concept he said was common in other markets but hadn’t yet been brought to Richmond.
The BMW was the only car that Matthews rented in his first month of business last year. It’s still the most popular rental, but now it goes out five or six times a month, he said. The Jaguar, however, brings in the most total revenue.
Matthews declined to say how much he invested to start the business. He owns the BMW outright and is making payments on the other three cars. A 2013 5 Series BMW has an MSRP just shy of $50,000. The 2014 Infiniti lists at more than $60,000.
Matthews said rent at his Moore Street garage and office, insurance and car payments are his biggest recurring expenses. He thinks he’ll be able to rent each car out for about two years before he’ll have to sell them, pay off the remainder of his loan and add a new ride to the fleet.
Getting a high resale value for the cars will be a key to the business, Matthews said. His standard rental package charges 50 cents extra for every additional mile over the 100 miles to keep the odometer low.
Obsessively maintaining the cars is important to impress future owners as well as current renters.
“The name of the company is ‘exquisite,’ so no dust can be here,” Matthews said, as he spotted a near-microscopic white speck of something wedged in the crease of the BMW’s black leather driver’s seat. “It’s almost insane, but you have to be because the clients expect a certain brand.”
Matthews has advertised on the radio, at Richmond Raiders indoor football games and his own social media pages. He’s also brought in some business simply because his company shows up first on a “Richmond luxury car rental” Google search.
There are plenty of places to rent a car in Richmond, including several nationwide chains. But Matthews doesn’t consider the big-name car rental shops his competition, saying Exquisite Rentals is in a separate lane.
“I see this as a substitute,” he said. “I think a lot of people probably go to Hertz or Enterprise and ask for the best car on the lot, and it doesn’t meet their expectations.”
So far Matthews has done most of his business on one-off rentals for special events like weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. He wants to grow the company by working deals with hotels and pushing into corporate rentals for business trips and entertaining clients.
Matthews said his garage will begin to fill up if he can lock up business with corporate clients. He would like to add a convertible and said he thinks a Porsche would fit nicely in the fleet.
By simulating what would be about a $500,000 game of Tetris, Matthews has figured out that he can fit nine cars in his current garage. He’s betting he can get up to 12 before expanding, reasoning the business has bigger problems if the entire fleet is in the garage instead of out the road.
He has also added a package he calls the Ex Plan to appeal to larger groups that may need frequent rentals. Ex Plan clients pay a flat $1,000 fee for 1,000 miles worth of car rentals over a year’s time. The per-mile rate comes out to about half of the typical Exquisite Rentals fee and would offer a less-expensive option for longer trips.
Matthews said he’s done the math, and flying to Charlotte, N.C. will only save about ten minutes over driving after factoring in an hour for check-in, boarding, flight time, disembarking and baggage claim. And Matthews said driving a rental at his rates would be about $150 less expensive.
“There’s a lot of beauty on the road that you miss when you fly over it,” Matthews said.