Local couple opens auto rental business

WOODBRIDGE - For Jon and Ann Marie Lockwood, separate careers in the automotive industry didn't just combine to form a great marriage; it formed a great business as well. The couple has just opened U-Save Auto Rental on Litchfield Turnpike, Route 69, just off Route 15.

The couple met in 1987 at the auto dealership where they worked. They were married in 1990.

Jon Lockwood's automotive experience is deeply rooted in parts and service management. Ann Marie Lockwood has spent most of her career on the financial side of the automotive world where she took care of all office matters.

A few years ago, Jon Lockwood was asked to take over a rental service division at a dealership in Watertown. He took on the challenge and oversaw the rental division's substantial growth. He also kept in touch with his predecessor, who had opened a rental business of his own.

"When the guy who had my job started a U-Save Auto Rental, it intrigued me and I kept in touch with him. His business grew rapidly. When a new owner bought the dealership where I worked, I decided that it was time to try being an entrepreneur."

Opening a car rental business was a perfect match. With his experience, Lockwood, 37, markets the business and takes care of the cars while his wife handles office matters. One of her specialties is filing direct billing to insurance companies, saving customers time and up-front money.

Jon Lockwood did look at becoming part of a large national chain, but wanted the flexibility to deal with the needs of customers individually.

"With U-Save, I have a lot of freedom. I don't have to follow a lot of strict guidelines. With that freedom, I'm able to tailor the business to match the market and my customers. You're not locked in to a national policy."

The Lockwoods chose their building carefully. As with any business, location was a primary factor. Being on a major highway, 15,000 to 20,000 cars drive by everyday. The location also gave the couple the opportunity to add to the community by taking a vacant building and turning it into an active business. The extensive remodeling, though, required the talents of the entire Lockwood family.

"Our nine-year-old daughter Krystal has helped out with giving the place a new look. This building had sat empty for a while and needed a completely new feel. She played a big role in the painting and other things that were done." The Lockwoods also have a three-year-old, Becky, who helped out by planting flowers with her mom.

The couple is excited about being in business together, as a family. "It's just us and I like that," Jon Lockwood says.

"We're part of the U-Save family, but this business is entirely family-owned and operated. We are certainly going to give the quality and respect that people are looking for and deserve."

Lockwood's guiding business principle is following up and making sure customers are happy.

"I learned that from my father. The key to gaining respect is following through and doing what you say you are doing to do. I'm going to make sure people get fair and respectful service."

Lockwood's short-term business goal is to grow his fleet to 50 rental vehicles. He plans to offer mini-vans, sports utility vehicles, economy cars and others to fit individual needs.