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posted on May 18th, 2020

When fire threatened financial ruin, car sharing saved the day

Aubrey J. has always had a flair for business — she started investing in the stock market at the tender age of 16, and after investing in American Airlines and turning a $100,000 profit, she bought a sandwich shop franchise — an Erbert & Gerbert — by age 22. Energized by her success, two years later, she opened up her own sandwich shop, Nemo’s, named after her beloved childhood dog. 

But when a fire broke out at Nemo’s in 2018 and her insurance company lagged (and continues to lag!) on her insurance claim, she was forced to reassess her finances or face financial ruin.  “I’ve been on Turo since 2017 — before the fire,” she shares, but it wasn’t until after the fire that she really leaned into car sharing. Now 26, she’s a seasoned All-Star Host with nearly 1,000 trips under her belt, 12 cars on the platform, and a YouTube channel dedicated to discussing personal finance, business, and entrepreneurship.

A phoenix rising from the ashes

“I had used my house as collateral for a $300,000 loan from the SBA” to fund the sandwich venture, she says, and with her insurance company delaying and disclaiming responsibility for the fire claim, she needed income, fast. But instead of spiraling, she looked at the opportunities on the table and pivoted. “I had been using Turo for a while — when I listed my Jeep Wrangler back in 2017, almost immediately I was like, this is something that’s going to work well for me… As far as careers go, Turo has been the one constant — I’ve never worked a 9–5,” she says. 

So when disaster struck and she saw that hefty monthly payment for her SBA loan looming, Turo seemed like a viable road to economic recovery. “Turo allowed me to hold up my life and get back on my feet,” she recalls. “It really was because of Turo that I was able to survive [the fire] because otherwise I would have lost my house.”

Figuring out her business strategy

Living in Plano, TX, near Dallas, she started analyzing trends in her market. The Wrangler performed well, but when she bought a Mercedes to share on the platform, she realized that high-end cars weren’t for her. “At least 75% of my customers are local — Dallas doesn’t have a public transportation system so you really need a car to get around,” she says. “Reliable, affordable cars” are what her clientele needs, “Toyotas, Fords, cars with great gas mileage to get you from point A to point B on a budget,” she observed. So she ditched the Mercedes, and pursued the more budget-friendly options, leveraging her network of mechanics and vendors to get well priced, well maintained cars.

The Jeep that launched it all

Now, because of her focus on procuring affordable, well priced cars from her network, she’s paid off all her cars and is in a good position to weather the COVID-19 storm.

When coronavirus strikes

When COVID-19 started to really affect travel and everyday life in March and April, Aubrey definitely noticed the slow down. “There are still people booking, but it’s significantly slowed down. About three weeks into all of it, the cancellations started, and international travel ground to a halt.” She notes that she’s still been sharing every day, “just less often.” 

Unlike other hosts who have been adjusting their car sharing practices to account for COVID-19 trends, Aubrey already had her listings optimized for the current climate — by catering to local guests on a budget, she hasn’t had much adjusting to do. She also is a firm believer in contactless check-in, and has always been a stickler for cleaning, using an Ozone machine and disinfectant spray between trips to clean the interior, so the societal focus on physical distancing and rigorous cleaning practices were already folded into her routine. “From a liability standpoint, I don’t want any trace of COVID-19 coming back to me, so I’m extra cautious” when it comes to cleaning, she says.

When asked what recommendations she would share with other hosts weathering this strange storm, she conceded that she was in a fortunate position because her cars were paid off. So as a general piece of advice, along with fellow host Alex P., she recommends not overextending yourself financially — “it’s important to buy your cars responsibly,” she calls out. 

She also recommends keeping up with the terms of service, so you never get caught off guard and are well versed in the nuts and bolts of what is and isn’t allowed.

An economic opportunity

As we start to rebound from this broad public health and economic challenge, Aubrey is a shining example of the economic opportunities in sharing economy work. “It is because of Turo that I did not lose my home, it is because of Turo that I have been able to make a good living for myself, and quite honestly if it wasn’t for Turo I don’t know if I would be here today,” she reflects. Aubrey’s tenacity, innovation, and calm in the face of adversity is an inspiration to us all, and we’re honored to have played a part in her story.

See if car sharing is right for you.

Megan is the copywriter and content tsarina at Turo. She lives to wander near and far, never met a beach (or dog) she didn’t like, and loves to talk postmodern lit and theory to anyone who’ll listen.