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Fresh from Florida State University, Steve Smith went shopping for a career in 1974. When he found there wasn't much demand for his arts and design major, he took an job washing cars and picking up customers for Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

He was thrilled. His father was not. "He went in and visited with my boss, telling him he didn't send his son to college so he could wash cars and drive people around."

Some 26 years later, Mr. Smith is Enterprise's advertising director, getting plenty of use out of that degree. He's successfully implementing a plan to expand the Enterprise name beyond its business-to-business advertising roots into a consumer brand.

Enterprise's traditional strategy had been to aim its marketing budget at insurance agents and auto repair shops rather than consumers. But starting in 1989, Mr. Smith sensed that Enterprise, with 2,000 locations and the largest rental car fleet in the industry, was missing an untapped opportunity.

"People's lives have changed," he says. "When I was growing up, if my dad's car was in the shop, he'd just borrow a neighbor's..... Today, we don't know our neighbors and we certainly don't borrow their cars..... That creates a need for a company to replace the family vehicle."

The company pushes its special-delivery message with a $22 million TV and print campaign from Avrett, Free & Ginsberg, New York, that shows its ad symbol, the "wrapped car," and features the tag: "Pick us. We'll pick you up." That figure is up from $2.6 million in 1989, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

As a result, Enterprise has leaped from third place in rental car sales to second, according to . The publication says Enterprise sales grew 20%, to $1.8 billion, last year from '93, enabling it to overtake No. 2 Avis, whose 1994 sales were $1.7 billion.

Now "Our goal is to become as widely known as Avis or Hertz," says Mr. Smith, 42, but with a twist.

"When you get off a plane, there are many rental car choices and we like to think we are one of them. But when you rent a car in your hometown, we'd like to think we are your only choice."

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