Equipment and event rental companies often are slow to embrace or upgrade technology. That attitude, however, has changed dramatically in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Steve Mau, president, Brainerd General Rental, Baxter, Minn., for example, admits technology is not in his company’s “wheelhouse,” but that the pandemic encouraged them to move quickly to keep their business open last year while being safe for customers and employees.
“We built a new facility and had moved, switching from a server-based system to cloud-based software. We needed to move to a contact-free or touchless environment, and it turned out the things we needed to migrate already were embedded in our system, like the ability to do electronic signatures,” Mau says.
“What we learned from embracing technology in a forced reality is that we could do things much more quickly. Traditionally, a customer would park in the lot, walk into the store, confirm the order, we would write up the contract, print it, have them sign it, make sure they had the correct payment and then they would get back in their vehicle, pull around to pick up the equipment and get instructions. The entire process would take 20 to 25 minutes,” he says.
“Now, all the paperwork is done online prior to their arrival. They make a reservation, get a confirmation email they sign off on, agree to damage waiver and set up payment. The customer arrives and they pull into an area to pick up the equipment. We communicate by two-way radio, the customer gets the equipment and instructions, and the process is now five minutes,” he says.
“Returns used to take 10 to 15 minutes. Now it can be done in 90 seconds. Customers love it and it has improved our cycle time and our utilization. It’s a win-win for our customers and for our business,” Mau says.
The lessons learned related to technology deployments over the last year will likely have a lasting impact on future implementations by equipment and event rental companies.
“Traditionally, the rental industry has been predominantly relationship-based, with many deals conducted in-person, supported by common communication tools, such as email, websites, apps, etc. The pandemic has reduced face-to-face interactions, and we have seen a shift to using more online tools,” says Don Ahern, chairman and CEO, Ahern Rentals, Las Vegas.
“At Ahern Rentals, we are making continuous improvements to our suite of apps to deliver enhanced functionality during this time of social distancing. As we get beyond the pandemic, we do expect the use of online functionality to remain central to our business, although there is likely to be a rebalancing between the use of online tools and a return to in-person meetings and interactions,” Ahern says.
“Ultimately, humans are social beings, and while online and virtual tools bring many benefits for our industry, there is still, and will always be a place for getting together in person,” he says.
United Rentals, Stamford, Conn., the world’s largest equipment rental company, has been at the forefront of the industry in adopting new technologies, which was a help when it came time to deal with the pandemic.
“Our customers still had work to do so the United Rentals team had to be agile in finding the most efficient way to continue doing business safely. United Rentals offers online ordering, equipment delivery, curbside pickup and mobile technology to help customers manage fleets and continue doing business safely and efficiently,” says Norty Turner, senior vice president – services and advanced solutions.
“Telematics-enabled fleet gives our customers visibility into their utilization, which provided some additional assurance and insights into where equipment was being used and how often. The location services aspect has helped customers in terms of social distancing and contact tracing,” Turner says.
Wayne Harris, CEO, Point of Rental, Fort Worth, Texas, says the pandemic did help people quickly understand the benefits of paperless operations and the use of electronic signatures, setting the stage for continued developments.
A piece of paper, he says, means you only have a single user point and that someone in the organization needs to know exactly where that paper is.
“If things are stored electronically, it allows multiple people to access the information anywhere in the world. In dispatch, with the information online, a driver can look at a phone and have the delivery information. If a customer calls, the counter person can look up the contract and let the customer know when to expect the equipment or could know where the driver is at that moment. Even the customer could log into a customer dashboard and all that information is updated and available. That’s what is so great about going paperless,” Harris says.
When the pandemic hit, Harris says most rental software provider products had services available to help with touchless transactions only not everyone knew what they had or how to use it. Many, however, quickly learned and have benefitted.
“The adoption of technology has been amazing. Customers have become used to it and enjoy it,” he says.
“Technology has been huge in our company,” says Wes Clark, president, Rocky Hill Equipment Rentals, Selma, Texas. “We started early with GPS tracking units and several years ago, we saw a need to be more organized and streamlined, so we gave our employees iPads and we developed some forms that are specific to our company and our needs.”
While employees were hesitant to embrace the new tools, Clark says now many do not want to do their jobs without technology.
“Once they saw how it could make their job and their lives easier, they jumped onboard and our investment has paid off,” Clark says.
While the process of renting equipment is not always 100 percent without any contact, Clark says the company was able to handle implementing processes in a way to make sure customers and employees are safe and healthy.
In addition, Rocky Hill Equipment Rentals has been making videos for customers to link to via their website to learn how to best operate the rented piece of equipment.
While there is a cost to implementing technology — the fees for Wi-Fi service, phones, iPads, computer hardware and software systems — Clark says the benefits far outweigh the investment.
“There are so many little things that we now catch and are easily missed. We are much more efficient and can get to machines faster. We are not wasting time, which means our utilization and profit increase,” Clark says.
Kara Longmire, owner, co-president and CEO, Alert Rental, Colorado Springs, Colo., says some people might think that going paperless is daunting, but that it can be an easy process.
“The technologies to create a contactless experience for customers have been around a long time and people are taking a fresh look to see what is tried and true and using it,” Longmire says.
“Rental stores have learned that automation can help improve efficiency and that means more money in the bank. You have to leverage your website to make it easier to do business with you. You can have a customer portal that allows self-service,” Longmire says.
“With ecommerce, the customer can build an order from start to finish without using any of your resources. Your website can be another salesperson for you. Think about how you like to conduct business. You can start with small changes to get the ball rolling and then do more. Just ask your rental software provider as what you might want to do can probably be done,” she says.