It's a universal problem: You need more customers to make more money, but you can't afford to invest a lot in promoting your business. RentalHawk aims to solve this problem by becoming the first online rental locator that allows users to search by equipment type and make reservations directly from the website.
Robert Gray, who conceptualized and founded RentalHawk in 2009 with partner Mark Richter, recalls his frustration as a territory sales manager for United Rentals when he watched equipment become commoditized as the economy took a nose dive. Relationships with customers ceased to matter as much as they used to and contractors began choosing rental suppliers based solely on price, he recalls. Gray began to believe what was best for these contractors was to be able to go online to one site and get a look at all the suppliers in a given location, what they offer and what they're charging for the service they offer; much like consumers visit Expedia.com or Orbitz.com when searching for air fares and hotels. After doing an internet search for equipment rental, Gray discovered there was no such site available for the rental industry. This is where the idea for RentalHawk took off.
Not a discount site
After building the website -- which caters mostly to small contractors and do-it-yourselfers with everything from aerial work platforms to generators, trucks and even storage containers -- one of the biggest objections voiced by rental companies was that by listing their rates online, they would be constantly undercut by the competition. With 75 rental companies currently signed up - and a national chain slated to come onboard this summer -- Gray says this has yet to be a problem. When signing new rental companies, one of the first things discussed with them is why posting lowball rates is bad for all stakeholders. "It just leaves money on the table," says Gray. "And most people can see that."
Also, RentalHawk encourages customer reviews (much like Amazon.com). So while one rental company might post the lowest rates, if their reviews are poor, visitors won't be as likely to choose them. "Google studies show that 89 percent of a customer's buying decision online is influenced by what other buyers are saying about the supplier," Gray says. "Customer reviews are invaluable."
They're looking for you
It's clear that consumers are becoming more and more internet savvy. People are more likely than ever to search online for the things they need. One reason is the internet is more current than traditional business listings. "If you look in the Yellow Pages, one in eight locations may be out of business," Gray notes. "So the Yellow Pages is not up to date, while the internet is relevant right now."
More than ever, consumers are embracing rental as a means of getting things done with minimal investment and zero ownership responsibilities. To support this, Gray points out that in June 2009, "equipment rental" was searched on Google 450,000 times. In September, just three months later, that number had jumped 49.5 percent to 673,000 Google searches. "People are looking for ways to find equipment," Gray says.
Getting it done
One of the unique aspects of RentalHawk is that visitors can search by equipment type or by the task they need to complete, which is key for novice equipment users who might not know the name of the tool they need. For example, RentalHawk visitors can search categories such as Lift/Reach, Dirt, Drilling and Lighting. Within those categories are specific subheadings with images of the types of equipment available to accomplish the task. Visitors can choose the piece of equipment they're interested in and then RentalHawk will find it within the location specified. The resulting list of rental companies includes daily, weekly and monthly rates as well as any customer reviews. When a visitor makes a choice, he or she can call or email the rental company, or reserve the equipment directly online.