When about a week passes and a customer still hasn't returned the weed cutter he said he would only need for four hours, you can assume something is wrong. Maybe you assume your equipment has been stolen. But that's not the worst assumption you can make.
Dan Gray, a 20-year veteran of the rental industry, was working as a rental store manager when a customer injured himself on a weed cutter - after attaching a saw blade to cut down saplings. The injury occurred when the customer turned the weed cutter off, set it down and stepped in front of the free-spinning blade, which sliced him from his little toe to his ankle. More than 165 stitches later, he learned a lesson in safety: putting a saw blade on a weed cutter isn't a good idea.
Whether they know it or not, customers sometimes rent the wrong equipment. When that happens, danger can follow. To prevent customers from making mistakes that can cause very serious injuries, you need to ask them why they are looking to rent equipment. Only then can you help them determine the best equipment for the job, says Gray, who today is the rental manager for Billy Goat Industries Inc., a U.S. distributor of lawn and garden equipment for renovation, mowing and debris management projects.
While safety is everyone's business, rental shops bear a large responsibility for making sure their lawn and grounds equipment is operated safely - and with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
"Safety is far more important than making a dollar at rental," says Gray, who started his career in the shop and worked as a general manager for various independents and nationals. "No one needs the extra expense of injuries, insurance, lost work time, or pain and suffering."
Lawn and grounds equipment can be heavy, have sharp blades and/or contain a fuel engine. All these things have the potential to cause serious bodily harm, reminds Rose Mary Becker, rental sales manager for Schiller-Pfeiffer Inc., manufacturer of Classen, Little Wonder & Mantis brand equipment including core aerators, sod cutters, lawn dethatchers, turf seeders, blowers, debris and leaf vacs and mini-tillers.
Not only does operating equipment incorrectly pose a danger to the person renting it, Becker adds, but improper use can also damage the product - resulting in downtime, lost rentals and decreased ROI.
Following good safety procedures is not only a moral responsibility, and in some cases it's a legal responsibility, it's a way to avoid unnecessary expenses, encourage repeat business and add profit through PPE sales.
Don't ask, just show
If you ask customers if they know how to operate a piece of equipment, chances are they'll say yes, even if the answer is no - so don't ask them, suggests Gray. Don't put customers on the defensive. Instead, he advises employees to say, "I know you know how to operate this, but let me show you just one or two features and benefits."
Demonstrating basic equipment operation and introducing a couple new or advanced features doesn't take long, he says. (But don't forget to have your employees wear protective equipment when they're demonstrating equipment, reminds Jackie Barker, vice president of sales for ERB Safety.)
Are employees 'in the know'?
Do your employees know how to safely demonstrate the equipment they're renting?
Schiller-Pfeiffer's General Power Equipment Rental Procedures state it's important the entire staff review the safety features and owner's manual supplied by the manufacturer.
How do you know if your employees know how to safely operate the rental equipment in your store? Manufacturers provided training when they delivered the new equipment but did all employees receive this training? If they did, did they understand what they were taught?
In the ideal world, any time knowledge and understanding is critical, employees should be tested. Online computer testing could make the process easy, but time and money might stand in the way of implementing the latest technology. And, Gray points out, you need to have someone who has the desire and ability to manage the computer training.