Rental management software is a mature industry. Most systems available do a pretty good job of managing the main concerns and needs of a rental business. As a result, to get the best system for your needs, you need to read the fine print.
"Common features tend to be in the areas of management and operations: reporting, analysis, emailing and other non-rental-specific functions," explains Jack Shea, president of Solutions by Computer. "Where software succeeds or falls short is in the details, for example, the ability to handle multiple add-ons, items substitution and partial returns on an open contract, or allow information access over the Internet."
Andre Gilbert, president of Orion Software Inc., agrees, noting that "most suppliers [have gone] a little bit further by providing tools to improve customer service with functions like reservation management, safety notices printed automatically on contracts, or the ability to email and fax transactions or customer statements," he says.
"At Orion, we also added tools to gather and share knowledge. Kit and accessory management, memos on customers available at transaction time, equipment pictures, notes on the usage of each equipment for internal use, or safety notices for customers. All these allow for less experienced and new employees to efficiently serve customers with confidence."
One size does not fit all
Large, multi-branch operations and smaller companies require many of the same things, but there are points of differentiation. "Multi-branch operations benefit from software capabilities that facilitate sharing," says Shea. "That's the key. For example, sharing can take a three-store operation to a profit level that three separate stores could never achieve. Depending on the operation, it can include the sharing of rental inventory, availability of information, retail stock, delivery vehicles, maintenance crews, storage space, owner policies and data of all types. When a rate change can be imposed instantly and globally, or selectively by region or location, the entire business is going to benefit. Smaller, single locations can benefit from the same controls and efficiencies on a one-on-one basis."
The type of business the rental company specializes in is also a factor when selecting management software.
"The relative importance of various features depends upon the type of rental you're in," says Bob Shaffer, president of Point-of-Rental. "If you are primarily a party store, make sure you can rent and sell at least 100 line items on one contract and preferably more. If you stock 5,000 of a particular chair, make sure the item record doesn't max out at 999."
He adds, "Insist on good quote and reservation modules that can quickly display similar or alternate items if the item the customer wants is unavailable for the dates they want [it]. When 'closing' 150 wine glasses on an order, make sure you can collect rent on 150 and then can sell the 10 that the fraternity broke on the same contract."
The ability to clone contracts is also important, Shaffer says, as are pick lists and good reservation and delivery reports. "Depending upon the size of your company, delivery and pickup routing modules might be desirable.
"Tool stores that do a reasonable amount of walk-in cash business should consider systems that can image the fronts of driver licenses and store that image in the customer record," Shaffer says. "You'll need rates based on time out or meter hours used, whichever results in more bucks... Depending upon your inventory and customer base, you may need an automatic recycle bill routine for monthly rebills."
The cost of doing business
There is no consensus on exactly what a management system will cost a rental company because there are so many variables when it comes to the size and scope of those businesses. For the most part, systems are priced by the number of users. Here is what some of the leading suppliers had to say about pricing: