Software Solutions Enhance Profitability, Productivity

If there were ever a time to become more efficient and competitive, that time is now. The message is clear: Thanks to the economy and increased competition, if a rental operation is not lean, streamlined and efficient, your ability to compete is put in jeopardy

One important way to gain competitive traction is to take advantage of rental management software and solutions. Point-of-Rental systems Vice President Bob Shaffer puts it succinctly when he says, “If you’re writing 10 or more contracts per day, you’ll not be able to compete in today’s market unless you have a feature-rich rental management system.”

He asks rental house owners and managers these questions: “Can you hire a person for about one percent of your yearly rental revenue who will write up all your quotes, reservations, contracts, work orders, internal maintenance orders while pricing everything correctly, including damage waiver, taxes and other fees? This same person would also maintain both rental and sales item inventory control, keep all the reservations in his or her head to warn of overbooks, and provide delivery/pickup reports and optimize routing of your trucks.”

Shaffer says the answer to all the above questions is categorically no, that person doesn’t exist. “Comprehensive software, however, does, and it handles all the things you would expect and more, including providing marketing and analysis reports, time and dollar utilization, and a complete history for customers and inventory items.”

According to J.J. Shea, chief operating officer of Solutions by Computer, “All aspects of rental business management can benefit from software. The two main components of our software design are time efficiency and information accuracy. These touch every part of the transaction and customer relationship. For example, just the fact that the software eliminates manual errors in calculating late return charges has a positive impact on profitability, customer service, time spent on accounts receivable, and the dollar utilization of that asset.”

He continues, “If you drill down to specific functionality such as the ‘kitting’ of inventory items, delivery routing, management alerts, and dozens of other features, you will find similar cross-operational benefits.”

Technology ROI

“In the rental business, return on investment as it applies to equipment and products has always been critical to profitability,” says Clark Haley, CEO of BCS ProSoft, publisher of Automated Rental Management (ARM). “This same important measure of ROI needs to be applied to their technology and rental management software, as well.

“For ARM, we’ve just added a whole series of web applications compatible with portable devices. This facilitates customer and salespeople access to a rental location and the tracking and picking up equipment among other front-office responsibilities.”

Haley, who notes his company’s rental management software is especially attractive to medium-size rental houses with one to 10 locations, emphasizes the importance of integrating a back office accounting solution with front-office renting. “Our partnership with Sage Software, known for its accounting software, is ideal for customers who want and need an integrated solution,” he relates.

Solutions by Computer has integrated its software with programs commonly used by rental operations, including QuickBooks and Peachtree for accounting and Party CAD for party rental planning. Shea says the company is constantly evaluating software programs that show potential as integration targets. “As just two examples, we’ve successfully integrated our rental programs with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems for customers who have large systems running other parts of their business, such as manufacturing. And our GPS integration allows real-time updates of meter readings while the equipment is active on jobsites. These readings are tracked by the software for billing and order processing.”

Point-of-Rental offers integration with most PC-based general ledgers, adds Shaffer, along with other office automation such as Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, Party CAD and UPS shipping software.

“Integrations provide the client with expanded value from their rental software,” reports Michael Saint, president of Corporate Services. “TrakQuip offers integrations to most accounting software packages from QuickBooks to SAP and everything in between. Other integrations include sales tax services like Vertex, GPS services like GeoForce, Routing and Dispatch services like RouteSmith, credit card processing services like X-Charge and (B2B) data exchange services like Pervasive Software. In all cases, the cost of integration is much less than building the software from scratch or manually producing duplicate data.”

Startup and Support

Rental houses require top-notch service and support to optimize their rental management software. The nature of this support varies with the complexity of the system and the training requirements of the end user.

Wynne Systems’ Vice President of Sales and Marketing Mike Stilwagner explains that new customers get two visits before going on line with their RentalMan software. “During the first visit, we see how a customer does business, retrieve data off the old system, and configure the new hardware and software. Then, we follow up with two weeks of training, which ends with the system going live.”

Ongoing support is a requisite, as well. Look for software suppliers to offer toll-free phone services, along with email and Web support. Solutions by Computer customers can join a private virtual community called SBC forum to exchange ideas with other users. BCS ProSoft has a training center where end users can take accounting and business management courses from Sage Certified trainers.

Most rental management software runs on IBM or PC-based computers. RentalMan, for example, runs on an IBM mid-range server, compatible with either Apple or PC-based work stations. Solutions by Computer Enfinity software uses Intel-based servers running on Window operating systems. “Macs can be used for Enfinity workstations, if preferred,” says Shea. “Our CounterPRO system is Unix-based.”

For his part, Haley says, “ARM runs on a Windows based server and can be accessed from any windows device as well as any device with Internet access.” Point-of-Rental’s multi-user systems require using Microsoft Windows (r) server operating system software. Shaffer points out, though, that terminals can be any Windows PC, Android tablet, iPad, or even a smart phone.

Michael Saint, president of Corporate Services, also agrees that real benefits are available with portable and mobile devices. “With these modern devices, our clients can download apps that capture signatures and perform other useful services integrated with their rental software. They can connect to their remote offices in other countries with other languages, allowing their rental operation to be a true global enterprise.”

Changing times

The productivity benefits realized by the use of rental management systems have been enhanced in recent years by advances in technology and the growing popularity of the Internet. “The biggest change we’ve seen over the last five years has to do with the use of the Internet to improve the efficiency and productivity of rental operations,” adds Shea. “The most dramatic examples of this relate to competitive selling and customer service. Smart phones, tablets, and other devices can connect a rental salesperson at a customer jobsite to the database back at the rental store. In addition to remote connectivity, the Internet itself can be further leveraged for rental purposes. I think we’re seeing the tip of a very large iceberg.”

Stilwagner agrees, noting that RentalMan software leverages Internet in several ways. “An optional web-based Customer Portal allows customers to have 24/7 access to their account information,” he relates. “Among our Web tools is a general ledger upload feature and an online credit application tool that allows prospective customers to send their credit application directly to your credit department.”

Saint adds, “No company today is doing business the way they did five years ago, and there is every reason to believe that it will be different in the future. This is why new features and integrations with other services involve an ‘evolutionary process’ and will continue to.”

RentalMan is very popular among large rental houses that have dozens of locations and their own on-premise server, he adds. Yet the same software can be rented on the Cloud and made very affordable for smaller rental houses. “All you need is a paid account and an Internet Browser,” he emphasizes.

“Hosting of websites has always been a popular option for our customers, most of whom are party and event and construction rental houses” says Shaffer. “The websites have a shopping cart, automatic display of inventory, a customer portal where customers can access their own account online, view statements, call items they’ve rented ‘Off Rent,’ and display items they currently have on rent by jobsite.

“A very popular feature introduced in November is the automatic and optimized viewing of the store’s website using smart phones and other portable devices. A recently enhanced Dispatch Center with GPS integration has also been well received. The feature allows rental stores to plan routes in advance, verify route accuracy and on-time arrivals, and make real-time route updates.”

As mentioned earlier, there’s no better time than now to become more efficient, and there’s no question that today’s rental management software offers more features and benefits to help rental houses do just that. Software suppliers will continue to update their products to take advantage of new technology and, more importantly, meet the demands of the ever-changing rental landscape.

Based in Neenah, WI, Rod Dickens is a freelance writer specializing in the construction industry.

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