Let Rental Technology Solve the Problem

Oct. 27, 2020
Rental companies find varied IT solutions to help their businesses run better.

Technology is advancing faster every year. The creators of software for the equipment rental industry are improving their products constantly, and continually rolling out new features to make their customers businesses run more efficiently. Some rental companies are ahead of the curve, or at least keeping up with the curve, and are regularly demanding that their software suppliers provide them with various features to help them, either because their customers ask for them or because they think of new ways of doing things. Some rental companies are content with simpler software, while others are constantly raising the bar.

We have given a lot of coverage to software suppliers and their latest offerings. With this article, we wanted some examples of instances where their software particularly helped a rental company to solve a problem or advance its capabilities. We also asked rental companies to share examples of how software helped them to solve a specific problem.

As much as possible in the following article, we let the suppliers and rental companies explain it in their own words and we hope these examples are useful. No doubt every software supplier and rental company would have a story to tell. Here are a few stories about software making a difference. 

System Scalability

Trailer rental is not quite as complex as general rental that has hundreds of varieties of equipment in a rental company’s fleet. Still for American Trailer Rental Group, with 13,000 assets spread out across 11 branches, CEO Jonathan Brooks, former chief financial officer for Nesco Specialty Rentals, was facing a software challenge. The company had grown from two to 11 branches since 2017 and needed a system that could tie the loose ends together.

He and his staff looked around and chose Sycor Americas.

“American Trailer Rental Group is an accumulation of a lot of smaller trailer rental businesses that had basic systems like QuickBooks and a lot of manual processes,” Brooks says. “What the technology has allowed us to do is automate back office processes to consolidate information across all our locations. The way we can present information on consolidated dashboards to be able to see the local performance across all the different markets on a consolidated basis has just been a huge help in trying to manage this as we grow it so fast. The entire rental fleet is encompassed in the solution. What I tell a lot of people is that it’s an ERP for a rental business. We’ve got to keep track of everything.”

The trailers must conform to federal highway requirements so the company must maintain them to be road legal and the records must be impeccable. “We have to do the annual maintenance requirements that come with that,” says Brooks. “The system allows us to track that information to know what units are coming due and as they come through the shop we can address that. Or if they are still out with the customer, we can address it remotely by doing some certifications where the trailer is rented.”

That might not sound too complex, but the annual inspections have been done on different days in the histories of the companies ATRG has consolidated. “At any given time, there are a few hundred that need some level of recertification,” Brooks explains.

For the most part, the assets are rented and deployed within a couple of hundred miles of ATRG’s operating facilities. “We don’t do over-the-road trailers like XTRA and those guys,” Brooks says. “We’re solving problems for guys who are trying to move things shorter distances, and storage trailers.”

Sycor’s point-of-sale system is a great improvement for ATRG, and it was ready to go pretty much as is. “We implemented our system a month ahead of schedule and within our original financial budget, while making no material customizations to the code,” says Brooks. “The software really is ready to go out of the box. And that was a huge benefit. Having been through software implementations with [other well-known companies], those systems inevitably require a tremendous amount of customization and modifications, which often strings along the implementation project beyond its due date and its budget.”

Brooks also likes the system’s scalability. “Post ‘go live’ we completed a couple of acquisitions, and we’ve been able to integrate those businesses rather seamlessly. We’ve opened two greenfield locations since ‘go live’ as well, and it was with minimal software burden. It’s been ‘plug and play,’ and that’s been very nice.”

Brooks also appreciates the ability to take data and analyze it so it is useful. “The system allows you to take large amounts of data and in pretty easy steps convert it into knowledge so that you’re making informed business decisions,” he says.


Rental Economics

Anderson Equipment Co. is an equipment dealership with a large rental program, headquartered in Bridgeville, Pa. Bill Gex, CEO, shares with RER his thoughts about the company’s software benefits:

“Anderson is fortunate to have a very talented IT staff. Over the years, we developed an in-house rental system which is tightly integrated with Business Intelligence Software from IBM (Cognos Analytics). Our system is very detailed and captures all the elements needed to analyze our fleet at a given point in time (current) or over time (e.g., the economics over an industry cycle). We can determine our rental economics at the following levels:

·               Machine

·                Product Category

·                Manufacturer

·                Geography

“We also break down the economics during the life of ownership (e.g., while the machine is in the fleet and the disposal).

“Managing a rental fleet boils down to a finite number of decisions. What do you want in the fleet, how much of each item do you need and how long do you want to own it? Our system is invaluable in optimizing these decisions on a continuous basis. All rental houses are revisiting their business models these days due to the pandemic. Anderson is no different and we are currently spending a lot of time on this issue. The value of our systems has never been greater.”


Stopping Equipment Theft and Solving Homicides

Glenn Leppo, owner and CEO of Leppo Group., including Leppo Rents, Razor Rents, Valco Equipment and a half dozen Bobcat dealerships, tells how his company’s IT department and GPS system not only helped recover stolen equipment, but helped break up a theft ring and a lot more:

 “Some thieves almost got away. However, thanks to some quick action, GPS technology, and a little bit of luck we helped police not only recover our stolen property but also break up a theft ring, all while giving police a critical piece of evidence in a recent homicide.  Here is the story: 

“We had a theft. Our surveillance video showed the thieves inside our property’s fence breaking into a warehouse and spending a considerable amount of time inside. Motion detectors had created so many false alarms that they were disabled. Clearly the thieves had scouted the building previously as they gained entry through a door that didn’t have a sensor. The thieves took their time loading toolboxes and small equipment into two utility vehicles, which they then drove through our property’s fence and down the road. Fortunately, both vehicles were GPS-enabled.

“When police arrived, our IT department was able to provide the last known location of the vehicles. The thieves had disconnected the GPS, but our IT department gave the police enough information to locate the two utility vehicles, which led to the successful recovery of them later that morning. Later that day the police informed us that they had recovered more of our property and several keys to our equipment. As we identified our stolen property, the deputies informed us they also recovered two stolen cars, a stolen boat on a stolen trailer, and a firearm on the property as well.

“The thieves’ garage and house were full of items all believed to be stolen from several area thefts. Another local area police department indicated one of the stolen cars is connected to an unsolved local homicide. Although usually we use GPS units for much more mundane tasks like locating a machine on a jobsite, they can also be beneficial in solving crimes.”


Business Intelligence

In 2018, Groveport, Ohio-based Franklin Equipment reported $45 million in 2017 rental revenue and 15 locations after opening three new locations in the first quarter of 2018. The following year, the company reported $67.9 million after growing its rental revenue by 50 percent. The company had expanded to 18 branches. Franklin posted $92 million in rental volume in 2019, and topped 20 branches, incorporating Rouse Analytics and Trackunit telematics. We asked for a little more insight into its software approach and the company’s response was this:

“Franklin Equipment implemented several Business Intelligence tools in 2018,” the company says. “Franklin Equipment uses these tools to create, visualize and distribute key metrics such as physical utilization, rate achievement, down fleet, contract counts, yield rate and many more reporting items daily. We even create several BI apps to allow the end user to get access to the data from their mobile device and laptop very easily. These metrics are reported out to relevant management in both numeric and graphical form. We also use BI tools to develop monthly reporting packages for store managers, operations managers, and executive boards. Franklin embraces an incentive system for many of its job categories and reports them through BI. The Franklin Equipment management team has fully embraced the power of Business Intelligence which allows us to operate more effectively and efficiently.”


Better Backup and Quadruple Speed

Aaction Rents, based in Windsor, Calif., in the northern California wine country where millions of acres have burned this summer, has long been concerned about connectivity issues. The company has six branches spread out over remote rural areas where blackouts were a problem caused by fires and intense winter storms.

“We began using satellite internet, which helped our rural stores that could not have a regular hardline connection,” said Aaction Rents’ Jake Behrens. “It has provided us with a cost-effective way to get the data connection we need that actually runs our phones and our data at our stores now and saves us about $700 per month. We’ve added counter sign terminals and e-sign programs to save on all of our paper and digitally do all of our signature and paper storage. We have implemented having cradle point backups at all of our stores in case of outages or downtime. We have LTE backups that will seamlessly turn on and run our stores, maybe not with the speed of regular business, but they will still run without any lag during switchover. When the line goes down, it just switches. This has added to the phone system, email, voicemails and after-hours service that we didn’t have before.

“We’ve quadrupled our regular speed at all of our stores to carry the data out more seamlessly, instead of sending our emails and recording and saving all of the digital documents.”

Behrens says there’s a lesson in all this. “I would tell everybody, really look at your backup because when your data connection goes down, you’re stuck in the 1960s with handwritten contracts. But with this backup, if your data connection goes down, it immediately switches over. It might not be the same speed, but you’re still getting along, still able to process credit cards, send emails and write contracts.” 


Finding the Lost Bobcat

PDQ Rentals was established in 1952 with a few lawnmowers, trucks and trailers. Now it has more than 1,500 pieces of equipment valued at more than $50 million and a vast Southern California footprint, and has been listed on the RER 100 for a couple of decades.

With success, however, comes challenges, and keeping track of so many units is one of them. In the fast-moving press of daily business, a machine can get misplaced and forgotten.

Most recently, the company was missing a piece of Bobcat equipment. Using the company’s Point of Rental software, assistant manager Tim Parsons was able to dive into the Bobcat’s history. He traced it to a warranty repair at a local dealership from before he joined the company. Because of the thorough documentation, he continued asking the dealership to search for it on the lot even after the dealer suggested it was unlikely that they’d had the Bobcat for so long. After searching the lot, the Bobcat was located and returned to PDQ so it could continue generating revenue.

            PDQ continues to rely on Point of Rental and its advanced reporting to ensure staff can always find its equipment. Since the Bobcat incident, Parsons frequently checks the Inactive Items Report to identify items that may be missing and those that should be sold instead of occupying lot space.

But Point of Rental’s value extends well beyond finding missing equipment. PDQ uses it to dispatch its fleet throughout Southern California, both to customer sites and between its three locations. Staff uses it to ensure they’re getting the right parts for the right item. They use it to write contracts that everyone understands, quickly and easily. And it helps them manage every part of the business.


Rental on Remote 

With the challenges of the Covid-19 economy, technology will help companies survive and thrive. Jim Arabia, vice president of marketing for BigRentz, illustrates how it benefitted its customers:

“During the last ARA convention where BigRentz exhibited, a Houston regional supply partner of BigRentz excitedly walked into our booth space pointing at his phone. He was using QuickRentz, a BigRentz proprietary technology that enables our suppliers to claim rental opportunities via email or text message with the click of a button. Our solution, as he claimed, allowed him to travel and be out of the office without losing revenue. Because he has a small fleet, he would rarely travel to the convention because he wouldn’t be able to attend to the rentals at home. Our technology allowed him to claim rentals while traveling out of state to a convention.  

“During the initial weeks of working from home due to Covid-19, BigRentz had to send our rental experts and customer care team home to work. Utilizing our proprietary rental software, we seamlessly maintained our customer service levels for our clients. Later, when counties were shutting down across the nation forcing some rental yards to close, we were able to find available partners to fulfill the equipment rentals using this same location-based rental software.” 


Getting the Most from Inside Sales

How to maximize the productivity of inside sales reps can be as simple as who answers the phone, figured out Anthony Durante and the leadership of Durante Rentals. Durante explains how software helped figure it out:

“Over the course of our 11-year history, we have experienced many evolutions on our inside sales team that has us today with a well processed, metric and goal-driven team. One of the earliest revelations we had with systemizing our funnel was that your newest sales reps (assuming new to industry as well) is likely handling the most, or top quartile of your phone calls. Even though you assign people to train and watch over them, it is in human nature that once a salesperson starts handling phones, the natural instinct is to keep taking calls. Your more experienced reps will actually take longer on calls as they are developing dialogue, understanding more than the initial request, looking for opportunity, and trying to build a relationship, even if only for a short-term need. 

“In measuring call times, the new rep will average about 90 seconds, or just about half the time on a call as the top closers. These shorter calls will result in more calls answered as they cycle through calls 'answering' the phone and 'quoting,' but with minimal natural ability to follow up, or 'convert' the quote. Several leading companies confirmed this information within their own companies. Have a smart phone system that can monitor call count. Budget newer reps to less calls than those who hold a higher dollar per average. Upon figuring this out, we constructively redirected our phones to our best people first. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the bottom line in increased deals.”


Portals and Fleet

As Cooper Equipment Rentals has spread across Canada, its customer portal has become more important and more relied upon by customers. Also managing fleet spread out more than 3,500 miles from British Columbia to the Maritimes among more than 40 branches is obviously a challenge. Senior vice president Brian Spilak explains:

"Much of the growth we have achieved in recent years has required us to lean heavily on our various systems and technology partner resources. Texada Software has been an integral partner working with us on those initiatives. They are always willing to listen and adapt their offering to the ever-changing requirements we face. An example of this is the latest iteration of the COOPERconnect application [Texada Gateway]. We worked side by side with the Texada development team on enhancing our online offering to create a self-serve destination point for customers to access their data, streamline common processes (equipment call-offs, telematic information, reports, or data downloads), and ultimately help our customers manage their rental expenditures with Cooper Equipment. The response on COOPERconnect has been excellent and we continually use the customer feedback to work with Texada to refine and add to the offering,.

“From an application point of view, the Texada ERP application has proven to be very scalable and configurable, allowing us to work with many different regions, divisions, and business units across the country to seamlessly transfer fleet where it needs to be to serve the demand. We have a number of initiatives planned over the next six to 18 months and we look forward to having Texada work with our teams to help bring them to fruition.” 


Pay the Money

Many rental companies expend far too much effort and expense getting their customers to pay what they owe. Robertson Rent-all has found Texada’s payment system beneficial:

"Texada Pay has really helped to streamline our payment process. We are able to get customers in and out of the store much quicker. Now that we are taking deposits rather than pre-authorizations, we are able to ensure payment is received at the beginning of every contract. There are no more issues with pre-auths expiring and not being able to charge the credit card. Our day-to-day reconciliation is also a lot easier since there are no more discrepancies between what is invoiced and what is manually entered on the credit card terminal. Overall, the experience has been great!" 


Flexible High Alert

Flexibility is an important aspect of a rental software system, especially giving the changing nature of the rental business. Two Alert Management Systems customers explain why they switched to Alert.

         “We were frustrated with the inflexibility of our previous system,” says Jarrod Polidori, CEO, U.S. Environmental Rental Corp., Waltham, Mass. “It didn’t allow us to work as we wanted, and it offered no opportunity to remedy our concerns. The monthly based fees increased annually, despite that no improvements or investments were made to support services, infrastructure or the software itself. Alert helped us improve the accuracy of our rental asset inventory for the first time in 20 years. The area of greatest influence, however, was the automated custom reports that are periodically generated and sent to our management team. This allows for all orders to be invoiced accurately and in a timely fashion. Alert has positively impacted every aspect of our operations.

“The switchover was seamless. Mary Crosslin (one of Alert’s owners) came out to our office for a week and worked with our management team to complete the install. Mary helped us get up and running faster than we anticipated. Over the next few weeks, the support team, in addition to Mary, was able to resolve most issues relatively quickly. Alert has many self-help tools, quick key shortcuts, and custom reports that make the system easy to understand and navigate.

“Alert showed us many of our inefficiencies. Alert works with rental companies across several industries. That rental-industry expertise during install, in tandem with questioning why we’re doing things certain ways, opened our eyes to our lack of alternative perspectives and bad habits. Inventory tracking, damage waivers, task-setting for sales team, and the integration with QuickBooks were some of the unanticipated benefits of switching to Alert.”     

“We were working mainly through QuickBooks and as the company grew, it couldn’t handle the rental side of the business,” adds Stefani Soucy of American Spot Cooling, Worcester, Mass. “Trying to manage our equipment was too difficult. We researched several systems. The price point of Alert was good, and we were able to grow along with the software and add modules as we needed to.

“Sign & Rent has been a game changer – we’ve never received so many signed contracts! They always got lost or just never signed. Directly billing out clients allows us to be paid on time now! And when we have little issues that come up, Alert is able to solve them, like making modifications to our contracts. We’re now able to track revenue and jobs by location, which was a huge benefit as we started growing. Being able to customize everything that’s in Alert is also helpful, and we didn’t know that going in. It was really nice to have those options.

“When we grew, Alert grew with us, and we didn’t have to invest a ton of money into a software that we couldn’t use at the beginning. The customer service and training have been very beneficial, as well as building a network of other companies in the rental industry. We love that we can always get hold of someone.” 


Error Alert – Repair in Advance

More rental companies are putting their data to work to improve efficiencies and make smarter business decisions. They want to save time and money by looking at the bigger picture. Messer Construction Co.’s rental division executive Mark Bruner and equipment manager Mike Holzinger say they no longer waste time trying to diagnose equipment issues now that they’re using ONE i3 and the ZTR M7. Through their ZTR telematics program, Bruner says they received an error message on an 80-foot boom lift. When a fuel pressure alert popped up, Messer knew something was wrong and dispatched a technician to investigate. He went straight to the unit, focused on the fuel pressure issue and discovered excessive sludge and fuel filter build up. Because the technician knew exactly where to look, he was able to correct the problem quickly and avoid costly downtime.

“The machine was functioning properly, so without the ONE i3 alert, we wouldn’t have known otherwise,” says Holzinger. “With ZTR’s M7 solution, we were able to divert several days of downtime by catching the issue before it became critical. A little bit of preventive maintenance goes a long way in preserving machine upkeep and maintaining productivity on a jobsite.”

The biggest issue according to Bruner is having technicians going into a situation blind. Where do they need to go first and what should they pay attention to?

“Having the direct path illuminated for us was a great help. We didn’t have to spend time trying to identify the issue or order random parts to troubleshoot. We went straight to the source,” Bruner recalls.

With a well-designed telematics program and proactive service, rental companies can shield the rental customer from interrupted rental asset usage. Bruner says they’re looking to bring in higher levels of automation with more alert and fault configurations to help solve problems before they occur. 


A Unified Platform 

Montreal-based Equipements Brossard is growing a lot and needed a new software system. General manager Marc-André Lépine explains why the company chose Wynne Systems’ RentalMan and how the software is helping:

Lépine: “Before we adopted RentalMan, our 10 locations operated on 10 different IT solutions completely separate from one another. Because our data was so fragmented, cross-branch operations like equipment transfers were frustratingly difficult to manage and we had very little visibility over our fleet from a companywide perspective. Additionally, our reporting capabilities were severely hampered by our old setup. When we wanted to pull the transaction history of a specific customer, we would have to painstakingly run multiple reports, each one extracting data from a different system.

“As these problems compounded, we realized that growing our business would require unifying our branches under a single platform. That is why we chose RentalMan. Our IT setup before and after RentalMan simply cannot be compared. Because RentalMan is designed to support ever-expanding rental businesses, the system is more than powerful enough to operate every Brossard location. This enables branches to support each other to the betterment of our entire organization by easily transferring equipment as needed.

“In addition, the all-encompassing fleet visibility that RentalMan provides has enabled Brossard to make more informed equipment purchasing decisions. In an instant, we can run a report to determine how well a particular asset has performed to evaluate the efficacy of investing in additional units.

“By centralizing all of our financial and operational information in one place, Brossard has a far clearer understanding of how our business is performing and what we can do to elevate it to the next level.

“Using the robust reporting tools that RentalMan provides, Brossard has developed a number of automated reports for different roles at our organization. Every morning, our managers receive a detailed report that provides them with complete visibility over their fleet. And on a weekly basis, our sales reps receive a more personalized report that highlights specific pieces of equipment they should pay extra attention to based on profitability and availability.

“Thanks to these reports, Brossard has been able to better focus our sales efforts and make more data-informed business decisions.

Before RentalMan, almost all of our yard operations revolved around paper. Customers would sign contracts the old-fashioned way and we would manually enter that information into our data systems.

“Furthermore, only a few of our locations ever photographed equipment before it left the yard. As a result, whenever assets were returned damaged, we had no evidence to prove that customers received the equipment in proper condition. This would often lead to drawn-out disputes over culpability.

“Fortunately, implementing Wynne’s MobileLink field operation solution has made these problems of the past. With MobileLink, our sales and operational personnel are able to complete equipment checkouts and check-ins completely digitally. Once they capture an e-signature, the contract is automatically stored in RentalMan in real-time with no data entry required.

“Our staff also uses MobileLink to easily capture photos when equipment exits and enters the yard. Thanks to this photographic evidence, charging for damage involves far less acrimony than it used to.

“And as an additional bonus, we use MobileLink to remind new hires of things to look out for during the inspection process. From the convenience of their smart device, they can instantly pull up a list of items that need to be verified before checkout.

Brossard is currently in the process of implementing Wynne’s Logistic Solution to enhance the way we schedule, route, and manage our equipment deliveries and pickups. We are especially excited about how the software will enable us to provide our customers with up-to-the-minute ETA updates.

“In addition, Brossard is a beta tester of Wynne’s new Service Solution. We see a lot of potential in the product’s ability to digitize administrative work while increasing mechanic wrench time.”


Before Growth Better Software is Necessary

Francois Garon, director of operations for Montreal-based Accés Location+, saw the need to connect the data that comes from the company’s 1,100 pieces of equipment to its software and operations center. He knew the company needed an ERP system that would make these connections and decided to go with Orion Software’s Sirius e system. The company set about installing telematics system on all of its units.

“We needed to see where our equipment was on a map, where we needed to drop the equipment and see where each piece of equipment is at all times,” he says.

Accés Location+ is in the process of installing telematics on its units and connecting the data that comes from the equipment to Sirius e’s ERP system, also providing data on the condition of the equipment. Accés Location+ is also installing Sirius E’s CRM system and various other capabilities. Another important ability was being multi-lingual. Its customers around Montreal primarily speak and operate in French, but Accés Location+ also has customers in the U.S. and in the province of Ontario where English is predominant. It also translates well into Spanish.

Soon Accés Location+ will add the CRM capability as well as customer portals where customers can directly ask for machines to be picked up offrent and can request maintenance when required, as well as being able to view their own contracts.

Garon says the installation of the new system was particularly important because Accés Location+ is about to expand to two new locations by next summer. Its current headquarters is in Beloeil on the south shore of Montreal, and it will soon open a new location in Laval, just north of Montreal, in 2021, and in Quebec City by next summer.

“When we did strategic planning, one of the biggest needs we identified was better software and we are happy with our new system,” says Garon.


Just-in-Time Information

Immediacy is key in the rental business. Just as the rental customer requires immediate service and response, when rental company owners need information, they typically need it immediately. Hernan del Aguila of Partner Rentals, Kingston, N.Y., tells how InTempo Software helps him when he needs it:

“I chose InTempo Enterprise because it coincides with my values for my business. One of my values is to have the top brands in equipment, and I carry that through to my software. I believe that InTempo is best of breed software. One of the most important decisions someone can make for their business is what system they use. There are a lot of systems out there that will write contracts and invoices, but don’t do accounting, and they force you to send accounting entries and transactions to a system once a night. I don’t have time to wait once a night. When I need to look at something, I need to look at it now. Enterprise offers me the ability to have everything tightly integrated and available in real time.”