Original category: Computer software
Key innovation: Essentials Enterprise brings rental to people and businesses that have traditionally focused on retail operations. As mindsets shift toward access-based possession of goods instead of ownership, retail companies want to provide access to the things they need and want.
Manufacturer’s description: Essentials Enterprise is a new version of Point of Rental’s Essentials product that includes features designed to work with these businesses’ retail software and allow for the expansion of rental into new spaces. The program includes single sign-on functionality, both for employees and for retail rewards club members as well as a suite of APIs (application programming interfaces) that trigger automation for purchasing, payment, and other activities.
The most noticeable benefit is the addition of real-time multi-store availability in an online storefront, so customers can see what items are available for rent at different locations. Essentials Enterprise even works with a company’s rewards program database to create a single primary database of customers for easy management of a rental program. All in all, Essentials Enterprise will help expand the market for rentals and make the rental process a more prevalent part of the culture, benefiting even current rental-centric businesses.
When it comes to software designed specifically for the rental industry, there are various attributes most current programs have in common. End users expect to be able to reserve equipment or tools online and expect the rental company to be able to accurately determine in advance if the desired item will be available when the customer wants it. From the rental side, personnel usually are able to find an item requested by a customer, and if it is a multi-store operation, they expect to be able to find the item without having to call around to multiple other locations.
In this day and age, point-of-sale software systems are typically connected to back-office operations such as billing and customers expect accuracy in billing. Also a counter person or in-the-field sales staff should be able to determine if items out on rent have been returned and when they are available for rent, and also when maintenance or servicing is due.
However, retail operations that have rental programs typically have not always had this degree of functionality, until Point-of-Rental Software began to develop this capability in response to requests from retail businesses that wanted to be able to operate their rental programs with this same level of efficiency and to be able to operate the rental aspects of their businesses from the same screens as retail. POR began to develop this capability using its Essentials program, adapting it to the needs of particular retail customers, and eventually developing it as an off-the-shelf program that can be adapted to the unique characteristics of each company.
“They came to us and they found some different challenges from the traditional rental store,” says Evan Fort, vice president of global software at Point of Rental. “Working inside a larger environment with their own Rewards programs and customer management systems and point of sales systems brought all kinds of fun challenges that we had to solve so we solved them in a generic way that could be implemented by any retailer.”
Several retail-oriented companies approached Point of Rental looking for solutions. “They all had similar challenges that they had to work through, and that was really great learning,” Fort says. “We’ve done a few of these now and hopefully the next few will have some of the same challenges that we can help them solve.”
The challenge was, ultimately, to tie the programs together. For example, a customer can go to his account [with the retail company], process a rental using all of the information, not having to key everything in twice.
“The associates sign in the customers and the customers can do self-service self-service so they can go in and do the work of actually putting their quote together without having to talk to anybody.”
The Essentials Enterprise system manages the complex nature of customer interaction. “Being able to track it with their individual account that’s tied to their corporate rewards account, we manage all of that,” Fort says. “That way they just show up and pick up their rental item and it saves everybody a lot of time.”
Back-end integration is critical for the program to function. “These retail organizations have their own internal systems – for insurance, different kinds of integration, payments, processing, refunds – so it includes a suite of APIs that allow them to automate a lot of that stuff so that their employees can, for example, do a purchase in their enterprise accounting system and share that information automatically with Rental Essentials. So they’ll know in advance that there’s a P.O. in Rental Essentials that says the customer is getting a floor sander and a stump grinder next month and then they can go in and satisfy that P.O. and the actual serial numbers will show up. And all that happens automatically via those back-end API calls.”