Source the Goods; Deliver the Feeling

April 1, 2004
This month's cover story addresses a topic that is not new, but remains vitally important. The need for creative marketing is often ignored in this industry.

This month's cover story addresses a topic that is not new, but remains vitally important. The need for creative marketing is often ignored in this industry. Our cover story focuses especially on showroom layout and display and how creative display and attractive store atmosphere can help move product.

There is still an attitude among many rental center owners that such concerns aren't important, that strong products and service will sell themselves. While you do have to have the quality goods and service to back up whatever doors good marketing will open for you, companies that are wildly successful such as Coca-Cola and Nike usually spend proportionally higher percentages of their budgets on marketing than their competitors do.

Little things often mean a lot when dealing with customers. For example, when I shop at my local video store, store sales staff will often ask me, “Are you finding everything that you're looking for?” The question lets me know they are available to help me, and that they care about my satisfaction.

I remember one rental center owner who took this approach toward his customers. As busy as he was with multiple locations, he would designate a day each week to stand at the counter most of the day and just talk to customers when they came in. He would “shoot the breeze” with them, ask about jobs they were working on, and just generally get acquainted with them. He had a good memory for people and would ask how one customer's son was doing on his high school football team, or how the customer was progressing with the home-improvement project he had started, or if his wife, who had been sick, was feeling better.

He would always ask, in addition to whether or not the customer found everything he needed, “Is there anything you need that we don't have?” and he would follow that up with “Is there anything we don't have that we can get for you?” This question served several purposes. Rental companies rarely have sufficient space to display everything that they have, and this owner found that often a customer would ask for a particular item that the company did in fact have available, even though it wasn't visible. He would also let the customer know that he was willing to try to source an item for him if he didn't have it.

This owner pointed out that he wouldn't automatically bring in every item that customers said they wanted. Although his business was a general rental, one-stop-shop type of business, he couldn't carry everything. If a customer wanted something, he would try to re-rent it for him, rather than send the customer to the competitor. He'd say, “I can get you one, tell me where you want it and I'll get it to you by one o'clock, how's that?”

Most importantly, this owner believed, asking that question had far deeper subliminal effects than the immediate benefit of adding on to a rental or adding re-rent business. By asking, he showed customers that he cared about their needs. I asked him if he always could satisfy those needs. The answer was no, but he batted 1.000 when it came to demonstrating his interest. If he was unsuccessful in sourcing an item, his efforts gained their good will and appreciation. He communicated the feeling that customers could always come to him if they had a problem finding something; and, therefore, could come to him when they needed a rental item.

There was something in his manner that communicated the message that he was never too busy for customers; that their needs were the reason he was working, rather than paperwork or big deals with larger customers. You could see the appreciation in the customers' eyes, in the way they spoke, in the way they said goodbye when they left, which reminded me of the way people would say goodbye to a good friend rather than just a store owner.

An old adage in business is that you can't please all of the people all of the time; you can't be all things to all people. But you can show almost everybody your interest in them and your good intentions.

Our cover story also suggests offering free coffee, popcorn and ice. Create a friendly atmosphere. And if your rental business is mostly delivery, then carry that atmosphere with you when you visit offsite. It will make a difference.