As we head into some turbulent financial waters, everybody is looking for ways to cut costs and for that reason I consider this issue particularly timely. Electronic commerce is all about finding more efficient ways to do things and cut costs.
This issue looks at what manufacturers are offering or are looking at evolving into at this point, and while this may be of particular interest to manufacturers, the driver of demand for these services will continue to be their customers, primarily dealers and rental companies. As manufacturers look for direction and definition, they will be looking to you the rental companies to find out what your needs are. You are in the driver's seat and can direct the industry's electronic future by letting your suppliers know your needs and wants.
In this regard, I strongly encourage you to “think outside the box.” There may never be a better time to communicate an electronic wish list to your suppliers. You can help customize future systems for your own benefit by letting them know what you need.
I'm sure many of you don't want to consider this topic right now for one very obvious reason — it will involve investment and you are looking for ways to avoid spending money so you can save it later. But in this respect, the industry is at a crossing point similar to where it was about 20 years ago when computer operating systems were first becoming popular. Many felt they didn't really need those systems, that they were doing fine without spending a heap of capital to install a computer operating system that would be expensive and time-consuming to learn.
If today you were to read comments of resistance towards computers from that era you'd probably find them quite funny as you try to imagine running your business in this day and age without computerized management and accounting systems. In my opinion, you will look back at the current debate over e-commerce in a similar manner.
On a different but not entirely unrelated topic, it may be wise for some rental companies to take another look at the potential for what their service departments can do. As national rental giants continue to lean in the direction of aging their fleets, it's becoming evident that they will have to place far greater emphasis on service. They will need more parts and service support than they have in previous years. This will result in more service opportunities for dealers, obviously, but also for third-party service providers.
This period may mark the ascendancy of national repair companies, about which we'll be writing more about in RER in upcoming issues, but repair opportunities are likely to increase for rental companies of any size in any markets that are prepared and committed to take advantage of them. It will take planning and organization and, very possibly, advanced electronic monitoring, tracking and documentation systems: investments that might go a long way during a tough year.