Sir Francis Bacon is credited with coining the phrase, “Knowledge is power.” That was in 1597, long before the development of telematics, GPS, cloud computing and other technologies that can put more information at your fingertips today than at any time in the history of mankind.
When you talk to most rental store owners, they will agree that it is great to have all this information available about the performance of their equipment, such as location, run time and more, but most everyone also says they need more help in learning how to use the information effectively.
“It’s tougher to build a system that manages information than a system that lets the information manage the business,” says Mark Gilbertson, president, Fargo RentAll, Fargo, N.D., who also serves as chair of the American Rental Association (ARA).
“Data is everywhere and data availability does help drive business decisions. It used to be gut instinct or a guess, but now you take a proposal and fact-check it, looking at competitive cost, time utilization, dollar utilization, relative repair costs, demand, rate demand and more, but the technology will not initiate anything,” he says.
“The biggest challenge we have is to keep these as tools and not have them be the decision-makers. We need to keep our focus on the customer and use technology to help,” he says.
To handle big data, Steve Mau, president, Brainerd Rental, Brainerd, Minn., expects rental software companies to become more of a strategic partner with rental stores as technology evolves, rather than be a vendor selling a product.
“The question is whether the ability to invest in software ultimately could be the differentiator between the independents and the larger chains. Certainly, trends in consumer behavior suggest that the ability to effectively conduct business without any human contact whatsoever is the direction the world is going,” Mau says.
“For us in the equipment and event rental industry, however, we still have a long way to go to maximize the technology that is available. For example, we are in the process of building a new location and we also are looking at upgrading our software with either our current vendor or a new company,” he says.
John Wooten, CEO, All Star Rents, Fairfield, Calif., says his company is “old school” in that it does not yet utilize telematics on equipment or GPS on the delivery fleet.
“I will say that we are very dependent on Point of Rental Software. We do need them to listen and make changes to improve our ability to manage the business and provide a better customer experience. We are working with them for web-based payments,” Wooten says.
“We also have fully implemented using doForms for digital equipment check-out and condition reports. These are automatically emailed to both our locations and our customers,” he says.
Ron Piccolo, vice president, SmartEquip, Norwalk, Conn., says the increasing amount of data that pours in from multiple manufacturers to a rental store’s operation can be a management nightmare.
“How does a rental operator gather all this information and make sense of big data? What we’re trying to do is get down to manage the data more by exception. You don’t have to see everything. Everything is needed to be in an analysis, but you can set your parameters,” Piccolo says.
“We can help with big data because we get the data on parts on a transactional level. We can tie back costs to the machine for total cost of ownership purposes on a per asset and on a per component basis. We can identify component lifecycles and help capture that cost, so that the rental store can understand which products and categories are delivering the best return on investment,” he says.
While those in the rental industry tend to be reluctant to adopt new technology, Piccolo says some rental operators are showing interest in virtual or augmented reality even if they haven’t used telematics or GPS.
“They see the application benefits in training and safety. It ties in well with repair and maintenance. You can have schematics and diagrams right with you as you dive into the machine and perform repairs,” he says.
“What it means for SmartEquip and what we see pretty much across the industry is that companies of all sizes now are focusing on efficiency and optimizing performance through repair and maintenance processes. It’s something the larger rental companies have focused on for several years already and now we’re seeing middle markets and smaller independent rental houses realizing that in order to compete, they need to be as efficient as possible,” he says.
John Bureau, general manager, Wynne Systems, Irvine, Calif., says understanding how to best utilize big data is on everyone’s to-do list.
“We have spent many, many years collecting data and you don’t know what you don’t know. Within that data is a lot of information. You have to identify the interesting information and deliver it immediately to improve the business processes. I would say that 99 percent of the information that lies in data in applications is not interesting, but in that field of information, 1 percent is very interesting and the story changes every day. If an application can’t identify and deliver that to you, then you need to change the application,” Bureau says.
He says one of the key technological developments impacting all businesses is the mobility of a company’s workforce.
“The person behind the desktop is changing. For a dispatch, counter or yard person, information is there and devices are there, but it’s about connecting the applications to the right business processes in our customers’ organizations. There is more refinement coming to connect the pieces. There are a lot of applications in any rental organization and our platform allows you to connect the pieces through an integrated architecture,” Bureau says.
Wayne Harris, CEO, Point of Rental Software, Grand Prairie, Texas, says his company’s job is to make data accessible to people who can make decisions.
“In the olden days, data wasn’t there. The data wasn’t stored and the data wasn’t captured, so you were kind of blind. Nowadays, we are capturing a massive amount of data. That data can be used with dashboards, with BI [business intelligence] and with analytics to see what needs to be done, what needs to be bought or what needs to be sold. You can tell what your income is for a certain zip code or city, as well as the trends. Is it going up or going down? You can capture this data and drill down, so that you are no longer just making decisions by your gut. You are making decisions based on data and marketing better decisions,” Harris says.
Harris says providing mobile access to the right data is a necessity as well. “Rental stores have employees who are all mobile. The days of having a counter and everybody behind the counter or at the shop does not exist anymore. You have customers who have their sales guys out, their service guys out and their employees walking around the yard. They all need to be connected and they all need that technology to check things in wherever they are at, whether that is 10 ft. from the counter or 100 miles away from the counter. That is what the future is — a mobile environment. That’s what people want,” he says.
Greg Lewis, vice president, business development, Fame Rental, New York, says he hears from people everyday who say they have all these reports and still struggle to find the data needed to grow their business.
“In my experience — working with both $1 million companies and large, public $1 billion companies — dealing with data will inevitably require three strategic goals: Capturing quality real-time information, properly organizing this data in one place, and finally using tools to predict where to best invest your time and money,” Lewis says.
“As technology has advanced over time, the efficiency in which software captures, organizes and predicts data has evolved substantially. Predictive analytics can now suggest when to sell a particular unit, hire a third-party hauler or even purchase seasonal retail inventory,” he says.
Tony Nicoletti, vice president, sales and business development, DPL Telematics, Los Altos, Calif., also says technology has become much more sophisticated, able to pull a tremendous amount of data from today’s equipment.
“One of the products we offer, we can actually wire it into and connect to the engine. You’re able to get information, such as fuel consumption, diagnostic fault codes and run time through a basic install,” Nicoletti says.
“This information can be incredibly valuable, depending on how the rental house is set up to digest it all. There can be a benefit to know a red stop lamp is showing because a piece of their equipment is on rent and the customer is driving it to failure. The issue — and it’s a big one — are you set up to use it? Does your operation lend itself to that? Does knowing 200 fault codes help you or is it noise? If you’re set up to use it, it is incredibly powerful,” he says.
However, Nicoletti says most rental companies are not yet at the point of using all the information available to them.
“You are seeing layers in the market. Folks are running toward as much data as they can get and other folks, they just want to keep it simple. It’s exciting to see now that there is an opportunity for everybody,” he says.
“Some may just want to know how many hours a piece of equipment on rent is running so they know how much the customer is using it compared to what was agreed on the contract. Starter disable seems to be popular as well,” he says. “If a piece of equipment is stolen or if someone hasn’t returned the equipment and isn’t paying, just like utilities, you can lock it up, so it doesn’t run. There’s value in that for a lot of rental houses and they are set up to use that information in their operation.”
Using data for better rental operations
Data takes the guesswork out of running a rental operation and it usually is just a few clicks away. With customer relationship management (CRM) tools, fleet management systems, accounting software and external sources like the American Rental Association (ARA) providing useful information, it is now easier than ever to get whatever type of data you need to forecast sales, plan your fleet and develop marketing strategies to capture new customers, as well as retain existing ones.
In today’s technology-driven world, data is everywhere, and it can be a bit overwhelming. Here’s a brief overview of the different uses of data that you’re already collecting, so you can develop your own scorecards, statistics and company trends.
Improve efficiencies. If you want to grow your profits, you can either rent more equipment or be more efficient as a company. Most often, the first place to start with these efficiencies is by doing a better job of tracking how your workforce spends their day. For example, when making repairs, does your team spend hours searching for the right replacement part for a machine or often order the wrong one? It’s a common issue for most rental stores because of the number of manufacturers and types of equipment they must work with on a regular basis. Many manufacturers have apps and websites to help your team order the correct parts quickly, the first time.
Using systems that can talk to each other also will improve efficiencies. Too often rental companies have the same customer’s name entered in several different systems. Finding a platform that can help with all areas of your business or separate platforms that talk to each other will reduce mistakes and provide you with more accurate information about your customers.
Better business decisions. Fleet data should be the driving force for determining when to replace a machine or add equipment to your fleet. Start by reviewing the utilization information for each equipment category. This will give you definitive information about your most popular types and sizes of equipment — this is one area you don’t want to trust your gut instinct. Hopefully, you’re also collecting information about those instances where you didn’t have the right type of machine available. Chart it out and you’ll soon be able to discover trends about when different categories are in demand throughout the year, which machines are your most profitable and how many hours are being put on each machine in your fleet per month. This will help you determine what equipment you need more of, as well as what machines need to be replaced in your fleet.
As machines age, you also want to determine the most optimal time to replace it. You want to hit that sweet spot of where a machine isn’t costing you a lot to repair and still has decent residual value. Analyzing that data, you should be able to create specific rules for replacing equipment.
When it is time to purchase new equipment, data will help you determine the total cost of ownership for a machine. You need to compare acquisitions costs, estimate the maintenance expenses and parts for the life of the machine, including labor, and forecast what the residual value will be when it comes time to sell a used piece of equipment. When you do this, often you’ll find that a cheaper machine will cost you more in the long run.
Setting and accomplishing goals. Data-driven goal planning will help your company grow while making your customers the happiest around. Those two topics go together since a happy customer is one that is likely to do more business with you in the future. The best place to start is by tracking what’s important to customers:
Service call responsiveness
Timely pick-up arrangements
Establishing benchmarks for each of these areas will ensure you’re meeting the needs of your customers. Every rental cycle should be followed up with a questionnaire for your team and your customer to fill out about these areas. When you track it, you make it a priority. When it’s a priority, your team will get better in each of these areas.
Data can be powerful for running your business. The best way to make sure you don’t get overwhelmed with all the available data is by limiting your data intake to the information that helps you improve your efficiencies, make better decisions and accomplish your goals.
— Galen Wickstrom
Galen Wickstrom is Genie national accounts manager, Terex AWP, Redmond, Wash. For more information about Genie, visit genielift.com.
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