Q: How did you get your start in the rental industry?
A: I was working as a CPA (certified public accountant), and joined Taylor Rental in 1973 as Director of Management Controls. I was brought into the Taylor franchise company, which was also a hardware wholesaler. Their big business was selling hammers and saws, and the Taylor Rental division sold rental equipment. The company had gone public recently and they wanted to have more control over the accounting area. So I came in in that capacity, and then got into dealing with computerization.
Q: How did the transition to computerization begin?
A: We used to serve essentially as a service bureau for the franchisees. When we sold equipment, we would enter that information into a database for that rental center. The stores would send audit copies of their rental contracts, and we would give each of them a report of how much revenue each item was producing. We were always working on how to get better information to the stores, and that the same time we were working on computerizing our internal operations. When the TRS-80 came out, I decided to look at whether or not you could use it to computerize the actual rental store and keep track of equipment coming and going. So I did a study and determined that that computer didn’t have enough power to do that kind of thing, but there was a huge benefit to be gained by having a point of sale computer in a rental business.
Q: When did you start Solutions by Computer?
A: I started Solutions by Computer in 1982, after Taylor Rental was sold to Stanley Works. Our software enabled rental businesses to track inventory and calculate charges correctly.
Q: What were some of the biggest obstacles you encountered in convincing rental stores to purchase the technology?
A: Many business owners thought they knew what was going on in their stores based on their “eyeballs” alone — what was renting and what wasn’t, and what they needed more of. Yet when we put the computer in, many had their eyes opened. What they thought was profitable wasn’t what was profitable. And there were mathematical errors that would always go against the store. Whether it was not charging the customer for overtime or money just not showing up in the cash register, those costs added up. For the most part, just eliminating those revenue leaks alone was enough to pay for the system. But it was a long slog to try to get people to appreciate what the systems were doing.
Q: Do you have a favorite story or memory from those days?
A: We had a customer that said he’d buy the system if we gave him a very deep discount, but I couldn’t do that for him. He signed the order anyway, but withheld the amount of the discount he wanted. So I said I’d take back the system and refund what he’d paid. But then I received the check in the mail for the full outstanding amount. The message was clear: He could see the benefit of what the system was doing for him.
Q: You’ve worked with many rental startups recently, helping them find the right technology for their needs. What is your advice to them or anybody else who is considering purchasing a rental software?
A: First, make sure the system can function in the way your business operates. The vendor should shape the product demo to fit your business. Have good questions, and don’t take “yes” for an answer. If you don’t see the system do what you think it needs to do for your business, probe the vendor. Make them show you how it does what you want it to do. A lot of vendors will promise you everything but they don’t deliver.
The second thing is to make sure you consider all the costs involved. At InTempo, in our quotations we list everything you should have to spend — creating the environment, first year support and the cost of training, for example.
Third, get the proper training even if you are computer savvy. Push this training throughout your organization to make sure everyone is ready to take advantage of the new solution. Though it’s possible you can pick up the software on your own, and even write rental contracts right off the bat, that’s not all the system can do. You want to make sure you’re exposed to the features you would use if you knew about them.
Q: When you think about the future of rental technology, where do you see it going?
A: I see mobile continuing to evolve and becoming increasingly user-friendly. I also see integration with other solutions as being essential. My philosophy is always that you won’t be everything to everybody — if there’s a specific need like GPS, in general, don’t try to do that yourself. So we integrate with leaders from these technologies like StreetEagle dispatch management, a Garmin partner. Our expertise is Rental Business Management, from buying equipment, tracking of inventory, or deliveries and pickups. So I believe in leaving GPS or credit card processing, for example, to the leaders in that category of technology, and tightly tying that functionality into our software to bring the best solutions to our customers.
Jack Shea is a winner of the ARA Special Service Award. He currently works in Business Development at InTempo Software.