Understanding rental software features
by Wayne Walley
Even if you have used rental-specific software to run your equipment or event rental business for decades, chances are there are features you have available that either you are not aware of or might not understand what the feature can do for you.
Equipment and event rental-specific software is designed to help rental store owners and managers operate their businesses more efficiently, track inventory, better serve customers and be more successful by automating processes and reducing the chances that mistakes can be made.
The American Rental Association (ARA) surveyed members about which of the most common software features have been the most valuable to their businesses, but perhaps not everyone knows exactly what these features are capable of. The features considered most valuable by those surveyed included quote and contract management, analytics dashboards, credit card processing and digital signatures.
To find out what these features are and what they can do for a rental business, we asked two of the leading rental software providers — Point of Rental Software, Fort Worth, Texas, and Alert Rental Software, Colorado Springs, Colo., — to help us define 31 key software functions and features, which we have edited into the following list.
Quote/contract management. The software allows the users to create a quote/bid in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and then convert it to a reservation or contract. All rental-specific software has this ability, but some companies use different terminology. This feature also allows users to set price sheets and rules based on various factors, like weekend rentals, kits, promotional rates and more. Contracts also can be modified at quote, reservation and order stages, creating a dynamic contract management process so that you do not have to delete a contract and build a new one every time an order is changed.
Analytics dashboard and business metrics. The types of key performance indicators (KPIs) can be different, depending on the business and market types, so it is important to make sure a rental software provider reports metrics that are of value to you or that you have an ability to customize reports or write your own so that you have easy access to the business metrics you need. For example, some rental software allows users to create custom dashboards with real-time visualization or reports on one screen.
Credit card processing. This feature can allow sales and counter staff to process credit cards directly through the rental ERP, in-person or by phone, email links or a website. In addition, payments processed within the rental software can be tokenized so that rental company can go back and charge the card for any damages or overages without storing the credit card data in the system, limiting liability and keeping the rental store compliant with the payment card industry data security standard (PCI DSS). Fees can vary, so be sure to ask the rental software provider for details.
Digital signatures allow companies to reduce
Digital signatures. During the pandemic, contactless transactions became a necessity, and many learned how to use the digital signature feature available within their rental software system to allow a client to sign orders and more. In addition, digital signatures allow companies to reduce the use of paper and take advantage of the efficiency of digital storage. Signatures can be collected at the counter or via any mobile device in the field and added to the system without the need for additional data entry.
Accounting. Many rental companies have used accounting software packages before deciding to install rental-specific software. As a result, most rental software solutions can have an accounting package built in or a business can continue to use whatever accounting package they have used before. By using the application programming interface (API) in the rental software, you can export payment and contract data from the rental software, including basic batch entry, real-time journal entry feeds or detailed invoices, to the accounting software.
Customer relationship management (CRM). At a minimum within rental software, a CRM feature allows the user to track tasks, call logs and create touchpoints for customers to help remind sales teams to manage their relationships with customers. When CRM is within the rental software, users can see information relevant to that customer’s history with the business, including what they have on rent, outstanding accounts, rental history and more. For more advanced CRM needs, it is possible to integrate rental software with CRM-focused platforms such as Salesforce, but it is advisable to ask your rental software provider which CRM packages are compatible with your system.
Export to Excel and comma-separated values (CSV). Outside contractors such as accountants, web developers and more, prefer Excel or CSV file formats for their own work products because of the ease of data sharing and management. It is important to make sure your rental software can produce reports in these formats and to make sure it is simple to do. A file can be exported in the same way it can be imported, so this feature can be helpful when updating large quantities at once, such as updating price sheets.
Employee time clock. This feature allows you to gather time-card information by having users clock in within the software. That way, you can manage and keep your team accountable and make it easier to handle accounting and payroll as the data can be easily exported to payroll programs such as Quickbooks. It is advised to make sure the time-card system calculates overtime according to your state’s regulations.
GPS delivery routing. Rental software typically integrates with other platforms to include the ability to receive status updates when drivers arrive and depart their delivery and pickup locations. End users can see in real time, on a map, what they have on rent and where it is. Internally, a rental store can see where rented items are as well as where delivery trucks are within their routes to adapt to new information. In addition, this feature could enable sending route details to a GPS product in the delivery trucks that could give drivers turn-by-turn directions.
Extra shift billing. Shift rates are common in certain markets and typically involve equipment that can run 24 hours a day, such as generators and light towers. Shift rates can include a standby rate, single shift, double shift and triple shift. Based on meter usage, the software will automatically shift the rate up or down. For long-term rentals, if you are not checking for meters throughout the rental period, the rental software should be able to recalculate the entire period of the rental at the shift rate.
E-commerce. In general, this software feature allows you to conduct business online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with customers having the ability to check pricing and availability, make a deposit, schedule a rental, identify pickup and delivery locations, sign contracts and pay online. Some consider a customer portal to be a part of e-commerce, giving customers access to their own account history, see their open rentals, call items off rent and more. You should ask your software provider if you can determine which clients have access to this service, whether it can be integrated into your existing website and what control parameters you can set around the feature.
Event space computer-assisted design (CAD) renderings. For event customers, CAD renderings can show what an event will look like for approvals as rental items can be moved around in a CAD system to find the best configuration and provide the rental store team with a plan when they arrive for on-site setups. The CAD software should be able to integrate with your rental software so that it also can import design and inventory renderings automatically to be put into a quote for job costing.
Invoice management. This back-office feature should allow you to send invoices and statements as well as collect payments, could create a customer portal for clients to self-serve or provide your accounts receivable team with a dashboard and tools to efficiently handle collections. If you have account customers that pay on a cycle for their convenience, the software can generate invoices automatically via email, fax or printing so that you do not have to follow up or remember everyone that owes you money.
Inventory management. This feature is a fundamental building block of rental software so that you know where your inventory is located. The software allows you to track items as they arrive, go out on rent, when it’s being fixed or prepped, and when it is ready to rent as well as transfer items between locations, determine the value of your inventory, track parts and more.
Hour meter tracking and billing. Using equipment wears it down, so tracking its use is important for maintenance scheduling, billing and determining when to sell an item. Your software can track what the current meter was when it went out on rent and when it returned. This information also typically can be updated via the work order system and GPS telematics integrations most rental software packages offer. You will know when you need to perform maintenance before the next rental based on time, meter time, time it’s been out for rent or number of times it’s been rented. Meter readings are a part of the way rental operations bill effectively. Each rental operation chooses how it bills. Whether it is daily rates plus overtime or using the meter reading to trigger shift-rates, meter usage is a key component to ensure a proper return on investment for equipment based on how long or hard a unit has been used. You also can set a reminder on an item to let you know how close you are to exceeding a warranty period.
Inspection management. Rental software digitizes the inspection processes. That means you can put checklists for each item in the software in advance and staff can go through the digital checklist, reporting discrepancies and attaching photos. If there’s a checklist item that means an item can’t be rented, the software can pull up a repair order and take it out of your inventory list so you’re not renting an unsafe item. Adding photos, both before and after rentals, helps document damage claims as well. In addition, safety inspection checklists can automatically print with tickets or work orders. The history of inspections is then stored in the system against serialized items for recordkeeping and future audits.
Inventory management with kit ability. The ability to kit items is an efficiency tool that makes most rental software work faster and better for your operation. Kits can be very complex, but it is a way to enable your staff to quote quickly without needing to select the parts. It also can build exact pull lists for even the least experienced warehouse worker, provide customized pricing, and track the smallest components without needing to confuse the client by showing them all the parts and pieces. For example, no one wants to rent four poles and a 10-ft.-by-10-ft. canvas. By creating a “kit” for a tent, your staff and online store show a tent, but when the tent is put on contract, the warehouse is told which poles and canvas to stage. With suggested items, you also can offer tools and package items, helping customers choose which skid-steer attachments they should rent.
Job costing. Because most of the data about profitability of your contract or project is available, a job-costing module in rental software can simplify the task of determining if a project price or long-term rental is cost-effective. The key is to determine the data points required and make sure the module is easy for your staff to use and understand.
Maintenance management. Rental software helps you track maintenance, whether it is through things like schedules, parts ordering and tracking, billing or hours tracking for labor charges. Maintenance data can be applied to item records so you can identify when the cost to maintain an item or group of items is going up and should be replaced. This feature should handle internal and external work orders, generate warranty invoices, track preventive maintenance that allows for multiple triggers, have an ability to add non-rental items for maintenance, have a work order system that will pull sales items at cost or retail price, and allow maintenance information to be added at the counter.
Late fee calculation. This feature can calculate late fees and allow special finance charge rates when required by contract. You also can exempt clients from finance charges and show them on a statement without posting them in a client’s account. The software can be programmed to handle late returns the way you want and automatically add the correct fee.
Parts inventory management. Rental software should track parts, allowing them and their costs to be included on maintenance, service and repair tickets. For reordering purposes, the software can manage your minimum and maximum inventory numbers for each part, set re-order points and notify you when you hit those re-order points.
Rental software typically integrates with other platforms to include the ability to receive status updates when drivers arrive and depart their delivery and pickup locations.
Multi-location support. Rental software should enable a store manager building a quote to see not only what they have on-hand at their store, but what’s available at a company’s other locations nearby to be able to serve customers. This functionality also allows for inter-store transfers and gives customers the flexibility to pick up an item at one of your locations and return it at another.
Online account management. This feature often is considered part of an e-commerce package or referred to as a customer portal since it allows a rental store customer to have a secure login on the rental store’s website and see their current outstanding balance and view, print or pay invoices as well as view orders that are currently on rent or upcoming orders. This helps customers get answers to their common questions any time of day without taking up your counter staff’s time.
QR codes. These codes can be used in several ways, such as taking clients to a website. They can be printed on contracts or stickers placed on machines, providing clients with access to a how-to video on your website or a YouTube channel. In addition, they can be used to automatically update inventory by scanning the code and entering the appropriate quantity for that specific item.
Recurring rentals. Rental software should be able to handle a rental company’s account customers by providing auto-continuation billing. Recurring rentals can be billed for contracts opened for a defined period of time with the ability to bill them on a cyclical basis, typically monthly on a specific day. In addition, the software should be able to bill both in arrears and in advance. Features that link to recurring billing include smart billing, which means the software will send an invoice as soon as the equipment on the ticket has earned a certain rate, and recurring credit card billing where clients can put a credit card on their long-term ticket so that when the cycle bill is generated, the software automatically charges the credit card on file.
Rate management. This feature allows a rental store to manage and update rates more efficiently and easily. Most solutions allow for unlimited rate engines, so businesses can charge different rates for an hour rental, a two-hour rental, a four-hour rental, a day rental, a weekend rental, weekly, monthly or whatever you can imagine. The system also can be programmed to automatically calculate any discounts or rate increases, copy rates between locations, provide customer-specific pricing and more.
Recommended items. Rental software can be set up to help upsell a customer either in an e-commerce shopping cart or at the counter of a rental store by suggesting items that should enhance a customer’s renting experience. Whether it is an additional item to rent or a sales item, it can automatically pop up as a suggestion.
Rent-to-own. Rental software can show how much a customer has spent renting an item and allow a rental store owner to determine what percentage of the rental income they have received can be applied toward the asset’s sales price.
Additional after-hours support. Always ask about how you can reach support assistance quickly after-hours because rental isn’t a typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. operation. Ask if you can email, call, text or chat with your rental software company at any time and what kinds of calls are included in your agreement.
Scheduling. Rental software allows you to define the daily work schedules of your employees while giving them the freedom to view, print, email and import their schedules into third-party calendar apps. Employees can request time off and swap shifts with other employees, which will alert their manager to approve or deny the request. Scheduling tools can generate work shifts based on templates for the whole company, or for a specific store, shift or employee group. Also, some rental software has a dispatch center or dashboard that allows for drag-and-drop scheduling of routes, drivers and riders. It should include methodologies for stops and breaks, and notes to the driver as well as directions about returning to the warehouse. It should include mapping, GPS interfaces, email capabilities to the driver and visibility to the non-dispatch staff with security to not allow unauthorized changes.
Telematics. Equipment is getting smarter and rental software can help you manage it. Whether it is through an integration with a software designed to manage telematics or using Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) standard information, rental software can see data generated by your equipment. This allows your maintenance due and service information to be up to date, for you to bill for excessive use, for you to service equipment before it breaks down and to overall better manage your fleet to ensure it has as much uptime as possible.
ARA Rental Software Reviews available to ARA members
The American Rental Association (ARA) has created ARA Rental Software Reviews, an online tool available exclusively to ARA members via ARArental.org.
Members can access the tool by clicking on “Rental Software Reviews” in the drop-down menu under the “Research” tab.
The tool is generated from an ongoing survey of ARA members, which asked members to rate their current rental software system as well as the importance of common rental-specific software features.
The tool includes survey results detailing features ARA members are using, features ranked by importance, market share according to reviews, software comparisons, software reviews and software feature comparisons.
Reports also can be filtered by industry segment and by the size of rental company.