Interview with Outdoor Travel on Streamlining RV Rentals through Automation

Outdoor Travel RV DealerManaging RV rentals is an enormous challenge. You have to deal with a high volume of transactions, unit depreciation, constant maintenance and inflated customer expectations. With so many variables at play, employees are bound to make mistakes and take longer to do their work than necessary, leading to poor business results.

That’s why Outdoor Travel – a dealership founded in 1992 by RV sales veteran Ken Whiting – has fully automated many of its processes, making life easier for everyone.

Ken’s son and general manager of the dealership, Andy Whiting, explains how staying on the cutting edge of technology has allowed his business to become more efficient and grow.

Tell us a little about Outdoor Travel and its history.

Andy: “We started out in Burlington, right between Appleby line and Burloak, on Harvester Road, which was on the highway, but it was a very small location and lot. And we started with rentals. We had a rental fleet.”

When did you move to your current location on Eastport Drive in Hamilton?

Andy: “We moved here in 1998. We started with four acres, and we leased the location from the port. They built this building, giving us great highway exposure. Then we rented two more acres beside us and expanded that way.

But now we’ve outgrown this location and moving to the next one. The new space we purchased is twice this size. We’ll have lots of service bays and a showroom, which will be nice for people in the winter.”

What do you think makes your dealership competitive enough to expand like this?

Andy: “We put on good sales promotions, we do a lot of training with our salespeople, we show value in what we offer   and we work hard for the customers. We do what’s right to build relationships with them – and our employees as well. I think that pays. People really appreciate that and give us great reviews online and in-person.”

Is rental still a big part of your business?

Andy: “No, sales is the biggest, for sure. Rental is definitely a great department, but it’s challenging. It involves a higher volume of transactions and you have the depreciation of the units to worry about.

You need to have proper communication with customers too. You have to let them know the rules upfront – what to watch out for, how to drive the units, what’s covered by insurance and what you have to pay for and how expensive it is. You want them to look after it properly and avoid damage, so that the next rental of the unit can go out again.

As far as the business goes, we really like it. It brings us income and gives people a way to try out the units, if they are thinking of buying one, without committing to the cost of owning one.”

When did you start using IDS and what were you using before?

Andy: “We started using it around 2006, but it has taken us a while to get there. Software is a big commitment – both in terms of money and process. We relied on manual paperwork before that, so in order to transition smoothly, we needed to get everybody trained.

Before IDS, we also tried working with a programmer who wrote a software system for the auto industry and wanted to develop something for the RV industry. So, he actually offered us the product for free as a beta. And of course, nothing really worked. We had meetings to discuss this glitch or that glitch… It was painful.

After we went through that for a while, we decided to take the leap and get something that was the best software system out there, which was IDS.”

Are you actively participating in IDS beta groups? If so, what are some of the benefits?

Andy: “Different ones, yes. We participated in the CRM, mobile apps and the rental beta.

The benefit is that you get on board with the system early. I think the sooner you do that, the better. All your people are involved, learning the system early, and you’re staying ahead of everything. You’re also staying in touch with IDS, and you can actually be a part of the development process. They take your business into consideration.”

Prior to implementing the IDS rental solution, how were you managing your rental department?

Andy: “Rentals was always manual – paper. We have actually a really good manual system for rentals and it works. We have boards up on the wall that help us keep track of all the units going out and arrange all the contracts by date ahead of time.”

Why did you consider the IDS rental solution then?

Andy: “There is efficiency. When a customer calls, the salespeople have to get out of their office, put the customer on hold and check the board to see if the unit’s available or not. If it’s not available, they have to go tell the customer what’s not available. Then the customer says, ‘Well, if that’s not available, then what about this other date?’

‘Well, hang on a minute, let me check that one.’

Then they go through the whole process again, which is a pain for them. Now they can have a PDF of the rental reservation form right on their computers. They can do that in IDS. Type it up, and all the information will transfer to the rental agreement, so that you’re not writing up duplicate contracts. It just ties everything together.”

Do you run efficiency reports in IDS Accounting to see how profitable your rental operation is?

Andy: Yes, we put in all our costs – personnel, advertising, overhead, etc. It’s great to have everything in the same system and see where you’re at.

How has using the IDS Rentals module changed your life?

Andy: “It helps us grow and be more efficient. And I think the salespeople have a better, more formalized way of quoting. When a problem happens in rental, like if you screw up a date and someone shows up to pick up their rental on that date, it’s no fun. The less room you have for error, the better.

Having your operations streamlined and easy for everyone just helps the business grow and everything go better.”

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