Sunbelt Rentals VP: Ecommerce is about ‘making it easy’ for rental customers

Ecommerce is evolving to make equipment rental a transaction that can happen entirely online, if that’s the customer’s preference, but are rental companies ready to take the leap? We talked with Bryan Gassler, VP of ecommerce at Sunbelt Rentals, to find out.

Bryan Gassler Sunbelt Rentals Bryan Gassler, vice president of ecommerce at Sunbelt Rentals (Image: Sunbelt Rentals)

Ecommerce is everywhere. We can buy everything from groceries to houses online today, and equipment rental is no exception. If you’re new to the concept, perhaps you’re wondering what it might mean to your company. 

One of the top construction equipment rental companies in North America with more than 1,250 locations, Sunbelt Rentals is at the forefront when it comes to ecommerce. In the spring of 2022, the company introduced the Sunbelt Rentals Mobile App to allow customers to manage all aspects of their rental experience. The app offers easy equipment rental via a multi-search functionality, making it simple for customers to find, rent and manage equipment.

“We’re excited to offer this new app for our customers,” said Gassler upon release of the app last year. “We’re committed to improving our customers’ rental experience, and we listened to our customers’ inputs as we designed and built this app. Now all aspects of the tool and equipment rental life cycle can be managed right at the fingertips of our customers, helping them save time and gain more transparency into their daily operations.”

Available in phone and tablet versions and able to be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play, Sunbelt Rentals’ app allows users to create a reservation and select the delivery date and time or rent online and pick up at the Sunbelt Rentals location nearest to them. They can also see product specs and view frequently rented items to rent again. Easy-to-access contract details and the ability to organize contracts by projects or save, search and filter items by date or contract number add flexibility.

Customers can also build a project-specific dashboard to monitor upcoming deliveries or in-store pickups and to see when rental periods are ending. To provide further operational support, the Sunbelt Rentals Mobile App offers direct access to view and download invoices, make partial or multiple payments and pay by credit card.

To find out more about where Sunbelt Rentals and the rental industry stand on the ecommerce trend, we talked with Bryan Gassler, vice president of ecommerce at Sunbelt Rentals.

Rental Briefing: How would you characterize where the rental industry as a whole stands in its acceptance and adoption of ecommerce?

Gassler: I think the industry is under penetrated in this space, and adoption is still on the low side, because rentals are a logistical challenge. It takes a lot of time to understand a customer’s needs. How are we going to fill that need, and how are we going to get the equipment to the customer? Automating that takes time.

That’s largely what we’re working on. We’re never going to replace humans. It’s more about providing an omni-channel experience. The rental industry has historically been a face-to-face partnership/relationship business. Many customers are used to picking up the phone and talking to someone, so we’ve got to overcome that barrier and get the customers to embrace the benefits ecommerce can offer.

When customers land on our website, or use the app, is it easy for them to do whatever they’re trying to do, whether it’s create a reservation, request service or request pickup? How do we make this process easier? How do we raise awareness around this offering in the rental industry? A lot of it is just enhancing and removing friction from the experience.

Rental Briefing: To what extent does your existing customer base prefer a digital experience? 

Gassler: We have some customers doing almost 100% of their business on the platform. You’ve got another group of customers that will make reservations and orders through our direct sales network, but then pay their invoices online and do their reporting online. Adoption as a whole is still on the low side. 

Rental Briefing: What do you think is the key to getting people to embrace ecommerce in rental?

Gassler: The message we need to get across is that it’s easy. When you engage with one of our equipment rental specialists at the counter, they ask you what dates you need the equipment. Say it’s a 19-foot scissor. If we don’t have one for that date, they’ll ask you if you can take the next size up or next size down? We are working to make our customers digital experience similar. Transactions for highly rental-penetrated products like aerial equipment has become very, very easy online. I think you’ll see those customers will easily go more digital.

From a generational perspective, you’ve got the construction managers, project managers, fleet managers coming out of college and their first inkling is not to call someone when they need a machine. They prefer a digital experience. Either way, it’s always about making it easy, and we try to do that all across the business.

Rental Briefing: The data and the tools that are becoming available to companies like Sunbelt Rentals... how might it change the way a contractor does their work? Is there more potential collaboration? How far can this go in terms of enhancing the efficiency of construction itself?

Gassler: The opportunity is huge. The ability to do those things is already there, we just need to have the right platforms in place. It takes a sizable investment, however. It is the direction things are going. 

We’re already doing it in the industrial space, which is rapidly growing in response to the effects supply chain disruptions have had on the economy. With that in mind, Sunbelt Rentals created its “construction roadmap” to help customers think through every phase of industrial facility construction. Each section includes a top-line description of that phase, tips to help you plan, and the equipment used. With a little planning, they can ensure they always have what they need when they need it, to keep a project on schedule and within budget.

Rental Briefing: Where do you see the future going with ecommerce, for Sunbelt Rentals and for the industry in general? 

Gassler: I think we’re going to get smarter and make the self-service experience easier. We’re already installing the platforms to do that. We see the benefits of getting to market sooner with minimally lovable products and then evolving them over time and learning from our customers. It’s really about the feedback loops from the customer, working on the pain points, both for our people in the business and for the customer, and then ruthlessly prioritizing the customers’ needs. Adoption will come over time.

Rental Briefing: How do you go about getting customer feedback?

Gassler: We have a research team that works within our digital design team, and we’re working on a cadence of structured customer inputs. You could go on our website this week and be asked a question... “How was your experience? Tell us why you gave us that score.” We’re working to parse that information into actionable insights. In our ecommerce cross-functional team, we’re basing how we build things solely on customer input.

We’re establishing a customer advisory board as well. So it’s about having a steady cadence, and opening up the digital channel to the collect feedback loopand taking action on what matters most. We take a very customer-centric approach.

Rental Briefing: Parting thoughts for what’s next?

Gassler: As a whole, you’ll see the “Bigs” in the industry evolve these digital experiences rapidly over the next several years. I think the customers are going to come because in the end, they just want what’s easy. But I think it’s also about giving that omni-channel experience. If customers want to complete a transaction on their own through the web or app, we’ve got great tools there for them to do it. If they want to walk into the store, they can do that too. What I think you’ll see is how all those options play together and deliver a cohesive experience across the whole rental transaction.

The customer has options. They can walk in the store and rent something, but they also have a digital account we can use to communicate. That push and pull of information between us and the customer is just going to get better and more frequent. 

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Ollie Hodges Publisher Tel: +44 (0)1892 786253 E-mail: ollie.hodges@khl.com
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