Connecting the Neighborhood

Imagine a customer walks up to a hotel concierge and asks where he can rent a car for the day. The front-desk clerk immediately calls your car rental agency to see if there are any vehicles available, but you haven't yet opened for the day. The clerk tells the customer to stop back down at the desk in an hour. The customer never returns, having made arrangements with another car rental company or changed his plans altogether.

That's a lost rental opportunity for you. However, this scenario doesn't have to repeat itself. The next time it happens the hotel clerk won't need to call your agency but can head straight to the computer. The clerk can log-in to a Web-based system, view - in real time - which vehicles are available from your lot and book the reservation for the customer immediately. Once the reservation is booked, you'll be notified via e-mail or text message, allowing you to take the appropriate action.

Toronto-based software provider Rent Centric has created a Web-based referral system as an alternative to the traditional word-of-mouth method used by rental operators. This electronic version offers speed, convenience and a guaranteed reservation, three factors in neighborhood rentals that are often more important to customers than the price of the rental vehicle.

The solution, called the "Partner and Distribution Channel Interface," allows independent operators to offer their rental services via local businesses - hotels, body repair shops, or anywhere someone wants to rent a car - by giving them access to real-time rental rates, inventory and contracts. "[Local businesses] are able to see, instantly, what availability there is without picking up a phone and making it seem like they are a third-party company," says Alex Aryafar, Rent Centric's chief technical officer. More importantly, the solution gives non-rental businesses the authority to complete rental transactions for customers in a matter of minutes.

Delivering for Van À Louer

Ahmed Gohar, owner of Sherbrooke, Canada-based Van À Louer, understands firsthand how quick service can trump price. He says the Rent Centric solution helps him overtake his competition by putting him in a position to offer rentals immediately. "It's not even competing with the price anymore; it's competing with service. You're just closer to the customer when he needs [a vehicle]," he says.

Gohar says the Rent Centric software program has helped him manage his growing business, which he started in 2009 with two vehicles and now, has 35. Van À Louer, which means, "van for rent" in French, caters to tourists from France who rent minivans and take summer road trips through the Quebec province, to Niagara Falls or the neighboring United States. The company offers delivery and pickup service of its rental vehicles.

Gohar has recruited local tow-truck companies and small hotels in downtown Montreal to be a part of his electronic referral network. He says the software program allows his third-party partners to complete rental transactions without a hitch. "They are able to book a van in our system ...We just get a notification that we have a delivery of a van at this time, on this date and that's it," he says.

CONTINUED:  Connecting the Neighborhood
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