Discount Car and Truck Rentals in Quebec has launched an hourly truck and van rental service called Discount Self-Service. The program began operations in May and rents from about 25 parking spots at present in Montreal and Quebec City, with the goal to expand.
Discount Self-Service runs on Rent Centric’s self-service carsharing platform, which includes telematics technology, a web application, and integration with its management system.
“We’re the largest car rental operator in Quebec by geographic coverage,” says Steven Lazaroff, director of Discount’s retail sales division. “We want to complement that by giving the customer accessibility to a vehicle down the street.”
To initiate the Discount Self-Service program, users register online, access the web app on their smartphones, and then use it to find and reserve the closest cargo van or cutaway box truck at any time. Upon arrival at the vehicle, the smartphone initiates the rental process and unlocks the doors, and then the renter records a visual inspection of the vehicle with the smartphone.
Upon completion, the renter returns the vehicle to the same parking lot, makes another smartphone inspection, and locks the vehicle with the smartphone to terminate rental. Users’ credit cards are billed based on kilometers driven and the amount of rental time. There is no membership or registration fee.
For issues with anything from the registration process to the technology or the rental, users can access Discount’s call center to speak to a live agent. The call center can complete the transaction for users without smartphones.
A New Model
Lazaroff says that the self-service offering will be kept separate from the company’s brick-and-mortar locations and is not meant to compete with them. The plan is to leave daily rentals to the store locations, and focus the hourly rental service where customers have last-minute needs for trucks and vans.
“We want [potential renters] who aren’t coming to us because of accessibility reasons such as operating hours or geographical distance,” he says. “If we can get our trucks closer to the customer’s house, there is a better chance of getting that extra rental.”
The vehicles are placed opportunistically in dense commercial and residential neighborhoods. Discount has inked a partnership to place vehicles with Canadian hardware retailer Rona, Inc. and will announce other retail partnerships soon.
One opportunity is to catch potential customers at stores that end up with an impromptu purchase of a larger item. “Using shipping provided by the store has inherent disadvantages,” Lazaroff says. “[With Self-Service], consumers now have an immediate solution.”
While the industry progresses toward service that melds car rental and carsharing, transitioning auto rental outside the confines of the traditional rental counter comes with challenges and takes considerable planning — though not insurmountable, as the Discount initiative attests.
Discount is marketing the self-service concept through a blend of traditional means such as membership drives and non-traditional platforms such as social media. Users are also exposed to the service where the vehicles are parked, Lazaroff says.
Lazaroff advises that those looking to implement a self-service program should not focus on profits from day one. “It takes some time to generate awareness of the platform and the technology,” he says.
Maintaining optimal utilization and a high daily dollar average means analyzing transactions by location. If a vehicle is underperforming in one location, it will be moved to another, Lazaroff says. With hourly rentals, operators need to concentrate on generating multiple transactions in a day. “We are giving the customer the flexibility to pay by the hour,” he says. “In exchange, we are hoping that they will bring back the truck within a few hours so we can rent it out again the same day.”
Ironically, the success of the program could drive the transformation of the entire company. “This decentralizes the rental fleet and puts it where the need is,” Lazaroff says. “As we grow self-service and expand our base of users, we’re offering our customers new and innovative ways to satisfy their transportation needs.”