5 Keys to Improve Your Online Rental Business

At 2018 Summer NAMM, Peter Sides, president of Robert M. Sides Family Music, shared five key tips to build your online rental business. Sides remarked that his company jumped into the online rental business 10 years ago—when very few were doing it. That first year, Sides did 2 percent of his rental business online; today, it’s 31 percent.

According to Sides, his core approach is to make rentals easy for customers. He started his company’s program with “3 Easy Steps to Rent Online Tonight”: choose your school/district, choose your instrument and complete the online paperwork. Sides commented that this customer-first focus is at the heart of everything his store does.

Here are his tips for growing your online rental business. (Watch the video for the full session.)

1. Begin with the end in mind.
Sides remarked that there are 150 reasons why a kid could quit or never start playing music, and we don’t have control over any of those. That said, you can control the online rental experience, in-store rental experience, paperwork and accurate accessories and books. And you will have a good shot at creating happy parents, happy school band and orchestra directors, and enthusiastic students.

2. Embrace the shopping habits of modern moms.
Your primary customer is millennial moms, and it’s smart to know their shopping habits. A few ideas to keep in mind:

• Relationships are their currency.

• They value the experience mindset. And it’s not always about price. It’s about the package itself.

• They love limited deals and offers, such as Groupon. Sides will put a code at the bottom of his online rentals, so customers feel they’re getting a deal (even if the discount already extends to the school or district).

• They love bundles and value-added packages. Sides shared that he has standardized his rental program, so stands and shoulder rests are included. If you make products optional, there are unintended consequences. Make it simple and easy, so that customers get everything for one price.

• Reviews and recommendations are huge. Make it easy for them to give reviews, and respond to all reviews. Facebook is easier to get to than Google, and Sides mentioned that he noticed many of his company’s reviews happen on Facebook.

• They (and everyone) dislike online friction. This includes anything that bogs down the online process. Your company will be compared to the technology experience at Target, Amazon and other megabrands. Customers don’t differentiate between mom-and-pop and large chain stores.

3. Avoid the two common mistakes.
• Who is the online rental customer? Ten years ago, Sides and his staff were under the impression that online rentals were for people who lived five counties away or missed rental nights. Now, they know online rentals are for anyone who doesn’t have enough time in their day, which is 99 percent of Sides’ customers! His company rents online to customers who live a block away from a Sides Family Music store. It’s not just about distance anymore. An online rental customer is just about anybody.

• The website is the easy part—don’t forget the human system. Sides shared that he got in trouble by not conducting a process review, starting with when the order comes in on the website. “All the efficiency that the website brought was lost because the internal operations involving our people and the product wasn’t in place,” he said. “No website can make up for the lack of organization in operations.”

4. Find inspiration for improvement.
According to Sides, you can benchmark your online rentals against other music stores, but you’re also going to be compared to Amazon and large retailers. Sides shared examples of national brands in other industries that set good examples, such as Stanley Steemer and Enterprise. Stanley Steemer sends confirmation emails and has a “What to Expect” video, which is an idea you can incorporate for your online rental business. It’s another step in the communication, in addition to a thank you email. Don’t let your customers make incorrect assumptions. Sides emphasized: “We can always do better.”

5. Create a 30-day action plan.
Ask yourself what you can do long before the start of rental season.

• Have focus groups. The best focus groups are people who have never done business with you or don’t know anything about music. Talk with them. Have them go through your website and do a fake rental. Have them look at your rental contract. Do the clicks and explanations mean anything to someone who doesn’t have the experience of signing a child up for something or doesn't have kids?

• Cross-market your online rentals on all signage and printed materials. Sides shared that he puts QR codes and “Save Time—Rent Online Today!” on everything his company does. His team will coach teachers to direct their students online, so they won’t have to deal with paperwork on their desks.

• Audit. Look for FAQs to identify weaknesses under Contact Us, emails and forms. Sides Family Music’s contact page goes into a Gmail account that Sides monitors, so he can see the most common questions that come in. These are opportunities to become clearer in your online rental process. Use quick, concise steps and easy bullet points in your copy. You can also do this for online lessons: Go through sign-ups, and look at any inquiries.