5 Strategies to Grow Your Rental Program

During a panel discussion at The 2017 NAMM Show, Daniel Jobe of Friedman, Kannenberg & Co. led top retailers Leslie Faltin of Instrumental Music Center, Jeff Bertrand of Bertrand’s Music and Peter Sides of Robert M. Sides Family Music Centers in a practical, valuable discussion about growing instrument rental programs. Jobe also spoke to retailers wanting to start a rental program, saying, “Growth can start from zero.”

Here are the five most important ways to grow your rentals, shared by the panelists. (Watch the video for the full session.)

1. Nurture relationships.
Bertrand: By far, it’s the most important thing you can do. You must have a relationship with the school educator, and they need to know you’re there to help them and not sell them. Once you establish the relationship and trust, you’ll see growth. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Sides: This is obviously No. 1 because there’s no amount of advertising, merchandising, or anything else that customers would find impressive that can trump the personal relationship with the music educators, school administrators or centers of influence [teachers, parents and boosters] in a district.

Takeaway: Relationships with teachers, band directors and school administrators are key.

2. Hire the right people.
Faltin: To maintain a rental fleet, if you want to be successful, you need to have a repair shop in place. Keeping repair techs can be challenging, but it’s important to have repair staff. Making sure the instruments are in quality working order is a way to keep your rental students playing. The other part of the people equation is having someone administer the rental contracts.

Sides: You can say you’re one retirement (or change of career) away from losing accounts, e.g., a band director or road rep. Good people are hard to find, but that relationship has to be diverse. If you, as a store owner, or your store manager don’t have a relationship with the school influentials and your rep is the only one managing it, it’s a potential huge loss. Find and develop good people.

Takeaways: Get out and visit the schools yourself. You also need to have key people you can trust and train.

“People are the No. 1 underestimated thing in growth,” Jobe said.

3. Offer online rentals.
Bertrand: We’re seeing an increase in online rentals every year. I still believe there’s a personal experience that a parent and child want when they come into the store that they can’t get from an online transaction. It’s one of the things that still drives people into your store. But you also need to be there in online rentals.

Sides: Twenty-nine percent of our rentals was our online program this year. We feel it has a big impact on the retention and recruitment at the school because if you miss the rental meeting it would be an excuse not to start playing. We’re trying to take away the reasons they wouldn’t start but also address the convenience issue that people are expecting. Online rentals are also convenient and efficient for your store operations because the data is handled more easily and the back-end savings is exponential.

Takeaway: Go where the customers are.

4. Rental customers are lifelong customers.
Bertrand: We’re not the best at promoting to existing customers, but we do capture crucial information through rentals. And we use that to promote our two annual sales. Our numbers have skyrocketed, along with our rentals growth, because we’re sending out emails and calling.

Sides: If your store is focused on families and kids, you have a life cycle of a family as customers. You have those families coming into your store until the kids go off to college. Our instrumental rental business has provided a synergistic spin-off that’s hard to quantify, but we continue to grow our business this way.

Takeaway: It’s not a one-time exchange. Rental customers come back, and family members are add-ons.

5. Promote your rentals.
Faltin: We do this event called Play Date. We invite our private instructors into the store, and set up stations to try any instrument you want. We get everyone from toddlers to grandparents in the store. We rented 20 instruments from our last event. You’re sowing the seeds for rentals because customers are going to think of you when it comes time to rent and how they had a great time at your event. It costs us nothing, except for the cleaning and adjustments of the instruments. Teachers donate their time.

Bertrand: We do something similar to Leslie’s event. Every Saturday or Sunday from May through August, you can sign up to let your child try an instrument, to find the one that’s best for them. It’s turned out to be a gold mine, and we found that kids who tried would turn into rentals.

Takeaway: Promoting goes back to relationships.