There are a number of noteworthy points to make about this month's cover story subject Durante Rentals. The company has hit the ground running in the middle of a recession, during a time when it is particularly difficult to get loans from banks. As the Durante cousins Anthony and John point out, despite having high-collateral value on their assets and successful business backgrounds, capital has been almost impossible to come by and obviously this problem is familiar to many of our readers.
In a lot of ways it's old-fashioned hard work that has made Durante Rentals start off successfully. John is the son and Anthony the nephew of successful rental business owner John Durante Sr., so the young men grew up around the rental center and understand the basics. They were extremely fortunate in finding a location where 220,000 cars pass by their yard every day, many of them obvious potential customers. They work hard and they emphasize quick response, customer service and a hands-on approach that makes it easy for a customer to talk to an owner on the phone at any time — in fact, every time I've called Durante Rentals, one of the owners actually answered the phone.
These are traditional “keys to success” we hear about a lot. Other keys are perhaps illustrative of changing times. For example, with a business that caters to a contractor clientele, Durante Rentals doesn't have an outside sales person. However, they have had great success with a telephone marketer who calls customers every day. As co-owner Chris Jones says, Robert DiDonato is a “cold-calling machine,” who reaches a couple of hundred potential customers a month by phone, telling people about the company. The cold-calling has contributed to the development of a strong opt-in e-mail list and the company has used e-mailing and a presence on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing to make Internet advertising its primary marketing technique, while direct mail — long a staple of rental marketing — hasn't contributed much. The company has also been successful selling equipment on eBay.
Another key has been developing positive relationships with competitors. If a customer calls and asks for something the company doesn't have, Durante staff might spend 15 minutes trying to source the item for the caller, who may or may not be a regular customer. In some cases they will re-rent from a competitor; in other cases they'll refer the caller to the competitor.
I've observed the effectiveness of this approach in other companies over the years and I've always believed it will help you more than it will hurt. Oh sure, in a sense you're telling the customer you can't solve his problem, but Company X can. You're giving Company X the opportunity to come to that customer's jobsite, rather than come there yourself; you are giving the customer the opportunity to establish a relationship with Company X rather than your company. But the other point — which hopefully will stand out in the customer's mind — is that you took the time to solve the problem. You demonstrated to the customer that you were more concerned with helping him solve his problem than the possibility of losing the rental, and that solving the customer's equipment need was worth your time and energy, even though a competitor stood to make the money.
As a consumer, I know how it feels to be making phone calls looking to source a solution and being indifferently told “We don't have it,” with the phone hanging up before I could even ask who might. I also know I never forget the person who took time out from his busy day to help me solve my problem, even if he sent me to another store.
One of the points Anthony Durante makes is that if you're not willing to risk loss, you shouldn't be an equipment owner. In a situation like this, if you aren't willing to risk losing a customer, you also won't be in a position to gain that customer's trust.
Another point I observed at Durante Rentals is immediate response. The moment a customer walks in the door, drop whatever you are doing to say “Can I help you?” Yes, you probably learned this in Business 101, but it's still obvious that not all rental companies and counter personnel have this attitude. Most customers can fully understand if somebody's on the phone or busy with another customer. Simple as it may sound, at the very least, make eye contact with that person and say “I'll be right with you.” You are letting the customer know you know they are waiting, and, what's more important, you care that they are waiting.
That may be Business 101, but you'll never get to graduate school without it.