Art's Rental Equipment & Supply serves customers with 11 locations in the Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana areas. An updated online reservation system on its Web site, www.artsrental.com, enables customers to browse through rental equipment and supplies and place reservations online. Customers can also look at the company's used equipment for sale.

The Web site, which was updated in March, includes an updated version of the online reservation system that was implemented back in May 2001.

“The online reservation system was in play, but unfortunately it was flawed,” says Rebecca Lambert, director of marketing for Art's Rental, who designed the online reservation system. “We finally figured out some ways to make it as real time as possible.”

Lambert says that with the old system, customers had to log in to see prices. That step no longer exists. The number of total necessary steps to reserve equipment has been decreased from five to three.

Customers can begin searching for rental items under “Rental Equipment” or “Supply Items.” Both tabs break down further into categories. The rental equipment tab includes categories such as air equipment, compaction, forklifts and safety equipment. After choosing a general category, users can click on a type of equipment and then find a list of specific equipment available through Art's Rental. This system allows the customer to narrow down the options until he finds what he's looking for.

Several features add to the user-friendly nature of the Web site. Clicking on the magnifying glass link gives the user details about the listed product. The details link also gives product specifications such as engine type and horsepower. Product photos are included on some items and can be enlarged for easier viewing.

Clicking on the chain link gives a list of related items that the customer might need when renting equipment. For example, if the customer chooses a wheel loader and clicks on the link, it will list “wheel loader fork attachment” as a related item that he might want to consider. He can then find and reserve that item online.

Once a customer has decided on a piece of equipment to rent, the reservation process begins by clicking the reserve box. This brings up a chart with rental rates for that piece of equipment for three hours, one day, one week, four weeks and the deposit amount. This chart also lists suggested equipment along with rental rates so the customer can be reminded of other related equipment items and see their rental rates. On this page the user simply plugs in the amount of the items they need. They then have the option to click “add more items” to save their choices and continue browsing.

In Step 2 of the checkout process, the customer enters his information, such as company, name, address, e-mail and rental period for the desired item. A “smart calendar” system is smart enough to know holidays and days when the rental center is closed, so that no reservations are made for unavailable days, Lambert says. To ensure availability, the company suggests allowing 24 hours before pickup or delivery time.

“What's nice about online reservation is that it's just a reservation,” Lambert says. “That gives us a heads up so we can be prepared when they walk in the door. It allows us to serve the customer faster.”

The online reservation system doesn't replace personal interactions between the store and its customers.

“It's good to have both,” Lambert says. “It gives the customer a chance to see what we have before they come in.”

Even if customers choose not to reserve the equipment online, they can browse through the inventory so they have more of an idea of what to ask for when they go to the store in person.

Other features add to the convenience of Art's Rental's Web site. All locations are listed, along with a map with all locations on it. Clicking on a specific location links the user to a more detailed map, along with the address, phone and hours of the store. A picture of the store is included, as well as detailed driving directions. The FAQs link on the bottom of every page gives information about store hours, delivery and pickup, rental rates, insurance and charge accounts.

“So far people say it's nice and easy,” Lambert says. “We want it to be as easy as possible.”