Brad Kniep and his team at American Rental were frustrated with their equipment return process.

Customers would return items wherever felt convenient. Items would need to be brought back to a location for inspection and servicing, refilling fuel, etc. Because equipment tends to have a low maximum speed, it could take 5-10 minutes to get a piece of equipment from where it was dropped off to the company’s on-site fueling station.

When the company had built its new location in Morton, Illinois, Brad wanted to borrow from an industry that’s mastered quick service: Fast food. Specifically, he wanted a drive-thru.

And after watching machines inch slowly across the lot one too many times, he and the American Rental team knew it was time to make the drive-thru a reality.

The new rental process has led to several benefits at American Rental, including:

  • Increased efficiency – cutting down time moving items across the lot for fuel and service
  • Happier customers – serving them the way they prefer to be served
  • Inventory that’s easier to find – everything comes back to one designated location

But creating an entirely new process, taking fast-food principles and implementing them in an industry that’s largely face-to-face and conversational, completely changing the way you do business? It requires planning.

Here’s what you can learn from Brad and American Rental’s drive-thru implementation:

Drone shot of American Rentals in Morton, IL, and their drive-thru.
Drone footage of American Rental’s lot shows the layout; the drive-thru is on the right side of the building, aligned with the entrance.
First, lay the groundwork.

Not everyone has a new building that they’re creating, so American Rental’s setup (see below) may not work for you. You’ll need to assess your business’s setup to determine the ideal flow of traffic within your facility.

Don’t forget your people! Gather feedback from your team early on, making it clear that they are stakeholders in the process – your goal is to make their lives easier in this process, not harder.

After you’ve taken their input, but before you’ve actually implemented the drive-thru, define roles and responsibilities clearly and explain why you’ve set up the drive-thru the way you’ve chosen to. Make sure your staff knows how the process works; your customers are going to have questions.

Preparation and education gives your team the confidence to answer quickly, professionally, and get the customer where they need to be – quickly.

Including your team in the brainstorming phase has an additional benefit: By making staff feel like they’re stakeholders, they’re more likely to take ownership of the new process, increasing your odds of successful adoption.

Drive-thru signage at American Rental Center
Each lane of American Rental’s drive-thru is clearly labeled over the awning. There are also signs earlier in the process and directing them to the unload zone at the end of the building.
Educate your customers and provide them with tools.

Great – your staff knows how to operate the drive-thru. And your customers have definitely been through a drive-thru at some point – often on the way to pick up whatever they’re renting. So everyone should understand what to do intuitively, right?

Wrong. Even though you feel like it’s obvious and you and your team understand the processes, your customers don’t. Long-time customers do what they’ve always done, and new customers, well, they have no idea what to do or why you want them to use a drive-thru.

So educate your customers – create maps and signage that show your customers where to go and what to do when using your drive-thru. If you’re using eCommerce features within your rental software (or independently), you can make the on-site process much faster by sending documents and emails detailing the process in advance. And use the email confirmations to provide directions.

Remember to be patient throughout the process. Most renters aren’t at your business every day, so it’ll take time for them to become familiar with your new processes.

In time, though, the education you provide your customers pays off: Your team spends less time on the lot moving things back and forth, trying to find where items got returned, or getting items to and from an inconveniently-located step in the return-to-rental process. Your customers will spend less time in line at your counter, signing documents or waiting for you to find items. And you’ll spend less time wondering why it’s taking so long to get rentals out (and back in).

In short, everyone will get where they need to be, faster.

Staff at American Rental's drive-thru counter manage rentals in Elite.
Counter staff have a station right next to the drive-thru window, allowing them to easily see the lot and direct traffic appropriately.
Evaluate and adjust as necessary.

Below is a video and a description of how American Rental implemented drive-thru within their rental business, but even if you use their template perfectly, it may not work for you and your customers. Even if you’ve painstakingly built your own customized plan and you’ve thought everything through, conditions can change and you’ll need to adjust.

So make sure you’re keeping in touch with your customers and your staff, evaluating what’s working and what isn’t, and improving your experience.

So, how does American Rental do drive-thru rentals?

Because they had the space for it and because they’d customized their building for it, American Rental was able to build a three-lane drive-thru setup, with each lane serving a specific need and ideal customer.

Lane 1: Face-to-Face Interaction

A good number of rental customers prefer to maintain a face-to-face interaction where possible. The first lane allows for that direct staff interaction and make for easy conversations when a customer has questions or additional requirements, like additional signatures on documentation.

Lane 2: Contactless Rentals

Lane 2 is the next one away from the window, so like a fast-food restaurant, American Rental has installed a speaker system to make it easy to communicate with customers. This lane is great for customers who prefer a contactless experience or have already completed the necessary paperwork online.

Lane 3: Trucks and Trailers

As a large equipment company, American Rental rents items that don’t fit easily under their awning, especially if they’re on a trailer. The third lane accommodates them and their returns.

They’ve implemented Point of Rental eCommerce features like electronic signatures and web payments throughout the process. When customers have taken care of their paperwork and payment online, they’re able to skip the counter, skip the line, and they can go straight to the drive-thru. They’re not wasting valuable rental time waiting at a counter, signing paperwork, walking back out to the car, driving to a loading area, etc.

The person managing the drive-thru plays a vital role. They act as the director of the entire process, overseeing the drive-thru and monitoring Point of Rental for contract details. They have a comprehensive view of the inventory in American Rental’s yard, allowing them to orchestrate pickups and dropoffs.

And when they return items, customers pull straight ahead to the unload zone to unload, following the clearly-marked instructions. It’s right next to the garage and the fueling station, which makes it easy to quickly inspect equipment and get it ready for another rental (or pull it into maintenance if necessary).

If you’re looking for tools that’ll help you make your rental business more efficient, fill out the form below; we’ll contact you to find out how we can help.