Kieran Howells catches up with Doug Stoddart – the driving force behind Bike Rental Manager, to talk about the company’s history, future and why you should be spending less time on spreadsheets.
Where did the idea for the company come from?
I opened a bike rental operation about 11 years ago, in the South of France. I needed a way to manage my rentals, my bikes etc. Having done some research there was nothing on the market so I started using a spreadsheet – I was quite proud of my spreadsheet! But then I realised I’d created a monster; it was a nightmare to run, didn’t respond well to change, and created loads of manual operations and paperwork. So I created BRM one summer out the back of the shop. Sold the first version to https://kentcyclehire.com/ about six months after I wrote the first line of code – he still uses BRM to this day!
What would you say is the brand’s mission statement?
Ha! you got us – we are working on one. Right now the closest we have is our tagline “re-inventing renting.” Fundamentally, we want to be the champion of the IBD – standing up for the little guys in the face of all the current challenges. I was a bike rental operator myself so feel I’m kind of taking up the cause. BRM is the only 100 per cent dedicated bike rental platform. The creator was also a bike renter. So we understand the detail, the workflow and the market in a way that no-one else does. Renting shouldn’t be that hard. In fact rental can be very profitable when done right. We do our best to make it easy, and are honest and open about our fees. We don’t take commission on rental bookings!
Tell us about the product, what can BRM achieve for dealers?
It just does ALL the boring admin in one handy package – so you can get back to dealing with customers and bikes. Inventory, availability, rental life-cycles, customers, transactions, reporting, contracts, maintenance. We give you back control, transparency and your time. Above all it handles the one certainty of rental with ease – change! AND crucially it includes a fully integrated online booking system.
What would you say to dealers who are on the fence about the idea?
Just try it out! It’s quick and easy, it will allow you to rent more for less effort. Nearly all of our customers stay with us for many years – so we must be doing something right!
What about those who are less tech savvy, are they still able to take advantage of the service?
Yes, absolutely! some of our biggest customers started out as sceptics or even downright technophobes! Once you’ve made four or five bookings on the system you will wonder why it took you so long to convert. I was talking to someone in Florida recently – they told me their wife works until 10pm each night, during rental season, re-entering their paper-based rentals into their accountancy system each night! That is not normal – get your life back – get BRM!
Tell us about the team, who works for BRM?
I founded BRM and after 3-4 years hired Mark Negus as our CTO. We also now have Lynn in Finance & support and Sari on Customer Success.More recently Louise joins us as a contract Bus Development manager. From time to time we buy in expertise from third party development agencies.
How do you change and evolve with technology?
BRM has changed enormously since the beginning, but encouragingly the key diagram I first drew in my workshop all those years ago, has not really changed. Regarding the pace of change, we do about two releases per week, sometimes more. Fixing things, adding features, upgrading base technology, and responding to suggestions. For example this January we swapped out the online booking wizard for brand new, beautiful, fully responsive version.
Nearly all of our customers stay with us for many years – so we must be doing something right!
Do you think dockless bike shares pose a threat to IBD rentals?
It depends, but yes I think on some occasions they do. It certainly is something else on the landscape for IBD’s to be worried about, and ensure that they are not resting on their laurels. It can be a good wake-up call. If you provide a great service with quality bikes well suited to local terrain / market then you will be fine, anything short of that and sure you may feel the pressure. At the end of the day bike-share will always be providing transportation, whereas bike rental has the potential to provide much more than that – great experiences that people will really cherish and talk about. Choose your bikes well to differentiate and go all out to provide the best experience possible – from initial phone call to bike return and beyond.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We have just been accepted onto a UK startup accelerator programme to help us grow, so the future is very exciting! In five years we want anyone who rents bikes to either be using BRM or about to use BRM! We have a raft of new ideas / projects that we can’t talk about that we will be rolling out over the coming year or two.
Find out more about Bike Rental Manger here.