Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bike Rentals, An Adventure



The local subreddit received a post requesting one of us rent a bike to a visitor while their significant other was at a conference.  This spawned an interesting adventure, and I learned a ton.

The post provided me with a list of expectations, and we quickly moved to Private Messages to hash out the details.  The end result was $20 per day for a bike, helmet and tools needed to keep you going.

I quickly found out I wasn't as prepared to rent as I had presumed.  For the bike, I had a $150 Wal-Mart special with a good amount of wear, baskets on the pedals, and some upgrades like a headlight.  The back tire on the bike was completely shot, so any money from this venture was going to go right back into it.  I didn't have patches, a portable pump, and my bike tool was nowhere to be found.  A trip to JT's and I was set.

The renter was staying at the Green Valley Ranch, a local hotel/resort, and their bell desk was endlessly accommodating.  I dropped it off with a note for the person staying in the hotel.  I communicated the tag ID to the renter, and I was off.  I even did it on the way to work, so it was relatively painless.

Until I got the phone call.

As a software tester, you would think I would learn to test my own stuff before I deploy.  Unfortunately, I forgot this portion and ended up handing over a bike with a disabled chain.  I got the phone call in the morning after the renter's arrival, and I was frantic and embarrassed.  U rushed over on an early lunch, fixed the mangled chain, gave it a spin around the parking lot, and kicked the tires for good measure.  Again, the bell staff was extremely accommodating, and it was stowed securely in time for lunch.  The rest of the experience was relatively painless.  I picked it up after the renter had flown.  I paid the bell desk a tip on pick-up.  All the kit was there and intact.

Could I streamline and improve this service?  Here are some ideas:

  • The sign-up process could be accomplished online.  
  • Several waivers should be added to make sure the lawyers don't come calling after our first injury.  
  • Accident insurance and similar services could be added on as well.  Neither renter nor owner wants to be caught unawares.  
  • A service level could also be established: will work on delivery (oops), service calls available within X hours, deposits or charges for repairs, and so forth.  
  • Instructions for the bell desk, advertisements, and similar services could also be bolted on.  Making it easy for the staff engenders trust and is good advertising.
  • The kit was mostly good, but delivery could have been more glamorous (kit bag attached to bike instead of in a plastic grocery sack).  
  • I would make people bring their own helmets or have them available for purchase.  Helmets are very hard to gauge if they have gone bad.  Why risk the lawsuit if an injury does occur.

So, was it worth it?  That is a definite no.  Could I make it worthwhile?  Maybe.

The cost to take the bike, if everything went smoothly, would be gas and time for delivery,  Spread over enough hotels, this could be accomplished relatively easily once the service hit critical mass.  The repair was a huge hit to profitability (driving there and back on lunch), but careful testing and integration with deliveries/pickups would also make it something that could be priced in with some research.  Theft could be mitigated by insurance, but it would need to be managed carefully and included in the cost.  Finally, payment was through PayPal which took a sizable cut.  Cash might be better, but since the ideal rental involves never meeting your customer, it is impractical.  Credit would slice the charges in half.

An attractive alternative is to offer rental services to the hotels/resorts themselves and only deal with them.  It would be a simple way to attract business, and they could take advantage of existing infrastructure for payments, renting, waivers, etc.  With enough coverage, it might just make a profit.
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