George’s Corner: April 2011
By George Olah
Chances are, if you are reading this, you are reading it in hard copy and not on some form of electronic gadget – although this trend is rapidly changing. In my circle of rental customers and colleagues, most still use good old-fashioned Gutenberg-derived hard copy print versions of directories, instruction manuals, parts lists and magazines.
By George Olah
Chances are, if you are reading this, you are reading it in hard copy and not on some form of electronic gadget – although this trend is rapidly changing. In my circle of rental customers and colleagues, most still use good old-fashioned Gutenberg-derived hard copy print versions of directories, instruction manuals, parts lists and magazines. Personally, I like the electronic versions of the aforementioned, but most consider me a geek of sorts.
I love the web. I love websites. Some are truly functional and created by someone who has thought through what you, as a customer, might actually want – and allow you to access things quickly. Nothing pops up, blinks or flashes at you. It actually gives you information you can readily use. I am not alone when I say that too many websites out there are laden with gimmicks and distractions that don’t give you the support you are looking for. I strongly suspect this is why many users still rely on good old-fashioned print copies of manuals and parts lists.
For that matter, ever try to call up a website for technical information when you are on a client’s construction site and all you have is your smartphone to do so? It’s not easy to navigate your way through a screen slightly bigger than two bottle caps. Or perhaps you are on level 3 of a half-built parking garage where there is no electronic signal to be found, let alone seen, on your hand-held device. Certainly, a hard-copy printed catalogue is a must for those occasions.
Nevertheless, websites have their uses. It is challenging for most rental stores and equipment suppliers to develop the right site that will satisfy the needs of their customers. Some rental stores hire web design experts. This can be an experience in itself. If you decide to go this route, make sure you have a strategic and operational outline in place, and don’t forget to tell your designer what you want. It’s your business. Let the designer take the lead and you will get a website that may be gorgeous from a design perspective, but totally misses the target. Remember too, like taxi cabs, web designers operate on a meter that is on from the minute you meet them until the site is finished 2,000 hours later. Know what you want and need; planning, as always, is everything.
Those rental stores with real guts actually design their own sites from the get-go. Sometimes this approach works, but more often than not, it doesn’t. Again, remember to have a plan, and for goodness sake, don’t have too many people on a committee helping to design or you will create a very ugly disjointed camel.
Nothing drives me crazier than a website that employs Third World grammar and spelling that is neither English nor French. Keep it professional. Proofread. Use a dictionary (or even electronic spell check). And if you are using model and part numbers, make sure they are accurate, or else customers who thought they were ordering the low-pressure regulator will end up with a 50-foot propane hose instead. I know, because this has happened to me.
When it comes to website photos, don’t use your smartphone camera option or your child’s Barbie digital camera – just don’t. Many product manufacturers will gladly give you professionally prepared images. Keep everything up to date. Nothing is worse than a stagnant website with four-year-old images of out-of-date product lines.
If it takes you months and months to create a website, stop and take a deep breath, and ask yourself if you are in the website design business, or if you are a rental store operator. Focus your efforts, marketing strategies and resources creatively and always wisely.
Whatever format you choose, hard copy or soft (or, optimally, both), remember not to be distracted from your core business strategies. Never lose sight that pretty fonts come second, and product placement and accompanying information comes first.
No matter what information you provide for your customers, it must be the latest, whether print or electronic.
George A. Olah has more than 35 years of experience in the training, marketing, and renting of commercial appliances and equipment. He is presently the general manager of operations at ABCO Equipment & Supplies, a family-owned rental company located in Weston, Ont.