Opening a bike rental business is a great way to become a part of a thriving industry. With cycling becoming a more popular method of transportation as people move towards eco-friendly transport, the bike rental industry is currently booming.
However, starting a business requires lots of research, planning and setting up in order for it to be successful. The team at bike.rent Manager has decades of experience within the bike industry, from owning bike rental shops to operating bike tours. To aid potential founders in getting started within the sector, they have outlined four tips for how to start a bike rental business.
- Start with market research
When it comes to starting a bike rental business, Mark Scarbrough has over 20 years of experience in the bike industry as a shop owner, manager, mechanic and operations specialist. Mark advises entrepreneurs that “a little bit of market research goes a long way.” From his experience, he suggests in order to understand what consumers desire in an area, the first step is to rent a bike yourself.
Mark explains “Check around the area, go and rent a bike or product yourself. You want to identify what types of shops already exist, and what the terrain is like in the local area to identify the kind of bikes which would be required in the desired rental vicinity.
“You need to have a clear understanding of the local laws in the area, too. For example, if you are planning on opening an electric bike rental shop, make sure of the local laws regarding e-bikes and where they are and aren’t allowed. If you are starting to rent mountain bikes, make sure that the trails around the area allow bikes.
“I would also recommend shopping the competition and reading Bicycle Retailer and other publications that are dedicated to the desired industry. They often offer insight into key metrics that can help you make decisions. A good understanding of your competitor’s product and rental offerings is a great start, to make sure that the area/market isn’t oversaturated with other rental programs”
- A business plan is invaluable
Once the market research has been conducted, the team stress the importance of drafting a business plan. Jorrit Reitsma has vast experience as a business owner within the bike rental, tours and hospitality industry. As a Customer Success Manager at bike.rent Manager, Jorrit regularly supports bike rental shops within their early stages and suggests business plans are “invaluable” when starting a rental business.
He explains “Business plans not only help you start and get financing or partners on board but also help you reflect throughout your journey. After your first year, you can reflect on what you planned and what really happened, adjust, refine, and grow in the next year.”
Jeremy Sager, with over 28 years of experience in the bike and ski rental industry added “Without a plan, your chances of success are quite low. It is very important to know what is needed to start your business and what will be needed to sustain and grow it. Going in blind will simply lead to frustration and possible failure.”
When it comes to what your business plan needs to include, Doug Stoddart, CEO at bike.rent Manager explains “Within your business plan, you want to write down all your core assumptions, including the rentals you expect to achieve per month and at what rate, and how many months of the year your season will last.
Doug adds that finding a mentor is invaluable “Talk it through with someone who has done this kind of thing before. Look for the holes, don’t look for validation. If it survives this process then you have something good!”
- Find software to lighten your workload
When it comes to finding software, the team stress the importance of finding the right platform for your business. After running his own bike store in France for six years, Doug founded bike.rent Manager to support the bike rental industry in providing better customer experiences. Doug, explains “You need to find a tool that will help with every aspect of your rental business, not just taking online bookings, but preparing bikes, managing rentals, tracking inventory, etc.”
“A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that all they need are bikes, a website, and a shop. In the long run, this will end up costing you a ton of time and is a false economy. When you buy tools for your workshop, you get the right tools for the job, so why wouldn’t you do that for your bike rental operation?”
Jorrit adds “Search for software that takes work out of your hands, prevents errors and simplifies the communication with your customers. Invest time in setting that system up so you can fully trust it when going into high season.”
Working within bike.rent Manager to onboard stores, Jeremy warns of the importance of taking your time when picking the right software for your bike rental business “Research thoroughly, allow ample time for trials, and ask a lot of questions specific to their needs. Don’t make hasty decisions and be sure to exhaust all options before making a final choice. It is also important to plan ahead to give your staff time to learn the software and get comfortable before going live with customers.”
- Engage in direct contact with customers to get feedback
Finally, the team express the importance of gaining feedback from customers during the early stages of the business in order to improve.
Having worked as a shop owner himself, Mark explains: “Direct contact with the customers is the best way to gain feedback. Simply asking how the ride was is a great way to get that feedback! They will definitely let you know if there were any problems with the bike or rental item. Post rental, business owners can contact their customers via email and SMS for feedback, too, in order to access the customer’s thoughts once they have reflected on their experience.”
Doug adds “You want feedback on the good, bad, and ugly. Having suggestion boxes on the website, posting feedback forms to customers, and reaching out to them via email or SMS are crucial. Customer feedback in the early stages of your business will allow you to refine your offering to suit the needs of your target market, so make sure to welcome feedback on everything and anything.”