Software promises fewer headaches for rental sector

B.C. companies find growing market for automated inventory, bookings management 

Zaui Software founder Kory Fawcett does business with a wide range of businesses including zip lines, tour
companies and charter bus lines | Two Wheel Gear 

The warmer days of spring and summer – they are coming, aren’t they? – mean bike and motor scooter rental shops will be busy. How do they keep track of bookings and inventory?

Well, they can use old-school methods – working the phones, writing things down and using Excel spreadsheets. Or they can use software designed by two B.C. companies that does a lot of the work for them.

Zaui Software, located in Gastown, has technology to manage large fleets of rental equipment. Checkfront, based in Victoria, provides the same function.

The rental area is one of four industries Zaui is involved with, the others being tour operations (zip lines, heli-skiing, canopy tours, rafting, dogsledding), transportation (shuttles, charter buses) and ticketing (theatres, concerts).

The concept for Zaui Software came to founder Kory Fawcett while he was living in his van at Locarno Beach after an earlier software venture became a casualty of the dot-com crash in the early 2000s. Acting on his new idea, Fawcett devised software for an Alberta transportation company shuttling passengers from Banff to Calgary. Tour operators and sports groups heard about the product and contracted Zaui, which went international in 2006.

“The automation of management allows rental companies to manage massive bike-rental fleets or ski-rental fleets,” Fawcett said. “It allows them to scale their rental businesses out of the mom-and-pop shop format and dovetail those into online channels like TripAdvisor or Expedia. Otherwise, those inventory pools are locked up in spreadsheets and pen and paper.”

Zaui, with a staff of 16, focuses its rental market in destination areas like Whistler or Vail, Colorado.

Rental companies, which manage inventory on an hourly or daily basis, can use the software for inventories, pricing, online booking and walk-up traffic.

Like Zaui, Checkfront began as a one-person operation, when Jason Morehouse developed a prototype. His experience in e-commerce told him that while retail outlets had software to manage their businesses, “there was a big hole in the industry” when it came to similar software for rental companies and tour operators.

“There just wasn’t anything there,” said Morehouse.

Teaming with co-founder Grant Jurgeneit, Morehouse launched Checkfront in 2010, and by 2012 business was thriving. Checkfront now has 50 employees, operating out of Victoria, Vancouver and Halifax.

Checkfront’s system integrates with 50 other software providers to streamline rental company tasks and reduce manual importing of information. Checkfront is used by more than 200 bike rental companies worldwide.

English Bay Bike Rentals, one of the many bike rental shops near Stanley Park, uses Checkfront software.

“It streamlines everything,” said English Bay Bike Rentals owner Joe Kainer. “Anybody can check in from anywhere to reserve a bike.”

Coastal Culture Sports, a Whistler-based rental outlet, uses Zaui to manage 250 ski rental units and about 50 bicycles. Its co-owner, Ryan Brown, said the company had its own custom-built system before, which they thought worked better than what other rental places had, but once they switched to Zaui they noticed how problem-solving became much easier.

“If you’re missing something, you could contact Zaui, and they would probably build it for you,” said Brown. “The functions are endless.”

A third B.C. software company, Rezgo, in North Vancouver, also works with bicycle and equipment rentals, but its clients are almost exclusively in the U.S. or overseas.

“Ninety-eight per cent of our business is outside of Canada,” said Rezgo CEO Stephen Joyce.