What Renters Want

The push to increase trial and especially conversion has transformed rental operations, an important piece of overall operations for many resorts, a key player in customer development as well. Many shops are taking steps to upgrade the rental experience as a result.

In the past decade, the introduction of reduced-sole-length boots and integrated systems, from suppliers such as Head, Rossignol, Dalbello, Elan, and Salomon, has speeded the rental process. More recently, attention has shifted to improving the customer experience. Top operations are helping guests feel comfortable and at ease even before they arrive, and build on that relationship as guests move through the shop.

Overhead signs color-coded to boots guide customers at Cascade, Wisc. The ski stock is a mix of Head and Rossignol, but the Head BYS system still speeds the process; the Rossis can be pre-set and sorted, same as the Heads.
“Those who are doing best are ultimately thinking about their customer,” says Rossignol’s Tom Lebsack. “They make it easy and quick for them to sign up. Destinations areas can promote advance online reservations and invite guests to come in the evening before. That way, guests avoid the morning rush, and it allows a more intimate conversation with the customer.”

Mike Poole, rental product manager for Head USA, echoes that. “The best rental operations have figured out a way that customers feel they are getting individual treatment, and are not just being herded through. These operations have assistants helping guests throughout the shop, and have bootfitters working the benches.

“The good stores put really good people out in front of the customer. There’s a real attention to this idea of retention, retaining current skiers and converting the newcomers.”

That personal attention matters. A rental shop is a foreign environment for first-timers, and that can make them feel uncomfortable. Signage, video and staff can all help guests become familiar with the rental routine. Shops as diverse as Snow Trails, Ohio, and Mount Hood Meadows, Ore., do a lot with video and electronic signs. “Meadows has fantastic signage,” says Lebsack. “It explains how skis and boards work, and describes the steps of the rental experience. They are able to walk the customer through the process.”

“Shops are realizing that they control the experience more than they thought, and affect whether people come back or not,” adds Scott Russo, VP at Dalbello. This evolution is bound to continue, and focus on bootfitting. In Europe, he points out, “shops are using boots with moldable liners in rental. The boots fit like you would expect a personal boot to fit.”

At Mad River, Ohio, the kid-sized Kids Zone makes little folks feel at ease. Its location in the rental shop makes it easy for mom and dad to pop in.


The adoption of reduced-sole-length boots in integrated system rentals has been key to speeding the overall process. Reduced sole lengths make it possible to preset both binding length and DIN, minimizing and often eliminating binding adjustments.

For ski rentals, the time and cost savings can be significant. “Let’s say it takes one minute to adjust bindings, and it’s usually more than that,” says Tony Marinella, rental manager at Snow Trails. “On a busy Saturday, you do 1,000 rentals, that’s 1,000 minutes to adjust bindings. One thousand minutes is 16.6 hours.” It probably takes four people to do that work; they can now be reassigned to help people fit boots and otherwise assist customers.

In the racks, skis are sorted by ski length, toe color/sole length, and DIN.
And that’s key: With shops built for speed and reduced labor in setting up gear, staff can spend more time where it’s needed—bootfitting, for example, and assisting newcomers to feel comfortable and at ease in strange surroundings. Poole notes that even largely self-service rental operations like those at Mount Snow, Vt., and Cascade, Wisc., “move staff from behind the counter and into the boot area and the ski staging area.” Even though it’s largely self-service, “customers feel they are getting help and assistance.”

Many shops are adopting this “assisted self service” approach, setting up boot racks and try-on seats or benches so that guests can fit themselves. Many renters can find the correct size on their own. That frees employees to help other guests with sizing, buckling, or lacing. Plus, a family or group can sit down and try on boots at their own pace. Assisted self-service enables a shop to provide just the right degree of attention or speed to suit the customer.

This new approch requires a different type of staff. “These areas pick personalities to be knowledgeable, people who can help solve problems and provide advice,” Pool notes.

This is especially true for high-end rentals, he says. Stratton, Vt., is a good example. “The face at each station is truly an ambassador. They give personal attention, trade boots with a smile, spend time to straighten out problems, conduct a dialog with customers, yet still keep the people moving.

Service, efficiency, and customer comfort: Click on a resort below and have a look on how they have raised the bar in rental.

snow trails | pats peak | stratton | mammoth | holiday valley

It's all about the process

Successful reduced-sole-length alpine rental shops and snowboard rental shops come in all sizes and configurations. Whatever the layout, and no matter the degree of customer service or self service, the flow of steps is largely the same:

• Guests arrive and, if not pre-registered, complete the rental form, either on paper or computer terminal. Video monitors and/or staff help explain the entire process to the guests and help put them at ease.

• Once the form is checked and payment is complete, guests proceed to the boot area. Frequently, guests can leave their shoes on the racks or use nearby lockers.

• With boots on, guests proceed to the dispatch counter. For skiers, staff check the DIN and length needed. That’s made easy by color coding to identify sole length, guests can find their appropriate line or dispatch counter according to color. Different lengths and DIN settings are pre-set; the technician gauges person’s height to set ski length, and gets DIN setting from DIN chart/rental form.

For snowboarders, the process is similar: they, too, can follow the color-coding on their boots. Bindings can often be set in advance to a pre-determined stance. Techs can then check the guests’ stance, regular or goofy, and adjust bindings if necessary.

• Helmets may be available at the dispatch counter or at a separate station.

• Skiers can then grab their poles from self-service bins on their way out the door. For space and convenience, these bins can even be located outside the rental shop; resorts that do so say that shrinkage is less than one might expect, and worth the tradeoff.

Pole dispatch can be simplified by limiting choices to four sizes—in effect, short, medium, long, and extra long. Appalachian Ski Center, N.C., takes self-service to new lengths by placing poles in outside bins. Garage doors can be pulled down for overnight security. The dispatch area is in a location that's not easily accessible to the general public, and there's little loss to theft. And the area gains space inside the shop, while reducing staff needed for pole dispatch.

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