Merging your pre-booked and walk-in reservations...
So you do walk-in business, and you also take pre-ordered reservations. Great....
But, the huge question is; how on earth do you manage to seamlessly integrate these two streams of your business? You need to make sure you never over-sell on any given product line for any given date / time. Tricky. We like to think of it as merging two fast-moving lanes of traffic on a busy freeway / motorway. (only more complicated!)
We all know what is at stake. You get it wrong and you risk:
- taking advanced booking but not having a bike(s) to give them...
- not knowing if you can rent a bike - when you have a queue for walk-ins, you don't know IF you can release bikes - do you have enough???
There are really only two main approaches, one low-tech and one hi-tech.
1) The old faithful - the 'set-aside' policy.
This is what most businesses end up doing by default. In the old days, there was no such thing as 'online booking'. When someone would ring up (or perhaps email) and reserve some bikes someone would put the order in 'the book'. You know that dusty old thing sitting by the phone ...
"school party on 27th October - 50 bikes"
"2 adult bikes on 30th"
In theory, someone needs to check the order book each day and 'set them aside' so that you don't give out too many bikes to walk-in customers and not have enough to fulfil your order book. You might label them up with customer name etc...
Now, this largely okay when you don't have many advanced reservations to integrate, but as your pre-reserved numbers start to rise (which is a great health indicator of your business) so does the danger of using this approach.
Then you start to take online booking, so of course, your pre-reservation percentages rise. Now it's time to get serious about tackling this problem. The main limitations of this approach are:
- you rely on a reasonable ‘lead time’ to be able to do this (e.g. only take bookings for 'next day' type thing)
- it takes time to prepare in the morning. Do you also label them up by customer? You can’t forget to do this, or there are problems.
- you need quite a lot of space to put all these ‘set asides’ and as the number grows you’ll have the ‘bike is at back of pile’ problem
- not easy to ‘release back into pool’ if you get no shows… They just still sit there all day clogging things up.
Now we get down to the nitty gritty...
When your customers book online they don't say 'I want bike WM304' - they say "I want a 'medium mountain hardtail". (that is available!) You then decide which actual bike to give them..
and you have two further sub-options when it comes to picking actual bikes to give out...(whilst making sure you never over-sell)
1.1) Auto-allocate your online bookings. BRM can auto-allocate your bikes so you don't have to worry about it. But this all depends on how accessible all your bikes are. No good BRM assigning WM304 if you'd have to move 50 bikes to get to it. (or if its broken!)
- what if N342 is broken - or at back of pile? You would then need to select another.
1.2) Manually allocate your online bookings. This way you get to select one that is sensibly accessible and ready!
- it takes time to do!
- if this step is not done then your shop will have ‘phantom virtual’ bookings. i.e. you have taken bookings, but not communicated this to your staff, who only deal in specific bikes.
So, what if you want to be more scalable, more sophisticated?
2) Just in Time allocation
Here you treat walk-ins and pre-books the same. You don't allocate specific bikes until the customer is actually in front of you, ready to go. Regardless of how, where or when the reservation was made. It is the ideal system because it is the only seamless way to integrate the two streams of business without causing delays etc.
Let's look at the pros and cons:
- no preparation (set aside) work each morning
- works with any amount of pre-bookings. This is a scalable solution as your pre-booking list grows...
- you can gradually decrease lead-time (eventually potentially down to almost zero - e.g. encourage on-site online booking perhaps or even 10 min lead time to avoid ‘queue jumping’)
- you need to trust BRM completely in real-time. That trust will need to be built over time with all staff.