Five years. That’s how long someone can work on a side business before deciding to turn it into something bigger. WebReserv.com is a case in point.
WebReserv.com is a way for small and medium sized businesses to take rental reservations online (for vacation homes, Recreational Vehicles, spa appointments, and so on). WebReserv.com was founded by Martin Israelsen, who is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Martin says five years ago he and some colleagues were trying to find a hotel to stay at when attending a wedding. They learned that smaller hotels were not connected to the large reservation websites.
Many smaller independents were using a pen and paper system — literally. Then at the end of the year they would go through their Rolodexes, find someone who had reserved a room more than once, and send them a Christmas card. That was their customer management system.
Martin and his colleagues started investigating and eventually found some software packages out there for hotels. But outside of the hospitality industry they discovered there were few options. For instance, there were few good systems to allow consumers to book classes for a scuba diving trainer or to rent scuba equipment.
So, according to Martin, “We took the challenge and created a Web-based reservations system for small and medium-sized businesses. It consists of two parts. There is a reservations engine, which you can embed into your own website to take rental reservations. You also can be listed for free in the business directory at WebReserv.com and be found that way. But both are integrated, avoiding double booking.”
Their biggest challenge has been to keep the number of features down, in order to keep the system easy to use, yet still provide enough features that the reservations engine can be adapted to specific vertical industries. Martin noted in a phone interview last week, “Many industries have special needs. Boat rentals differ from motorcycle rentals which differ from scuba diving rentals, and from RV rentals or vacation home rentals. We finally settled on set-up screens that ask initial questions and guide the business owner according to how the initial questions are answered. That way you only see the screens applicable to your type of rental. That keeps it easy to use.”
The revenue model is based on three levels of offerings, starting with a free version and two higher versions. There are no commissions to pay on bookings made through the system, just a monthly fee. It is an online system.
Martin reports that WebReserv.com has over 100 businesses using the system today. Martin and his colleagues have been running the business on the side in “serious bootstrapping mode” and are just starting to market it.
The advantages of having a booking engine on your website are obvious. It adds interactivity to rental websites that today may be static and more like brochures than websites where you conduct business with customers. In an age when everyone is looking to increase “customer engagement” online, a booking engine can keep visitors engaged longer on a website.
And that increases the likelihood of doing more business for smaller rental services. Martin told me, “Our research found that consumers often search online in the evenings for rentals. Many times a website has a phone number, but requires calls to be made during regular business hours. That’s a lost opportunity, because consumers would rather book in the evenings and often will surf away and not call back. We want to become the platform for small businesses to get bookings and do more business online.”