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Totally Brilliant Software Updates Its Rental Software

Jul 13, 2009 3:09 PM

In a business that changes like the weather, TBS helps rental houses change with the times.


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Software is more than the sum of its code. It’s the sum of the experience that created it. Andy Hilton, who founded the successful AV equipment rental company Hilton Sound in London 30 years ago and sold it 18 years later, has had plenty of experience in a business that requires not only knowing what technologies your customers want but also the ability to anticipate what they will want in the future.

In an earlier time, when much of what the AV universe had to offer could be tucked into a mid-sized corner shop, the sharper players could run the business on the back of an envelope. But the digital era has been characterized by a vast proliferation of technologies, formats, and products covering lighting, audio, video, staging and IT, and the ongoing convergence of all of them. “It’s a bit like a 3D game of chess, with piles of stuff that have to be constantly moved about,” is how Hilton describes the business today.

Totally Brilliant Solution

That increasing complexity, which Hilton noticed early on, prompted him to develop a unique way to manage it in his business, and in the process, developed a better way to manage the entire business of AV equipment rental. The result, Totally Brilliant Software (TBS) has just introduced the latest and completely updated iteration of its equipment rental application and is celebrating its 25th anniversary as the only comprehensive and fully integrated business, inventory and accounting system developed specifically for the AV equipment rental industry.

TBS sprung from Hilton’s two areas of expertise: the two decades he spent running his own rental business and his prior professional incarnation as a computer programmer. If there is a narrative to renting equipment, then TBS reads like a novel.

The software package handles customer inquiries and requests for rentals; manages the inventory (rented out or still on the shelf), telling you not only what you have but what you paid for it, what it’s worth now, and what its future depreciation is likely to be (and when you’re about to run out of it); it will generate a quote for the client, schedule shipping or pickup, write up and send the invoice, and remind you when the gear is due back, as well as status of payment. And it will do it all in any language you want, as well as allowing users to employ their own custom expressions, too—all fields can be named as needed.

“There’s a lot more to the idea of managing your assets than simply knowing where things are,” says Hilton, who offers the example of Customer A asking to rent the one projector you have for one day, followed by a call from Customer B who wants to rent it for a week. “The software tells you that it’s best to rent the projector out for the week and arrange something else for the one-day rental, despite the one-day job being requested first—it’s all about getting efficiency of use of your own assets in this business,” he explains. “That’s where TBS comes in. It does it all for you.”

That includes doing the books. TBS has a fully integrated accounting suite built in that crunches the numbers for sales, purchases, and general ledger and that can generate multiple types of reports including profit/loss and balance sheet reports. But the accounting feature also underscores TBS’ modularity. Hilton understands the popularity and ubiquity of programs like QuickBooks. “If someone wants to use a different accounting software, then TBS can export data to it,” Hilton confirms, noting that TBS runs on Windows, Apple, and Unix/Linux OS, as well as through standard Internet browsers. “People have established relationships with all types of software, so TBS is designed to be modular; you can use as much or as little of it as you need,” he says.

It’s a flexible program intended to work with an often-unpredictable business, as users such as BBC Television and Orbital Sound in London; Access All Areas in Dubai; the International Convention Centre and Eastern Acoustics in Cape Town, South Africa; and Dreamhire, Hotcam, and Jim Flynn Rentals in New York have discovered.

What TBS doesn’t do, though, is offer the accumulated wisdom that the avuncular Hilton has stored in his own personal firmware. “You have to keep your ear constantly to the ground in this business,” he says, when asked how best to navigate a complex business during economic uncertainty. “Continuously speak with your customers. Together, you’re a team. You’re there when they need you with the right mix of equipment that they need, and they act as your advisory board, helping you look over the horizon for what they’ll need next.”

And speaking of economic uncertainty, Hilton is upbeat about AV rental’s fortunes, now and in the future. “The industry is still strong—only the mix has changed,” he says, referring to how growth in video, film, and on-line entertainment has helped offset declines in music and audio. “The reason this business continues to thrive even in a downturn is that the people in it are, by nature, adaptable and flexible.

“They constantly renew their knowledge base for the same reason we’ve regularly updated the TBS software: because things change all the time, and we all have to change with it.”





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