The outlook for the 2019 ski season is great, with superb conditions on and off-piste, especially in some parts of Austria. But what does that mean for the ski rental business in the resorts? We picked up the phone and had a chat with David Wolfart, one of the two founders of MIETSKI.COM, the online ski rental company. In 2016, they relaunched their website with the commercetools platform. When you’re having a ski season like this year, it’s obviously tempting to ask how the website is coping with these peak levels of traffic.
The MIETSKI.COM concept is simple yet at the same time really smart: The earlier you book, the lower the price. The site offers alpine skiers a wide selection of the latest ski equipment: Top brands and 100% brand-new equipment every season, starting from as low as 19 euros for six days. Simply pick up the equipment quickly and conveniently on arrival at the ski resort. The demands placed on the booking system in a winter like this are abundantly clear: In addition to the pre-orders, which were already strong, logistics also has to cope with a major surge of last-minute bookings. How do you manage this situation?
Increased ski season conversion rates
As early as 2013, the decision was taken to reinvent the location strategy at Mietski. Previously, the stores were mostly situated on the access roads to the ski resorts – outlets are now located directly in Sölden, Saalbach-Hinterglemm and Mayrhofen. And at the beginning of the current season, a new store was successfully opened in the center of Ischgl. This strategic decision addresses the needs of the target group of customers who travel by plane, don’t have a car and are less mobile in the ski resort. This is a customer segment with significant purchasing power, who usually rent the full equipment package of skis, boots and helmet when on holiday.
“After we took this decision, we witnessed a massive surge in conversion rates”, Wolfart happily informs us. “That in turn is reflected in a 15% growth in revenue.” The current season was already off to a promising start, with 30% more hits in the early bird bookings in July. The early bird booking system made it possible to quickly make initial forecasts for the material requirements. Added to this are the customers who come from the more immediate area like Austria and Germany and usually make last-minute bookings, but only avail of specific equipment items like skis or snowboards. Most of them want to test new products, or, in winters such as we are having this year, are usually looking for off-piste models.
Hundred percent ready for any challenge
Our set-up was perfect, a combination of Salesforce for CRM and commercetools – even though we only had a core team of three staff in place during the low season. Then winter hit with full force, which generated peak demand in early January. And up to now we can confirm: The system is fully capable of handling this volume of inquiries.
The platform is also well-suited for dealing with complex procedures like immediate replacement of stolen, defective or lost equipment. The inventory levels are programmed to prevent 100% booking of any given model. “Negative inventory always runs in the background and is automatically closed out seven days in advance,” explains Wolfart. “It is then assigned to shop-level rentals and is utilized in the case of losses.” In this way, a replacement product can be provided the same day.
In general, the system booking process makes reliable forecasting possible. Up to now, each location still carries its own inventory, but the goal would be to set up a central distribution hub to supply the individual stores on demand. If you just look at Ischgl, it carries around 800 rental items right now and the target is 80% utilization. “We understand that it makes more business sense to have a stable level of capacity utilization over a 12 to 14-week period during the winter than to cope with the peak capacity demands like we get around Christmas,” Wolfart informs us. “It is still our wish to be seen in the resorts as a local rental service.”
Storytelling at its best
Although seen from the outside as a simple, user-friendly platform, the algorithms driving the system are complex. By mining customer data on an ongoing basis, two core target groups have been identified: For guests who switch between high-profile ski resorts such as Ischgl and Sölden in a constant search for new trails and challenges, the goal is to keep engaging with them in a fresh new way, such as by focusing their attention on the infrastructure in the top ski resorts. Families have different needs in how we engage with them: They are more likely to visit lower-profile resorts where they are loyal customers, because they know the area and don’t need to be organizing new activities for their kids all the time.
In terms of the system, this means: The behavior patterns of the individual personas are defined and the communication with each is tailored accordingly. The Salesforce marketing cloud, which processes the commercetools product data via an API interface, delivers the customized content in a targeted and dynamic way. By doing this, customers only receive the information they really need. Because only targeted, relevant storytelling delivers results. However, what is equally true: There is no typical customer, only precise target group analyses.
That’s why the MIETSKI.COM founders look at the snow levels in Austria and this keeps them relaxed. “It never ceases to amaze us just how much we can get done with only three staff – everything from logistics to marketing,” Wolfart informs us. “For now, we are happy to stay as a local company. We have now reached the right level and critical mass we need to maintain organic, sustainable growth.”