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As inventory evolves and stock levels grow, time spent on managing equipment increases rapidly. So what makes for a successful inventory management strategy? How do you keep a tab on your most expensive assets? And how can asset labeling improve your inventory management workflow?
Now, what’s asset labeling you might ask? Asset labeling, or asset tagging, is the process of assigning a unique identifier to each piece of rental equipment. While most companies already use serial numbers and SKUs for tracking inventory, asset labeling is different. It’s adding a physical label to your products, often containing a barcode and additional information for classifying a specific product.
Labeling your rental inventory has several benefits. First and foremost, asset labels help you distinguish individual stock items and indicate that a piece of equipment belongs to your business. Combined with an external barcode scanner, they also speed up your equipment checkouts and check-ins, while also acting as a safeguard against handing out the wrong gear. Lastly, labeling your assets makes sure there’s no ambiguity when you’re communicating with teammates about your rental equipment. Referring to “that bike we bought last summer” quickly becomes old.
Before you start tagging your inventory, you need to decide which equipment needs a unique identifier. Your most valuable products are probably the best place to start, as they’re the ones most prone to theft. It’s also likely you want to track these items individually, for which you’ll need these identifiers. Relatively inexpensive objects might require a different approach, as you might want to handle them more quickly. That’s when a single tag to define a product group would be a sensible approach. That way, you still get the benefits of labeling, without the need to track products individually. In essence, you’d only want to use labels for assets you expect back, so consumables typically don’t need them.
Tip: Asset tagging becomes even more interesting when you’re using rental management software. As you’re fulfilling orders, the software acts as a defense mechanism against handing out the wrong equipment, and reporting on specific products is mostly automated.
Labels have limited space, so spend some time thinking about the information you want to include. While there’s no standardized way to track rental assets, it’s best to stick to a few guidelines. When designing labels for your rental inventory, at least include the following elements:
Unique identifier: Each product (or product group) needs a unique identification number to differentiate them from others. Your numbering sequence should be consistent and easy to recognize by a human reader. In the end, you’re trying to make inventory management more efficient, and being able to identify your rental equipment is important.
Some organizations use a numbering sequence, while others make identifiers more distinguished by including letters. An alphanumeric identifier looks something like B02768 or C26275, but you could make them more recognizable by using abbreviations like “CA” for camera equipment and “MB” for mountain bikes. You could even combine your SKUs and identifiers to something like “SON-FS7-03” for a Sony FS7, for example. Using barcodes in your inventory management process doesn’t necessarily affect your numbering sequence because it’s still beneficial to keep your identifiers, well, easy to identify.
Company logo: Rather than stating a piece of equipment is the property of your rental business, including your company logo helps you stand out more. Adding your logo, or at least your company name, makes people more aware of your brand and increases the chances of recovering lost and stolen rental equipment.
Color categorization: With so many products to manage, finding the right equipment can take a while. That’s when another element is beneficial: colors. By color coding your assets, your team can quickly sort products when customers pick up and return their gear, which accelerates checkouts and returns. They’re a win-win for both your customers and colleagues.
Barcodes: Barcodes are the bedrock of any efficient rental management process. As stock levels increase, manually entering information gets tiresome, and fulfilling orders becomes a slow process. Imagine the time spent actually reading an identifier and manually specifying the items you’re handing out. It’s a major productivity killer. Your checkout and return processes become much faster with a barcode scanner, and as a bonus, mistakes get reduced to a minimum. Here’s a notification Booqable presents after you scan the wrong piece of equipment:
With a rough idea of what an asset label should look like, let’s examine an example tag containing all of the previously mentioned elements.
Tip: Combine barcode scanning with the right rental software, and your team can pull up relevant data and check whether they’ve gathered the right equipment in seconds.
Barcodes are the most useful part of an asset label. For rentals, one symbology isn’t necessarily better than the other, although some are more concise and space-efficient. Common varieties are Code 39, Code 128, and the regular UPC and EAN barcodes you find on most retail products.
When selecting your symbology, make sure you take size into account. If you pick one that’s too small, the label might be unreadable. If you choose one that’s too big, the tag might be hard to scan from close distances. When space is limited, consider looking into Code 128, as it’s slightly more concise than Code 39. However, Code 128 requires a high-grade printer to ensure good scanning performance. Ultimately, it’s about trying different varieties and finding what works for you.
The environment in which customers use your rental equipment has the most significant impact on your asset tags. If products get exposed to the elements, you might need something durable. For indoor use, you could go with something less robust. We recommend ordering professional-grade tags. These often last longer and offer better scanning performance than most consumer-grade label printers.
We gathered three widely used materials for professional use that could work in a variety of situations.
Polyester tags: Polyester, polypropylene, and vinyl labels are perfect for tracking assets in indoor environments. These tags are made of a polyester base and over-laminated with a transparent film for improved durability and protection. They withstand moderate external circumstances, but they’re most suited for indoor use, which makes them a cost-effective option for furniture and computer equipment rentals.
Foil tags: These tags are suitable for indoor and outdoor applications. Foil tags are popular because they provide substantial durability at a relatively low cost. Because they offer excellent resistance to cold, heat, and UV light, foil labels tend to last over a decade. These qualities make them suitable for virtually any rental industry, although heavy machinery might need something more sturdy.
Anodized aluminum tags: Aluminum tags are designed to hold up under the toughest of conditions, making them the most durable asset tag available. The data on these labels is sealed beneath the anodic layer of the aluminum, meaning they’re resistant to anything from extreme cold and heat to chemicals, abrasives, and solvents.
Tip: Depending on the scope of your rental inventory, we recommend ordering a sample batch of barcodes before placing your final order. By getting samples, you’re able to test different materials and see what works for you. Regarding placement on your products, make sure to attach the labels to the back of your equipment. Placing them on the bottom wears them out faster.
Asset tracking is the core of any rental business. As your rental inventory starts to evolve, staying organized becomes a time-consuming act. When that happens, it’s time to consider labeling your rental equipment and managing inventory using a barcode scanner. By investing in asset tags, you’re not just protecting your business from equipment loss and theft. Labels also make sure teammates can find the right gear faster, while at the same time reducing human error.