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Josh Lucas
Josh Lucas
Head of Operations, AAA Band Rentals
"We evaluated Square and Stripe Billing for our subscription billing operations. But Zoho Subscriptions' extensive customization options and close-knit integrations made it a natural choice!"

The company

The subscription economy has touched the lives of almost every consumer and transformed the way businesses operate, and the music industry is no exception. If music streaming can flourish on a flexible pay-as-you-go model, so can the sale of musical instruments. Meet AAA Band Rentals, a leading musical instrument rental provider based out of Norwalk, Connecticut.

Founded in 1979, this family-owned business offers band and orchestra instruments, helping students, parents, and music educators with their school music programs. In 2003, they started renting instruments. "On one side, we observed the musical instruments getting more sophisticated and expensive, and on the other, there were parents who considered owning these instruments a costly affair. We wanted to strike a balance, and thus launched a pay-as-you-go model. It was an instant hit," said Josh Lucas, head of operations at AAA Band Rentals. With more and more customers preferring the use-and-return policy, they shut down the retail business completely in 2012 and joined the subscription bandwagon.

The challenge

Being a customer-centric organization since their inception, the AAA Band Rentals team constantly innovates and strives to deliver the best experience to their customers. However, when it came to billing, they were not able to offer flexibility because their billing software couldn't keep up. "We were using a recurring billing software that was made specifically for hardware rental. As our business scaled, we noticed that our billing tool was not able to meet our growing needs. It grew to a point where it started becoming an inconvenience," said Lucas.

Lucas' team wanted to leverage technology and offer more personalized experience to each customer, from sending real-time status updates to offering smart payment options. But they struggled to implement these experiences with their existing software. "A lot of times, we had to structure our business to accommodate the software. That's not good. Software is supposed to make your business easier, not dictate how to run your business," Lucas said. From there, they began the search for a recurring billing tool with three aspects in mind: the ability to customize the billing processes, ease of use, and a company that lets them be future-proof.

"First, we looked at the recurring billing solution that Square offers, but it was not nearly robust and customizable enough. We also evaluated Stripe Billing, but it seemed too complex and we had to build some solutions and integrations on our own," Lucas said. In addition, Lucas' team also tried their luck with some retail solutions but those applications looked at recurring billing as just an extra feature, and not an ecosystem on its own.

After months of research and comparison, Lucas decided to go with Zoho Subscriptions. "When I looked at Zoho Subscriptions and the diverse product suite that Zoho offers, I didn't see just another recurring billing tool. I saw a company that constantly innovates and listens to customers. Also, the fact that Zoho Subscriptions allowed us to completely customize the application according to our workflows, not to mention the robust integration offerings, made it a clear choice for our subscription management needs," Lucas said.

The solution: Introducing Zoho

Though Lucas thoroughly evaluated Zoho Subscriptions, the switch appeared daunting because all employees had been using the previous billing tool for more than a decade, and now they had to be trained to use an app that's completely new. But to Lucas' delight, the transition was seamless. "Everyone picked it up in a few days and was comfortable using it. Within just a few weeks, there were no doubts or questions. It was just awesome," Lucas said.

AAA Band Rentals offers four tiers of pricing, which they set up as plans in Zoho Subscriptions. While renting the instruments out, customers can opt for a liability damage waiver, which relieves them of liability in case the instruments are damaged, that was set up as a recurring add-on. The other accessories that customers can purchase with the instruments, like music books and stands, are configured as one-time add-ons.

For purchases, Lucas' team used to get all the necessary information, like what instrument they prefer and contact details, from the customers directly and capture it in their billing tool. However, this process consumed a considerable amount of time for their team while customers had to wait in queues to complete the billing process. Lucas was determined to find a solution to this challenge.

A simple customer journey map revealed that the entire process entailed forms to collect the contact and payment information, a payment processor to process the card, and a billing tool to keep track of the subscriptions and process renewal payments. To make these work together, all they had to do was connect Zoho Subscriptions with their existing Stripe and JotForm accounts.

"We use Zoho Flow to connect Zoho Subscriptions with JotForm. As our customers fill their preferences in JotForm, Zoho Flow passes it to Zoho Subscriptions and creates a subscription automatically. It was impressive that we were able to configure all this on a simple drag-and-drop interface!" Lucas said.

Unifying their tech stack itself streamlined the checkout process to a great extent. But Lucas went a step further by placing a QR code scanner, which led customers to the checkout form, and some iPads in their store to empower customers to take care of the checkout process themselves, completely eliminating manual data entry by their team. The subsequent renewals could be made using the Zoho Subscriptions - Stripe integration

"Zoho Subscriptions' integrations with Stripe and JotForm [through Zoho Flow] enabled us to serve our customers better. They love the contactless checkout process, especially post-pandemic!" - Josh Lucas

Besides Zoho Subscriptions, the AAA Band Rentals team also uses Zoho Creator where they've built a custom app that receives subscription information from Zoho Subscriptions and keeps track of the fulfilment and delivery details. "The seamless flow of data between Zoho Subscriptions and Zoho Creator helps us keep track of our product delivery details in a way that is very visual, intuitive, and does exactly what we need it to do, not what the software needs us to do," Lucas said.

AAA Band Rentals also receives orders through other affiliate sales channels. Through Zoho Subscriptions' in-depth analytics, they get a clear breakdown of channel-wise sales.

The benefits and ROI

Eliminating manual data entry, the ability to integrate with their existing tech stack, and the mobile apps are the biggest benefits according to Lucas.

"Manual data entry was pulling us down for years, eating up our productivity. It took us 5-10 minutes to process each order manually. After we introduced the self-service checkout process, it saves us more than 60 hours of manual work a month. It's an entire work week saved! Now, we have time to grow and scale the business," Lucas said.

The Zoho Subscriptions iOS app helps Lucas and team look up customer and subscription details on the fly. Mike Jr., Lucas' dad and the CEO of AAA Band Rentals, uses it to get a quick snapshot on their day-to-day sales.

"We are yet to fully explore Zoho's offerings for our sales and marketing functions. Eventually, we'll move our entire tech stack to Zoho," Lucas said.

Message from CEO

Zoho is a software company that ships 45+ products globally. Operating on a subscription pricing model for more than 20 years has given us the opportunity to face and overcome the practical pain points of subscription businesses. Let us solve your subscription billing challenges, together.

Sridhar Vembu

CEO, Zoho Corporation

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