3 Issues Affecting Campus Rec Inventory Management in 2024

· by Ben Michalak

Inventory management issues are increasingly common among Campus Recreation departments. The exact best practices on how to rent out inventory to students, collect collateral, and maintain inventory quality are still up for debate. With every university’s Campus Rec department following either somewhat similar or entirely different practices from one another, there appears to be no one-size fits all solution. Or is there?

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the common issues facing Campus Rec inventory management in 2024, and how a few easy solutions can ease the workload for Campus Rec managers and make their jobs ultimately more fulfilling.

1. Inventory loss 

You can’t properly maintain your inventory when your equipment gradually disappears. In 2024, inventory loss can occur in a few ways. Item theft is among the most common, especially in Campus Recreation Centers with lenient collateral policies. Unfortunately, some individuals do take rented equipment home. Whether intentional or not, losing inventory to theft is a real problem in University Rec Centers.

Item damage is another unfortunate cause of inventory loss. As a Campus Rec professional, you might anticipate some level of inventory theft, but the extent of inventory loss due to damage can often come as an unexpected and significant challenge with big implications:  

> Financial loss: Repairing damaged inventory can be expensive and not always feasible given budget constraints.

> Operational disruption: Out-of-service inventory can disrupt facility operations and impact user experience.

> Safety concerns: Damaged inventory can pose safety risks to your users.

> User dissatisfaction: Regularly encountering damaged equipment can lead to dissatisfaction among your student users. 

On top of this, minimizing damage can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a way to track student rentals to determine the damage’s cause. 

Finally, an often overlooked aspect of loss is when inventory becomes obsolete. This can happen after the product is replaced by a more advanced model, a new alteration is made to the product that doesn’t support older models, or the popularity of a product diminishes to the point of customers choosing to avoid using it. Without a proper sense of what students want or need from their facility, your obsolete inventory may sit behind a desk or tucked away in a closet for months–even years.  In the case of loss, obsolete inventory doesn’t just lead to inventory loss, but increased waste. 

Inventory loss isn’t just discouraging and burdensome; it’s unsustainable. 

2. Lack of accountability 

Inventory loss and damage primarily stem from accountability gaps, which can take a few different forms. 

First, your department’s policy may be to collect some form of collateral from students, which is returned to students after they return their rented item. Collateral can take the form of a cash deposit, student ID, or some other form of student property that’s thought to be important or valuable enough that it would effectively incentivize their return to the rental counter. Although collateral may seem like a low-risk method for getting your inventory back, it isn’t necessarily full-proof. 

Your university may not even permit the taking of certain collateral; and if it does, it doesn’t mean students will always return for it. The typical student ID card can control everything in a student’s life, from building access to dining hall purchases, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a student will come running back for it. Students may become preoccupied with other academic or personal responsibilities, for example, or have alternative means of accessing facilities in the absence of their ID card. The same can be said for car keys, credit cards, or small cash deposits; distracted students will weigh the inconvenience of returning to collect their ID card against the perceived value of the collateral, and your equipment inventory shrinks over time as a result. 

The benefit of taking a student ID over other forms of collateral is that it may contain a student’s name and email, should the student need to be contacted about a return. But other forms of collateral require some form of data collection in order to contact students about the status of their rental or issue penalties. Knowing even the most basic information about a student renter could help speed up the process of return notifications and, if applicable, issuing overdue penalties. 

3. Lack of staffing and time to track inventory 

It’s no secret that inventory management takes both time and effort. Without an established equipment rental program or collateral procedure in place, tracking down lost equipment can consume staff time and energy without anything to show for it. 

Manually tracking untraceable inventory is a headache if it happens now and then, but when it becomes part of your daily workflow, the impacts to your Rec Center can be major. Tasking students or professional employees with tracking down lost inventory creates operational bottlenecks, which sour the students’ experience and lead to staff turnover. There’s also an opportunity cost: Every moment spent tracking down a lost basketball, is a moment that could have spent on the floor interacting with students or developing compelling programming instead. 

“A big portion of our staff members’ responsibility is to check out pieces of equipment, and, oftentimes, their job ends up being waiting for somebody to turn in equipment,” says Eden Huerta, a Member Services Coordinator at Boise State University. “It creates a low fulfillment job for student staff and doesn’t offer a lot of staff development.” The result? Turnover. “Historically, we have staff turnover more than once a semester, which we don’t want to see,” adds Huerta. “It says a lot about your record.” 

Recreational spaces’ decentralized nature greatly complicates the management of equipment usage policies. Without centralized oversight, ensuring the timely return and proper use of equipment for various outdoor green spaces and indoor gym facilities becomes not only a time-consuming challenge, but a logistical nightmare. Because Campus Rec isn’t limited to a single location, establishing consistent terms of service, rental policies, and penalty systems across locations can be another challenge. Any inconsistencies can lead to student confusion and, ultimately, dissatisfaction. 

Conclusion: Automation as a solution

Juggling inventory and staffing poses a significant challenge for Campus Rec professionals, especially when dealing with theft, damage, decentralization, and a lack of accountability. 

Although these issues make up the crucial pain points facing Campus Recreation in 2024, there is a solution to managing inventory, holding student renters accountable, and keeping students informed about their rental options: automation. RecRe offers an all-in-one automated rental platform that is free for student use, tracks data on student rental behaviors, and holds renters accountable for returning inventory. These self-service rental boxes help maintain your campus recreation inventory, while offering new inventory management opportunities for your student and professional staff.

Those opportunities don’t just improve the student experience–they improve the staff experience as well. Inventory issues affected turnover at Boise State University; now that they use RecRe, their staffing issues have taken a turn for the better. 

“Recently, we haven’t seen staff turnover during the semester, and even between semesters, it’s been minimal,” says Huerta. “It just goes to show you that their daily shifts are more fulfilling.”

If you’re looking for a solution to your inventory management issues, contact us today.