Why We Love BorrowLenses.com

Company: BorrowLenses

Pursuing a career as a photographer is not a decision made lightly by those who have any semblance of economic sense.  Retail prices on professional quality lenses can be anywhere between $700 to over $10,000 (for really specialized glass) and non-manufacturer sponsored sales or coupons are extremely rare.  New lenses come out from time-to-time, and the slow updates from major companies make the market for even used glass an expensive arena.

Instead of spending over $2,000 on the Canon 70-200 II 2.8L IS, a budding photographer (or an old pro) can drop less than 5% of that cost and rent one.  If that lens just didn’t fancy him or her, a $3,000 400mm prime could be coming their way for roughly the same price.  It makes a huge amount of sense when you’re beginning, or researching your next lens (or camera body) purchase, to rent the gear and see if it fits with what you’re expecting from it.

This pricing environment has produced an ideal ground for rental houses like BorrowLenses.com.  But as competition rises, margins get reduced, and consumers focus on price, the Customer Service department of a rental company has become its most important aspect.  The following is my experience with BorrowLenses, where the system broke down, a bad experience turned positive and a how-to for rental houses that want to build customer loyalty.

Through my college years I used Samy’s Camera for all of my rental needs.  They have a great discount for students (for rentals and gear alike) and are relatively close for anyone in the Los Angeles area.  Their rental department has always been a relatively friendly place for new photographers, and a good resource for those with experience.  Even better is you can return your equipment in Santa Barbara if you’re close by instead of driving all the way back into LA when the rental is up.  As I grew older I had less and less free time to drive into LA to go to Samy’s, so I began searching for another company to build a relationship with.

Friend and fellow photog Khris Griffis praises LensRentals.com, and I might even give them a go as well, but BorrowLenses.com has had my heart (and wallet) for the better part of two years.  The following story is an excellent example of why:

I received an inquiry from a client asking if I was available in the summer to shoot their destination wedding in Cabo San Lucas.  Of course I said yes.  We have already built a relationship previously and I loved working with them, so this was a natural (and exciting) fit.

A few weeks before the date I sent in my reservations to BorrowLenses and received the confirmations shortly thereafter.  Instead of having the lenses shipped directly to me I decided to give one of their pickup locations a go, Hooper Camera in Chatsworth, Ca (more on them later).  This was the first time I didn’t receive my gear specifically and this was the first time it was hyper critical that they arrive on time, since it would be difficult to come back from Mexico to pick up a late arrival.

Never change a working method when you’re about to try something new.

I received the pickup notification from BorrowLenses and scampered over to HooperCamera (which they called FotoExpress on the slip — that should have been my first tip that something had gone wrong).  Five minutes before their closing time I pulled into the parking lot:

Me: Hello!  I’m here to pick up from BorrowLenses.
Them: Um, we… don’t have anything, (to coworker) do we have anything in the back?
(they go back to check the stockroom)
Them: Nope, nothing.  Did they tell you to come here or one of our other locations?
Me: No it says your address.  The email said it arrived at 3pm.  My order number is (redacted).
Them:  We don’t have any record of that number.

At this point I was panicking a bit.  It was ten minutes after Hooper Camera had closed and my gear was no where to be found.  The guy behind the counter (I wish I remembered his name, he was great) set me up at one of those photo-print kiosks and got me to Internet Explorer.  After a couple of minutes I called BorrowLenses’s customer line.

Me: Hi… I have a rental that has gone missing.
Customer Service: What?
Me: The order number is (redacted).
Customer Service: (after a minute) I’m going to put you on hold for a second.
— (elevator music) —
Customer Service: There was a glitch in our system.
Me: A glitch?  What?
Customer Service: Your order hasn’t shipped yet.
Me: What?  That’s a bit of a problem.  I’m going to be in Mexico tomorrow to shoot a wedding.  I kind of need my gear.
Customer Service: Let me put you on hold again for a minute.
— (elevator music) —
Customer Service: I spoke with my manager and we can ship it directly to you in Mexico.
Me: Really?  Well that’s great!  I’m going to be staying at the Rio Santa Fe Hotel.
Customer Service: We can’t ship to a hotel.  Is there a FedEx location near there?
Me: Where else would I be staying other than a hotel?  I have no clue if there’s a FedEx nearby.

After this point we went back and forth and the fellow caught the last FedEx of the day and (on his own) decided to ship the gear to my billing address.  As it turns out my billing address is empty for the summer, but it was too late.  After a couple of phone calls back and forth I find out that it would take another day to recall the shipment, so I had better deal with the current circumstance.  One would think that if given the choice, shipping to a Shipping Address would be more beneficial than a Billing Address, but I digress.

Thankfully, my billing address is nearby quite a few friends of mine so I began making calls.  Long story short, my neighbor agreed to wait between the as-told-to-me delivery window of 9am-9:30am and bring the gear to another friend, who had yet another friend who was going to the wedding the following day.

FedEx arrived at 1:30pm.  My neighbor (a cinematographer) had to reschedule two scouting appointments with producer’s to keep his promise to me, and was just able to deliver the box to the second friend before 5pm.  By this point I was already in Cabo, hoping the system I had put in place would work  and indeed I had my lenses the next day — my (new) friend worked out just dandy.

Now, onto why I still like BorrowLenses (because all I’ve been doing so far is detailing my disappointing experience):

When I got back home and finished processing the images I posted on Facebook that I had my first problem rental.  About an hour later their Facebook team had posted a reply asking if they could help.  About an hour after that I received an email from the President of the company, Mark, asking about my experience and what he could help me with.  I wrote him an exceedingly long email and sent it off, expecting nothing more than a “we’re looking into it” reply.

Instead I received a long and explanatory email detailing what went wrong and a personal request from Mark to mention him in my next order so he could take care of it personally.  Not only that but I soon thereafter received an email from Customer Service with a discount coupon code to help make up for the whole ordeal.

BorrowLenses has been exploding over the past year through a combination of great word-of-mouth reviews and an expansive advertising campaign (you’ve almost undoubtedly seen their ads by now).  I was blown away by the personal attention I received, especially due to the fact I didn’t directly email Mark or anyone associated with him.  Being in a customer service industry I was taken aback by the pro-activeness and genuine interest Mark had in my story.  He took what was a devastating, confidence shaking experience and turned it into an old fashioned “happy ending” narrative.

For those of you waiting on pins and needles for more info about Hooper Camera:  The two fellows in the story stayed a good 30 minutes past closing to make sure that I had whatever I needed to sort this mess out.  I have nothing but absolute glowing comments for both of them (and the corporate policy that enabled their incredibly helpful demeanor).  If you’re in the northern LA area, go say hi!

My email exchange with Mark:

Hi Cris,

I saw your post on Facebook for us, so I thought I would reach out to you personally. May I ask what the issue was so that we can get it corrected?

Looking forward to hearing from you. 

Mark Gurevich
Owner, President

My reply:

Hi Mark!

Before I get into specifics let me express my gratitude for your email.  There are few, if any, other companies I deal with whose President’s would take the time to reach out to a customer like you have.  Over the past year or so that I’ve utilized BorrowLenses.com (and been an evangelist of it) I have had stellar service and nothing but positive things to say, until this little hiccup.
Before I get into it, let me apologize for the length of this story…
I recently had my first destination wedding come in (the couple was being married in Cabo and I couldn’t wait to shoot down there), so I reserved my gear on June 28th for a July 6th pick up at Hooper Camera in Chatsworth, CA (this was the first time I didn’t have gear shipped directly to me).  I received my email from BorrowLenses saying the order will be ready to pick up at Hooper Camera after 4pm the next day (although the order also referenced ‘Foto Express’, which was odd).  My day job is at CalArts, an art college about 30 minutes away from Chatsworth, and on the 6th I left from work and got to Hooper Camera 5 minutes before they closed.
Let me take a minute to say how incredible the people at Hooper Camera were.  Not only did they stay open so I could call your customer service line, they also did everything in their power to make sure that I was a happy customer.  Whoever at BorrowLenses picked them as a location deserves a high five and a fruit basket.  Continuing…
When I got to Hooper Camera they had no record of my order, and certainly no box containing it.  I double checked the website and confirmed that it had been shipped (and allegedly received), so I ended up calling the customer service department but unfortunately can’t remember who I spoke to.  He was very pleasant and accommodating: again I want to stress how pleased I am/have been with your employees, I have always had positive experiences with them.
He informed me there was a ‘glitch’ in the system before and my order hadn’t even been shipped.  When I told him I was leaving for Mexico in the morning he asked a supervisor and was cleared to overnight it to wherever I was going to in Mexico, which would have been absolutely perfect if I hadn’t been staying in a Hotel.  Now I certainly understand your policy against shipping to Hotel’s in foreign lands (I’m assuming here that the issue is with foreign hotels, I’m note sure), but when he asked me if I knew if there was a FedEx location where I was going I simply had no answer.  I don’t travel a lot, but I definitely don’t know if there is a FedEx location in Cabo San Lucas — especially not the night before I leave.  I mentioned the wedding wasn’t until Friday (this was Tuesday) and he offered to ship it down by Thursday night — that wouldn’t work since I had to shoot coverage before then (I was surprised he didn’t offer to refund the missing day or two of rental).
I had to drive home and after a couple of “I’ll call you back” phone calls he managed to catch the last FedEx shipment out of the warehouse.  He rolled the dice and picked an address to ship to, now here’s the problem that could have been avoided: I have a shipping and a billing address in the system and he chose the billing address to ship the gear to.  The billing address is an empty house for six months out of the year, which caused the following:
My neighbor, a cinematographer, agreed to wait until 9 or 9:30 (the time your employee said the box would arrive) to pick up the gear.  He then would drive it to CalArts and give it to a friend who was also going to the wedding.  That friend would then drive it to another individuals house who was flying down to the wedding a day after I was.  Now ideally that shouldn’t have been a big issue — obviously an inconvenience but nothing horrid.  But the shipment didn’t arrive until 1:30, which caused my neighbor to miss a couple of appointments he had and make the entire process a bit more hectic than it should have been.
In the end I got the gear from the courier (read: random wedding guest) on a fluke when meeting him out of no where at the Hotel and I was able to shoot the wedding.  The shots came out great and the couple are thrilled (that, of course, is the most important part of the story).
I don’t know what kind of ‘glitch’ happened or when it occurred, but almost all of this could have been avoided with a simple phone call or email.  Especially if the ‘glitch’ is something that the shipping department (or whoever handles the orders) is aware of before orders go out.  Instead of picking up my gear after work on Tuesday, packing it all into my Lowepro bag, and having a stress free wedding I ended up getting three hours of sleep that night and barely making my flight after all the frantic re-planning.
I was a bit surprised the fellow on the phone didn’t automatically offer a refund of the missing day, but I am most surprised at the “oh yeah, we had a problem and your gear didn’t ship yet”.  I’m still a BorrowLenses fan, and will continue to rave about your company — but my confidence has been shaken.
The following weekend I had another wedding to shoot (during the disappointing Carmageddon), local this time, and went to Samy’s Camera because I couldn’t risk another glitch and the stress that would come with it.
Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to read this.  Your email reinforces how much I like BorrowLenses.com!

Christopher Cuttriss
Studio386 Photographers

And Marks’ resolution

Hello Chris,

Sorry that it took me a bit long to get back to you. I was researching into just what this “glitch” was that caused all the problems. It required for the shipping guys to come back from the weekend.

I dug into it, and realized that the issue was the July 4th holiday weekend. With FedEx deliveries schedules, and our closure schedules, this was all sorts of convoluted, and our system simply bugged out. You, and about 8 other people bugged out in a similar manner. We have our developers looking into the issue so that it will never happen again. Please accept my apologies that it happened with your order.

As a future preventative measure, I would advise you to get your order delivered a day before you actually need it. On the rare occasion that we screw something up (unfortunately it does happen) or FedEx misses a delivery (happens about 2% of the time). The cost is usually 0 if you get a Thursday delivery instead of Friday, and the amount of potential headache reduction more than pays for it. 🙂

I am glad to hear about all the customer service raving reviews. I will pass it on to the people with whom you spoke. Also, will pat myself on the pack for choosing Hooper Camera. That one was all me. 🙂

As far as reimbursing you for the trouble, please expect an email shortly from our customer service team. They have something brewing for you.

Thank you again for your continued confidence (albeit shaken) in us. We hope to re-establish ourselves in your eyes in the future. Please include a note in your order about me in your next order. That will cause me to notice it specially, and make sure that nothing goes wrong with it.

Thank you again for renting from us!

Mark Gurevich
Owner, President
You can color me a happy customer. 🙂

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