The humble gas bottle got a small business in Rangiora "cooking with gas" - but only after a game-changing benchmark report.

A small player in Rangiora's equipment hire market, Southbrook Hire caters to home handymen and contractors with a fleet of trailers and earthmoving, engineering, workshop and access equipment.

Although the books were in good shape last year, owner Damian Wyatt hadn't appreciated some of its operating costs were high by industry standards.

That's where a benchmark report from Kiwi-designed software Ranqx came in - recommending changes now bolstering the bottom line.

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One of the main things the report impressed on Wyatt was the need to seek out new revenue streams to bring turnover more in line with salary overheads; he started with the humble LPG bottle.

Despite being Rangiora's only LPG refilling station, Southbrook was not known for gas bottle refills: "Everyone has a gas bottle so we thought, if we could get people coming to our store for their gas, they would realise we also hire out large range of equipment and machinery for home and garden projects," Wyatt says.

Southbrook encouraged people to save money by bringing in their LPG bottles for a refill, rather than swapping the bottle elsewhere. A year later, daily bottle refills have more than doubled in number and keep growing; Southbrook has had to increase its bulk gas holdings.

Wyatt says Southbrook is now selling large-sized LPG bottles and fittings for bottles it was not selling previously - and ensures it beats large hardware chain store rivals on price and service - lifting the company's forecasted turnover by $40,000 annually.

"It may not sound like a lot, but to a small business, that's big money," Wyatt says. "We wouldn't have achieved that unless I had seen I needed to increase turnover so overheads matched the industry averages revealed by Ranqx."

The analysis of expenses that followed the Ranqx benchmarking report also prompted Wyatt to shop around for a cheaper fuel supplier, leading to fuel cost savings of $5000 a year.

Southbrook's in-house repair work also paid off, with maintenance costs much lower than some rivals who outsourced their repairs.

The key was the benchmarking exercise - something Wyatt had never carried out before: "I was always doing some sort of market research on competitors, but no tool maps out the competitor landscape as well as Ranqx."

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Wyatt's ASB business bank manager recommended Ranqx and Wyatt says: "I now spend an awful lot of time benchmarking and comparing what we are doing, even down to a day-to-day level.

"If we were to sit on our own, we would have thought: fantastic, we are doing everything right. But seeing how you stack up against others in the industry gives you targets to work on, and peace of mind on the things you are doing right."

Free Ranqx benchmarking reports are being offered to all New Zealand small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) this month through the 'How's business?' campaign in partnership with ASB.

The benchmarking report enables any Kiwi businesses to compare its performance against companies in their industry, in the same way as Southbrook Hire has done.

Ranqx chief executive and founder Dave Lewis says this sort of data and analysis is not something SMEs or their advisors typically have easy access to. Yet such insights are crucial for developing measurable strategies to ensure the company is moving in the right direction.

"Many SME owners are working around the clock, but don't have an understanding of how they compare to the competition, or the areas in which they can improve their business," Lewis says.

To receive a report, businesses need to visit howsbusiness.co.nz during April and enter their financial data. After some data validation work by Ranqx, the report will be emailed later in April.

Ranqx's Auckland-based team is now 14 strong and has developed one of the largest databases of New Zealand SMEs. Ranqx integrates with Xero, MYOB and other major accounting software and provides benchmarking reports on a subscription basis.

ASB executive general manager business Steve Jurkovich says benchmarking insights can significantly improve the decision-making ability of SMEs in New Zealand: "Research indicates the lack of access to data is a significant concern for small businesses, but Ranqx, ASB and accounting platforms will help unlock these insights."

Ranqx benchmarking reports are available to all SMEs, not just customers of ASB. For more information: www.howsbusiness.co.nz