The Editor's Page: Changing perceptions

The father of one of my high school friends owned a rental store in Morgan Hill, Calif. This was in the early 1970s and I never really paid much attention to the business or understood what exactly my friend’s father did. I vaguely remember a lot of used tools and machines when we went to his shop, but that’s about it. My father told me he went there once, but he thought renting what he wanted was too expensive.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that I visited a rental store again. This time I was in need of a chain saw to cut up some fallen tree limbs, so that they could be removed from the yard where we lived in New York. The rental store employees asked me a lot of questions, demonstrated how to start it and then asked me to start it.

What I remember is that I was their entertainment for the day since I had never operated a chain saw before and struggled mightily with the pull cord starter until they showed me the foot plate that allowed me to steady and step on the machine on the ground. When I pulled the cord that time, it started right up.

A lesson was learned and the chain saw did the job I needed, but the experience didn’t leave me with a good impression. Soon after, I bought a small electric chain saw that was on sale, which still sits in my garage.

My early perception of the equipment rental industry was not a favorable one. Fast-forward to today and my opinion is completely different, not just because I now write about the industry.

Every rental store I’ve visited over the past few years is inviting with a clean showroom, shiny equipment and friendly people who make sure customers are welcomed and treated well. The dialogue has changed, too, as more rental store owners talk about things like time utilization, dollar utilization and 24/7 customer service.

In short, those in the industry have transformed the image of rental, spurred on by more competition, higher expectations from customers, generational changes, a recognition of the benefits of running a more professional business and a focus on superior customer service.

While this is happening on a local level, the American Rental Association (ARA) is doing what it can to enhance the image of the industry by investing in research, education and training, government affairs and more that can give its members the tools needed to be more successful in business.

The ARA Rental Market Monitor™ for one has helped economically define the industry and show its impact on a local, state and national level when nothing like it had existed before. It has helped rental store owners and managers better explain the industry to bankers and the total industry revenue generated — $35.7 billion in North America in 2012 — has captured the attention of industry analysts and investors.

If there is any sort of silver lining to what everyone lived through during the recession it is that those businesses that have come out the other side are thriving and see the potential for greater growth by making sure customers have a wonderful rental experience and keep coming back.

There is a different attitude and excitement, which is evident in our cover story about transforming the image of rental starting on page 22. The momentum is there and it is up to each individual rental company to keep it going as there is an opportunity to take more strides forward without looking back.

Wayne Walley is editor for Rental Management, the official magazine of the American Rental Association, 1900 19th St., Moline, IL 61265. He can be reached at 800-334-2177, ext. 253, or 309-277-4253; fax 309-764-2747;