Editor’s note: As the equipment rental industry prepares to gather in New Orleans for The Rental Show, the equipment rental industry’s largest annual convention and trade show organized by the American Rental Association (ARA), Christine Wehrman, ARA’s executive vice president and CEO, reflects on the past year and talks about what the future may hold for the association and the industry. An edited version of her conversation with Rental Management follows:
RM: The equipment rental industry in 2011 outperformed the industries it serves. What do you attribute this to?
Wehrman: It’s due to the nature of our industry. We’re a solutions-based industry that provides immediate services. Rental solves immediate issues and provides solutions when customers may be dealing with capital availability or downsizing of fleet due to economic reasons. The equipment rental industry is in the right place at the right time because of the nature of what it provides. It is our time, as an industry, to help our customer base succeed in their businesses. This industry is truly a catalyst in helping the economy build back and businesses recover to employ people and strengthen the economy. It is the solution to fulfill what customers need.
RM: There is anecdotal evidence, too, that rental penetration rates are growing. Do you see this trend continuing and what role can the association play in helping grow rental penetration?
Wehrman: Rental penetration continues to grow. Rental has taken market share in some areas, such as industrial, where the growth has been substantial. The industry will continue to prove its value by increased market share within new and current markets. This makes sense because renting equipment is such a smart and easy way to do business. Renting provides so many business advantages that today’s customer will continue to rely on the rental company for their business needs even after economic recovery. The role of the association is to build awareness of the industry, along with our membership, to help make customers aware the industry exists, the services provided and why it is logical, sensible and a good business decision to use rental. We will monitor rental penetration trends as an information-based association. The association’s role as an information provider continues to help build the growth progression of the industry.
RM: As a result of the recession, limited capital availability and more, it seemed that a window of opportunity was opened for the rental industry. With a slower recovery, it seems like this window can stay open much longer and allow everyone to keep driving home the value of rental. How do rental stores and the association capitalize on this?
Wehrman: For individual companies, it’s all about marketing and promotion. It’s all about having a well-managed business that is recognized and recommended by customers. For larger companies, it’s the same strategy on a larger scale. You have to run a good business. The business has to be attractive and provide what customers need. You have to walk the talk, tell people about what you do and interface in your communities to be the business customers want to keep coming back to. ARA’s role is to help our members be astute on the need, value and benefit of promotion and marketing. We do this through many mediums, including all delivery methods, such as seminars at The Rental Show on effective marketing. We deliver through Rental Management all of the techniques to be a better marketer, including how to promote your business and how to get better at your business so that you are that landmark company that everyone wants to do business with. The recently introduced Marketing Minutes also deliver this message. Another aspect is the public relations work ARA can do to help build industry awareness and attract businesses to the industry. In the end, the association is here to promote the industry and advance its growth. We need to tell that story very strategically to key audiences from an economic and a service perspective.
RM: Looking back at the last year, what do you see as the bright spots for the association?
Wehrman: ARA membership continues to be dynamic and increase. You can see that the rental business is improving because we are not only sustaining, but increasing membership. The industry is attracting people into the business. From an association perspective, it is critical and key that ARA continue to be seen as providing value to members for them to participate in the association.
RM: How do you do that?
Wehrman: By delivering on the expectations. That’s what it is all about. For instance, The Rental Show 2011 in Las Vegas was up 40 percent in attendance and up 30 percent in store numbers, which is a signal of the health of the industry. For our suppliers and rental businesses alike, business momentum is increasing. The Rental Show attendance and participation deliver all ARA products and services to attendees. Products and services continue to be directed by members to be practical for use in the business. It is gratifying that when ARA conducts economic surveys to benchmark the economic health of the industry, the membership response always is strong. There is great interest in participating and for individuals to learn survey results in comparison to their peers. ARA provides that information and information from IHS Global Insight provided through ARA Rental Market Monitor™. The association achieved a landmark this past year with the development of performance standards in ARA Rental Market Metrics™. This was accomplished for the benefit of the industry, for businesses to fully understand how they are doing financially, performance-wise. Establishing standards is expected of an association and we worked with the industry to complete the initiative. Now ARA is at work on implementation.
RM: What else do you consider bright spots for the association in 2011?
Wehrman: The risk management focus of the ARA, the safety focus in products and services and the value of ARA Insurance to the membership is a primary part of the organization. Our goal this past year was to support and assist members to strengthen their business plans. It may have been in government affairs, programs and services, or publications that we interfaced. It was a year of continuing to “build back” from the recession with great compassion for the membership. ARA worked with members to help them be well-prepared for taking advantage of the opportunity for increasing their business volume and to get ready for the upward growth curve to maximize the dollars available to them by building the customer base they have established. From the ARA Foundation side, it was a very successful year of increased awareness of the value of the ARA Foundation and its role in helping build and care for the people in the industry from a philanthropic viewpoint. The scholarships provided are a key way to benefit the industry by supporting well-educated and well-informed individuals building a career in the profession of equipment rental. The equipment rental industry has a very bright future.
RM: What do you feel is the state of the American Rental Association (ARA) today?
Wehrman: The ARA is optimistic for the industry. The association’s strongest point is that it listens and is guided by members. ARA is a member-directed organization through all of the many volunteers involved. We thank the volunteers for their leadership. Members share their opinions with us about all matters. There is an openness to dialogue between everyone and to build the industry, knowing change is ever-present. My sense is that 2012 will strengthen our partnership with members and the industry. The ARA board of directors is focused on the future. They are inclusive in their thinking of all members in their decisions. They welcome the future and guide the association effectively for the membership and the industry. They have a very broad view of the association’s value and what should be accomplished.
RM: What concerns is ARA addressing at this time? What might the association be concentrating on in 2012?
Wehrman: We’re focusing on information management, data and research we can provide to inform and educate our membership in terms of the rental opportunities or business management practices. This is consistent with providing ARA Rental Market Metrics™ and the ARA Rental Market Monitor™ services. ARA will focus on government affairs activity with a “get out the vote” initiative for the 2012 elections in the U.S. We want every member and employee to be registered and exercise their citizen’s right to vote and participate in the democratic process. ARA continues to focus on the value of information and education. We plan to deliver effective business management information and tools, which includes Rental Management, Rental Pulse and all education and training products and services. This is key as the markert improves. ARA always looks to the global dynamics of the economy and the business, paying attention to overall trends, analysis, company trends, mergers and acquisitions. We strive for continued leadership development within the industry — which is our state, local and provincial association program. Involved volunteers build the momentum of the association on behalf of the industry. ARA is an inclusive organization with membership of all size rental and supplier companies. ARA will continue to listen to members through our many activities, events and our survey work. The way the association succeeds is by being a good listener.