Getting the Most Value Out of Your Rental Relationship

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In today’s economy, contractors are adjusting their business model to be more flexible. That process begins with their largest capital investment — the equipment fleet. There are signs of economic recovery in the construction industry, but contractors may still not feel comfortable investing working capital in purchasing equipment. To meet current project needs, a large segment of the construction industry is making the decision to rent equipment.

Utilizing a rental fleet gives contractors immediate access to the specific pieces of equipment they need for a job when and where they need it. The rental company handles the details associated with transportation, insurance, maintenance and storage of the equipment. If a machine breaks down from normal everyday wear and tear, it’s the rental store’s responsibility to fix it and replace it or provide an alternative solution.

Whether a contractor is new to renting equipment or has a long history of supplementing their fleet with rental, the working relationship with the rental company is a critical part of the overall rental experience. The right rental store should feel like an extension of the contractor’s company, which is why it’s important to do more than ask the question: “How much?”

A mistake that a lot of contractors who are new to renting make is chasing the lowest rate. While price is an important factor in any financial decision, it does not provide any guarantees that the rental store with the lowest rate will provide the necessary service if something goes wrong.
“Establishing a relationship with a rental store allows store personnel to understand each customer’s unique business needs and how and where they can help,” explained Christine Wehrman, executive vice president and CEO of the American Rental Association (ARA). “Rental professionals can help contractors with operator training, equipment safety and selecting the right equipment for a particular job. Also, working consistently with a store allows a crew to become more familiar with the equipment, which will increase their productivity.”

Many rental stores go out of their way to take care of their repeat customers. That preferential treatment comes in handy when the crew is working on weekends or in the middle of the night and another machine is needed on the job.

Selecting a rental store partnership is an important business decision for any contractor, and there are many factors to consider. Wehrman recommends contractors take the following steps:

1. Search for rental stores in the area where the majority of your work is being done. A rental store locator is available on ARA’s RentalHQ.com Web site. Enter the type of equipment you need and where you need it, to get a list of local ARA-member rental companies that can meet your needs.

2. Ask other contractors in the area for references and about their experience working with a particular rental store. You want to do business with a company that has a good reputation among your peers.

3. Ask the rental staff about the store’s equipment fleet. Does it match your needs? If they don’t have something, can they get it? Is the equipment serviced on a regular basis? How often is equipment replaced in the fleet?

4. Determine if the rental store is able to provide service when and where it’s needed. Since many state and federal jobs require contractors to work during off-peak commuting times, you need assurance that your rental partner can get you what you need even if it’s in the middle of the night.

5. Review the store’s rental contract. It should be straightforward with terms that meet your needs. Several rental stores also offer web portals to help you manage rental equipment on a computer, tablet or smartphone.

John Redwine, principal owner of Pioneer Equipment Rental with 11 locations in Oklahoma and Texas, said trust should be the most important factor that goes into selecting a rental partner.

“A large part of a project’s profitability is dependent on the contractor obtaining the right equipment to perform the work. This is one reason relationships between contractors and rental professionals are so important. Contractors need a rental partner that is going to help them identify and obtain the right equipment in a timely manner and stand behind their equipment — in effect help them with successful job completion by making sure every step of the rental process runs smoothly.”

To build trust with a rental organization, Randall Hardy, president of Construction Rentals in Salina, Kan., and two locations in Nebraska, recommends that contractors spend time visiting with and interviewing the staff behind the rental counter.

“Since the bulk of a contractor’s working relations happen either over the phone or face-to-face with the people running the counter, you want to get to know those folks. You want them to understand your needs and truly care about the success of your work. Be sure to talk to them about the store’s response process when a piece of equipment breaks down — do they have an adequate amount of backup equipment to get a replacement machine to you quickly?”

“Since it is equipment we’re dealing with, things may break down,” said Redwine. “Rental stores should be assessed on how they respond in those situations to minimize a contractor’s downtime. How quickly can they make a decision and offer an alternative solution?”

Many rental stores do more than rent equipment. Hardy said his store locations also have many of the supplies contractors need on a job site.

“We know how important a contractor’s time is and want to do our part to keep them on the job working, even if it’s as simple as cutting out a few stops for them before going to the job.”

Contractors also would be wise to seek out a rental store that is a member of ARA, the international trade association for the equipment rental industry. ARA members have access to the latest equipment safety and training information and can put that knowledge to work for their customers. It’s also a symbol of a rental company’s commitment to continuously serving the needs of the customer by developing industry best practices.

“The last four years have changed the way companies operate,” said Wehrman. “As the economy continues to improve and workload increases, many contractors will continue to choose to rent because they’ve seen how important it is to be able to scale their equipment fleets. Also, many contractors have had the opportunity to experience in more depth how renting can provide business flexibility.”

Todd Versteeg is technical writer with Performance Marketing, West Des Moines, Iowa.

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