May 23, 2002
Power by the hour - Equipment rental

Whatever the machinery requirement these days, you can bet that your friendly local rental equipment house has a unit ready and waiting to deliver. From skid steers and compactors to mini excavators and backhoes, the big rental houses offer large and highly versatile inventories customized to meet almost every need.

     Not surprisingly, the landscape industry remains one of the rental sector's biggest and most demanding customers. The equipment calls can be well organized and placed a week in advance or placed directly by cell phone from the job site in the form of a working emergency. The target of the rental house is to meet the needs of the customer with equipment that is sized right for the job and often delivered to or picked up from the job site.

     "For a great many landscape contractors, rentals are the preferred way of doing business," explained Colin Goheen of Ontario-based Battlefield Equipment. "You buy the equipment you use on a daily basis and rent to fill all the other needs. It is the easy way to go for a lot of businesses that don't want to worry about repairs, maintenance or tying up valuable capital in equipment purchases. To rent by the day, week or month is both convenient and very cost effective to our customers. It just makes sense."

     Charlie Pigott at United Rentals agrees, adding that most of the major equipment manufacturers today offer comprehensive lines of compact and even mini sized equipment that are specifically designed to meet the needs of the small- to medium-sized contractor. "If you ask me what has changed in the rental sector over the last five to 10 years, it is in the availability of small and compact equipment lines. There is a piece or equipment or a specialty attachment designed to meet almost every need these days."

     The ubiquitous skid steer provides a perfect example. Few major landscape operators can get along these days without the skills and versatility of these versatile little machines. They get in and out of tight corners, can carry a surprisingly big load, come with a wide variety of useful attachments and seem custom designed to meet the needs of the busy landscaper. Not surprisingly, they are often referred to as the 'Swiss army knife' of the landscape industry and they maintain a prominent position on every operator's equipment wish list.

     To meet the requirements of the industry, the major rental houses maintain large and highly qualified staff, which become almost an extension to the landscaper's work team. "Most of our equipment customers fall into the pro categories," said United Rentals' Pigott. "They know and understand the machinery they are using and work with the operator to make sure it is made available on time and ready to go to work."

     There was a time, Pigott added, when it took a large truck and a float to get a big dozer or backhoe to the worksite. Not anymore. The size and versatility of the modern compact lines means that equipment can be picked up and moved from one job site to another with ease. "Transportability is a big issue for our customers. They want a machine they can off-load and put to work quickly and easily. They also want a machine that is simple to use and which offers high standards of operator friendliness and safety."

     The size and power or any piece of rented equipment is often judged by the versatility of its attachments, says Battlefield's Colin Goheen. "One machine that can handle a wide variety of tasks obviously has a great deal of attraction for the landscape industry. People like machines that offer versatility and also attachments that can be picked up and dropped off without loss of time or complicated process." To fill that need, most of the major manufacturers offer quick attachment or coupling systems that permit an operator to quickly drop off one attachment and pick up another without loss of time or sometimes even leaving the operator's seat.

As well as the machinery, the major rental houses also increasingly specialize in the advice. They have become part of the busy landscaper's equipment team, helping to spec the right piece of the equipment for the job in hand along with the attachments to match. "The landscaper tends to be a pro customer with a wide understanding of the machinery he uses," says Pigott. "But that same landscaper also has to handle a wide variety of highly complex tasks in which the equipment requirements can be very demanding. Knowing that the expertise is available and close at hand can be very reassuring at times."

     The steady growth of the compact machinery market over the last few years has given great prominence to the rental sector. Most of the major equipment manufacturers have spotted the trend and either bought their way into the rental sector or started rental outlets of their own. Observers see more of the same in the years to come with an even greater specialization in the design and marketing of compact lines of equipment.