Each of your customers has his or her own expectations from your company, depending on individual needs and wants. With that in mind, it's helpful to know the preferences common to the primary customer bases you serve, particularly if they represent a niche market. As part of our coverage of concrete equipment in this issue, we polled dozens of concrete contractors to find out what they like - and don't like - about their rental source in order to give you an idea of how to best serve these customers. Following is what we found.
First, the bad news...
Many of the concrete contractors we polled noted the equipment they rent is often poorly maintained and frequently breaks down while on rent. "Our past small equipment rentals have not been positive experiences because the equipment often seems to have dependability issues," says Dennis Purinton of Purinton Builders in East Granby, CT, who notes his company mostly rents pieces of equipment they don't already own, when the need comes up. "Too many unqualified people abuse [rental] equipment and it becomes a potential financial nightmare, with thousands of dollars of material on site with a shelf life of about 90 minutes."
While Purinton's experience is rather extreme, he is not alone in his opinion that some rental equipment is not well maintained. Dan Yeghoian of DCY's Concrete Pumping Services in Thornton, CO, says he's rented everything needed to demo a concrete patio at one time or another, including dump trailers. "Quite often I find they are unavailable, inadequate for my needs or poorly maintained," he says. "My suggestion to the rental folks would be to do a better job of maintaining their equipment and pre-checking to make sure their clients are able to perform the work that needs to be done. There is nothing worse than to get to the dump site with a load of broken concrete and have to unload the dump trailer by hand because of its failure to operate properly."
According to Todd Schneider, president of Schneider Contracting Corp. in the Washington D.C. metro area, damage waivers are an irritation. "We decline the 10% damage waiver (we have to provide proof of coverage under our policy), but sometimes we run into situations where equipment breaks with no good explanation other than it was provided to us in a compromised condition, which is hard to prove if you didn't notice it at pickup or delivery."
Other pet peeves noted by our survey respondents included impersonal customer service. Julio Hallack of Concrete by Hallack in Turlock, CA says his go-to source for equipment rental is Volvo Rents in Salida, CA, where he mostly rents dump trucks or large generators with jack hammers when doing concrete demolition. "We used to rent from [another source] but their service became very unfriendly."
Hallack adds that good service and dependable equipment go hand in hand. "Make sure that only equipment that has been inspected and is ready for rent goes out," he suggests to rental companies. "If you rent a piece of equipment that goes down due to lack of service, be willing and ready to compensate the client."
Now the good news...
Far and away, what the concrete contractors polled for this article valued most from their rental sources was personal service. For example, Darrin Thornton, a contractor and a rep for Polysteel Forms based out of Medford, OR, says he uses United Rentals as his primary source for equipment rental. He was renting at least three times a week before the economy took a dive, mainly compaction equipment, traffic cones and scaffolding. "My sales guy I've been dealing with for over 20 years," he says. "He knows me and my business well. All the counter help know me and my business too."
He adds, "I like the fact that a lot of counter help have construction knowledge and aren't just there to punch a clock. Training, training, training... when you invest in your help, it shows!"
Mike Klein of Five Star Concrete Solutions has several rental sources he uses regularly for the residential and commercial work he does in Howell, MI. "We rent mostly power buggies for cement movement and also diamond-tip grinders for concrete polishing," he says, noting what he looks for in his rental sources is simple - honesty. "We've actually been able to find a good rental business to work with over the past few years," he states. His only criticism? "Most of them have old equipment and are not buying new tools and products. They need to provide more up-to-date tools."
Greg Randa, president of GM Randa Inc. in Yorkville, IL, says he most typically uses a local general rental store for his needs because they treat him fairly. "They offer personal service and are fair with rates," he notes. "And they have a very fair return policy. Our schedule doesn't always allow returning equipment at the exact due-back time. A personal relationship and a flexible policy afford such concessions."
Randa says fairness is key to building a solid relationship with contractors. "We really do notice this. If we have a problem with one of your units, make sure you reflect your concern on the invoice, or be innovative with helping us feel you're trying to create the best value for us," he says, adding, "Keep up with maintenance; it will pay big dividends down the road. Update your rental fleet and equipment often. Nobody wants to work with old, outdated equipment. We would rather pay slightly more for modern efficiencies."
Overall, most of the concrete contractors we questioned believe in the value of renting. "I see better potential for me renting than buying," says Chris Chan of Architectural Concrete, a small decorative concrete company in Northern California, who frequently rents small trenchers, excavators, skid steers, skip loaders, dump trucks, compressors and jackhammers. "I've had so many friends complain about making large payments for idle equipment and rising fuel costs."
Chan says he often rents from Cresco Equipment Rental in his area because they have great customer service and newer equipment. "My clients had commented that it's nice to see a newer machine working than one that looks like an old, broken-down unit."
Ideas and suggestions
A couple of our respondents had some thoughts on ways equipment rental businesses could better serve contractors in general. Schneider at Schneider Contracting Corp. suggests having a low-, mid- and high-level damage waiver. "Low-risk covers items that may be related to lack of maintenance or expected wear/damage (perhaps 2-3%). Improper use damage adds one fee (perhaps 5%), while total exclusion except for purposeful damage, theft, etc., adds another (perhaps 10-15%)," he suggests. "Keep equipment well maintained and offer better instruction on the use of some pieces."
For his part, Chan suggests rental businesses offer "packaged concept pricing." He explains, "I know this would help out with certain projects. Most rental yards charge for each item for a day, even if you only need it for a few hours. I would recommend they have a demo package - like a compressor, hoses, jackhammers with bits - at one unit cost."
The concrete truth
Whether they work in concrete, roofing, plumbing or general construction, contractors everywhere want many of the same things from their rental source - fair, honest and friendly service, a good variety of well-maintained equipment and policies that make sense. Keep these ideas in mind as you serve concrete contractors - and the rest of your customers too.