Renters' Review: It's About Providing the Right Solution

You work in a rental setting every day. You listen to your customers, you work with equipment, you manage the day-to-day tasks of running a business. You know the rental game inside and out, right? 

It's true you know your business, but sometimes it helps to get a fresh perspective, preferably one from the outside, to give you the insight you need to make a honest assessment of how you're doing and then take it to the next level. With that in mind, we offer you our annual Renters' Review. This feature is the result of real-life rental experiences as told by members of our staff. Each individual chose a different rental source from which to rent a piece of equipment to complete a real job. What you'll find here are their honest perceptions of customer service, equipment performance and more. We hope you enjoy our stories and are able to glean from them some valuable information that can help you succceed at your business.

A pressure washer at last

By Jenny Lescohier. editor

In last year's Rental Review, I noted my disappointment when attempting to rent a pressure washer with which to wash down the vinyl siding on my house. The challenge I faced was in finding a model that would fit in the back of my station wagon. Well, this year I finally hit pay dirt.

The business I chose to rent from was one of the first on the list that came up when I Googled "equipment rental" in my area. I visited the website, which was fairly comprehensive in the information it provided. After browsing for mere seconds, I found an image of a pressure washer that appeared to be the size I was looking for, so I called the local branch to ask a few questions.

The employee I spoke with was polite enough, if not exactly warm. I explained that I'm a homeowner interested in washing my siding but that I'd had difficulty finding a pressure washer small enough to fit in my station wagon and light enough for me to move by myself. The employee assured me they had a model to meet my needs. When I asked a few followup questions about the terms of the rental, hours of operation, etc., I got the impression the employee was losing patience with me. I guessed this business is more accustomed to dealing with professionals, since the name of the company and the website suggest a contractor focus.

I went ahead and reserved the pressure washer for the weekend. The next day, I drove to pick up the equipment and found a small, stand-alone building set back from the main road. The yard appeared neat and tidy, and rather empty. There were a couple of random items in front of the building, including a small double-drum roller, a couple of concrete buggies, a towable compressor, among other things. Inside, the showroom was immaculate, however it was not very inviting. That is to say there was a place for everything, and everything was secured nicely in its place, but there didn't seem to be any thought given to making the showroom layout appealing to the customer. I realize this business caters to professionals who probably couldn't care less about showroom layout. For DIYers like myself, however, a lack of effort put toward showroom design can be offputting to some and downright intimidating to others.

I was immediately greeted by a friendly employee who asked how he could help me. I explained I had reserved a pressure washer for the weekend and he quickly pulled up my paperwork and completed that part of the transaction. While he did this, he asked what I planned to do with the machine and if I'd ever used this type of equipment before.

The employee directed me out to my car, where the machine was waiting. It was exactly as I had hoped: a small cold-water pressure washer that could easily fit in the back of my car. To be specific, this model was a Mi-T-M Job-Pro 2700. It weighs about 75 lbs., so it can be lifted in and out of the car trunk by one person. 

I was quickly shown how to operate the machine, which seemed fairly simple. This model came with several nozzles to choose from, and I was warned against using too fine a nozzle as it could damage my vinyl siding. I did ask several followup questions about equipment operation, which were met with patience on the part of the employee.

When it came time to operate the pressure washer, it performed just fine, although it took three people to get it started. It turns out there was a misunderstanding about which direction to turn the choke lever. No matter, I chalk it up to my being a novice pressure washer operator. Anyway, once I got the machine running, it performed its job to my satisfaction. I wound up using it for four straight hours to wash down my siding, as well as strip the sidewalk concrete of moss and stains. 

Upon returning the unit, I pulled up to the building when an employee (not the one who helped me at pickup) simply walked over, took the machine out of my trunk and walked away. He didn't ask me how it performed or say thank you.

Overall, this rental was very satisfactory. The equipment did its job, the building and grounds were well kept and easy to find, the staff was helpful. If I have any suggestion at all for this business, it would be to work a little bit harder at making every customer interaction positive. The employee I spoke to on the phone initially could have been a bit warmer and more engaging, and the employee I encountered at drop off should have been more professional, but all in all, this company gets high marks from me for its comprehensive website, clean and neat showroom and yard, as well as well-maintained equipment. I would definitely return for repeat business.

Aerial rental gone awry

By Jim Terrill

I'm a residential remodeling contractor by trade, so I rent equipment regularly. Because my wife is an advertising sales rep for Rental, I was asked to report on a recent rental experience. It wasn't hard for me to come up with an interesting story, as I had just had a very memorable encounter with some rented aerial equipment. 

I needed to rent a 40-foot boom lift so I could install a window in the second story of a house I was working on. I rent aerials four or five times a year, normally from the same local outfit. This time, however, when I called to reserve the boom lift, I was told delivery fees had quadrupled since the last time I rented. The reason was the company's flat-bed truck had broken down and they needed to use the low-boy semi instead, which costs more. I disagreed with the cost increase and decided to take my business elsewhere. 

The company I chose to rent from this time did not have any 40-foot booms available, but they suggested I rent a scissor lift. I told the employee I would need to drive the unit across the front lawn of the house -- which isn't recommended with this type of equipment -- but was assured the scissor lift would work fine. 

The lift was dropped off on our jobsite before work began for the day, so I never spoke to or saw anyone from the rental company before operating the equipment. The operator's manual was with the unit and I felt confident using the machine because I believe if you can run a boom lift, you can run a scissor lift. 

Problems began when the lift would not go above 6 feet. This is because it's designed to stop if the ground beneath it is unstable. Since we were working on soft soil, this became a real obstacle. To overcome it, a co-worker and I put several 2 X 10s beneath the scissor lift tires to attempt to create a level work surface. This worked for a short time, until it became necessary to move the lift closer to the house. Then we had to lower the lift, reposition the blocking and raise the lift again to continue working. It kept sinking into the ground the whole time, which was very frustrating. A simple one-man job wound up involving a three-man crew and taking two hours longer than it should have, but we made it work. If I had known it was going to go like this, however, I wouldn't have started in the first place.

The problem with having to make things work is that it usually means you're not using the safest method. In this case, I knew it wasn't the safest or the most effective way to get the job done, but I was stubborn and bull-headed enough to do whatever I had to do to get the job done that day.

Aside from the fact that it wasn't the right machine for the job, the equipment worked flawlessly and the salesman was nice. When I called the machine off rent, I did mention how displeased I was with the rental. I asked for a credit and was told there was no wiggle room on this rental but I could get a break on my next rental. This didn't make me happy either. 

Still, I'm partly to blame. I should never have settled for a scissor lift to do this job. 

Editor's note: Rental companies are required by ANSI /SIA A92.5-2006 to provide familiarization upon delivery of aerial work platforms. This was not done in the above case and that is the fault of the rental company. Also, operation of aerial work platforms should only be done on solid and secure footing. Operating on uneven or soft soil conditions can result in injury or death. 

Customer service left a little to be desired

By Dan Cleaver

Recently, my wife and I had a gardening project that called for a tiller rental. A fairly new rental/contractor’s supply store had opened a couple of miles from our home, so we decided to give it a try. My wife happens to be the former managing editor of Rental, so she gets a kick out of visiting a variety of rental centers and noting the differences in the way they do business. This would be the perfect opportunity to visit one we’d never been to before.
We dropped in on this particular business on a Friday afternoon. No one else was there, and the employee at the counter greeted us cheerfully when we entered the showroom. When we explained our project, he asked several questions, the answers to which led him to suggest a front-tine tiller. He informed us, however, that their front-tine unit was out until Monday. We were about to leave, when my wife asked if we could reserve the unit for Monday. If it weren’t for her asking, he would have let a rental walk right out the door.
On Monday, when I went to pick the unit up, the same employee greeted me by name — which impressed me — and the front-tine tiller was ready to go. The employee quickly printed the paperwork and showed me how to operate the unit. He helped me load the unit and told me to call if I had any problems or questions.
The tiller itself was in great working order and we finished our garden project in no time. When I returned the unit, the rental operation was quite busy. The same employee was working the counter and had a showroom of customers. I had a ramp in my truck so I untied the tiller and started to unload it myself.
There was a person mowing the lawn in front of the store, but I assumed it was a lawn service and not a rental employee, because he made no move to come help either the customers lined up or me unloading the tiller. I realized, with dismay, that he was actually a rental employee after he drove by me on the riding mower and I saw that he was wearing a rental employees’ uniform.
Overall I was pleased with the selection of equipment and initial customer service. The fact that my wife had to ask to reserve the equipment could have meant a lost rental for them if they had let us walk out the door, and the lack of help unloading the equipment when an employee was available, left a sour taste in my mouth. Because the equipment was in great shape and the counter employee was nice and helpful, I’ll give this rental operation another chance.