The Rental Branch started selling and renting decorative concrete products eight years ago. Today, the St. Joseph, MI rental house features a decorative concrete showroom, and is in the midst of physically separating it from its core rental operation. “I guess the showroom was so successful that we started to have an identity crisis,” says store owner Mike Branch. “Customers would ask, ‘Do you still rent stuff here?’ So now, the showroom will be just a showroom that sells decorative concrete products, rents stamps, and offers training classes.”
Not every rental operator will make the commitment that Branch has or be willing to take the time to grow the business. As he admits, “At this point, decorative concrete is not a big part of our business. It’s still a risk, but we know there are opportunities and my chips are in.”
The industry has been gaining momentum over the past decade. Homeowners, municipalities, and commercial designers are embracing decorative concrete for its durability, ease of maintenance and visual appeal. Always in the market for new opportunities, contractors have picked up on the trend by offering products and services to satisfy the growing demand.
The market spells opportunity for rental houses. Equipment and products are specialized – and in many cases, costly – so it pays to rent from both a DIYer’s and contractor’s perspective. And it’s fairly broad based, encompassing everything from decorative stained and stamped floors and concrete countertops to overlays, epoxy flooring and polished concrete.
“One of the best things about getting into the decorative concrete business is that it complements what most rental stores already rent, including pressure washers, floor grinders, and vacuums,” explains Branch. “Now if they can expand the market for these rental items and then sell stains, dyes, sealers and other decorative concrete products to go with them, not only has the number of transactions increased, but so has the transaction size.”
Pick and choose
Bledsoe Rentals in Lee’s Summit, MO and Olathe, KS, took a different approach to this market five years ago. “We saw that decorative concrete, especially polished concrete floors, was being specified for new construction and to renovate older homes,” relates Adam Fouts, vice president of the company. “They are durable with extremely low maintenance, and they hold esthetic appeal.”
To gain entry into the market, Fouts started building relationships with industry manufacturers and reaching out to his contractor customers. Today, he is a distributor for Lavina floor polishers and rents them, along with other flooring equipment such as ride-on scrapers, dump trailers, scrubbers and large HEPA vacuums, to his contractor customers.
His store doesn’t leave DIYers out of the mix either. “Homeowners want to epoxy garage floors and dye basement floors,” he adds. “We rent tooling to them and teach them how to stain and use the equipment.”
When entering a new market, Bledsoe Sales Manager James Todd emphasizes that sitting back waiting for orders won’t suffice. “We constantly talk to our contractor customers and architects to find out what types of services they want, and we have a sales team in the field visiting with them on site. Contractors are always looking for new revenue sources and new business opportunities. Forming partnerships with them is a win-win for both parties.”
Involvement is key, too, he adds. “Being in the decorative concrete/floor polishing business isn’t the traditional rental situation; every floor is different. Giving the right advice, being able to answer your customers’ questions and – equally important – having counter people who know what questions to ask of them, are requisites to success. When you can help customers and help them avoid a costly mistake, they become customers for life.”