A Cultural Comparison Between Rental Businesses in the U.S. and Ireland

Ihave been to well over 1,000 rental companies in North America and every now and then I get the rare treat to venture to far-away places. This summer I had the great pleasure to visit several “machine and tool hire” stores in Ireland.

Just like in North America, I found that each “hire shop” was different from the others. There didn’t appear to be much cooperation between businesses, but none of them said anything derogatory about their competitors, even though the shops I visited were in highly competitive market environments.

When I asked one of the shop owners how frequently he raised his rates he said that because of competition, he hadn’t raised his rates in over 12 years. He also said the prices on some items were lowered to below where they were 12 years ago. All of the companies I visited had a customer service pace that was very fast and highly focused to be certain that customers received what they wanted quickly. Capturing the walk-in and phone-in customer business is an obvious a priority. It was apparent they were keenly aware their customers had other options of where to hire their machinery and tool needs.

Two of the hire shops I visited were diversifying into more hardware-store type retail products – and both owners felt this initiative was working for them. One, for example, had added plumbing supply retail items to his inventory and to the showroom display area. One of the hire companies was promoting a new rental item that is designed to (among other benefits) “burn fat, tone and condition muscles” through the use of this vibration exercise machine. You’d think that an hour a day using a rented electric jack hammer, rotary hammer, jumping jack tamper or gas cut-off saw would yield similar results.

I smiled when one of the owners said he felt they had a relatively unique situation: his business had been in the same location for many years and at least several times each week he has customers tell him they’ve driven by his shop for years and didn’t know his business was there. Over the years, I certainly have heard the same thing many times from rental business owners. It’s comforting to know that even rental companies thousands of miles away are experiencing some of the same challenges and opportunities.

Points of difference

Damage waiver was not in use at any of the hire companies I visited. In fact, when I described what it typically covered, I discovered they hadn’t heard of it. Just as we in North America haven’t kept an eye on what’s happening in the European hire scene, the Irish hire companies I spoke to haven’t been tracking what we’re doing.

Based on what these hire shop owners told me and what I saw, I believe the terrible recession that hammered North American rental companies might have been even more devastating to the Irish economy and to their hire businesses. But, the good news is they all were cautiously optimistic not only about their near-term prospects but also their long-term future. I could tell (and some told me) they had deep battle scars from the length and severity of the recession.

Although they were cordial to me, the owners and other key personnel I visited had a serious and urgent determination to have their businesses succeed. They almost seemed to have that “take no prisoners” urgency. I sensed they felt the tide of the war to succeed has finally swung a bit in their favor and were looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunity, but were not going to let their guard down.

And isn’t there a lesson in this for all of us.