Market Watch - News from The Rental Show

Stepping up in California

Dean McKelvey, owner of Mac’s Hardware & Rental, in Gridley, CA, attended the Rental Show in New Orleans this year with two of his employees.  “It was a good show for us,” said McKelvey.  “It’s always good to see new products and equipment and talk with vendors.  We made some purchases, including a second portable sign from Johnson Sign Company.   We’ve had good success renting the sign to other businesses and nonprofits and, when not rented out, it’s good advertising for us parked by the store.”

Among other purchases was a ride-on trencher. With the Great Recession in the rear view mirror and as his business continuing to grow, McKelvey sees himself stepping up, transitioning from renting walk-behind trenchers to ride-on models and small chipper shredders to full-size units. In his eleventh year in the rental business, this owner has also seen an uptick in his party business, which now approaches nearly half of the store’s rental sales.

Big impression

Stepping up in equipment size and sales doesn’t imply that McKelvey has his foot entirely on the accelerator.  “Like most businesses, we were hit hard by the downturn in 2008,” he recalls. “Even though we are located in a small agricultural community and have never experienced a big building boom, our sales quickly dried up.  The economy is coming around, but those difficult years definitely had an impact on my approach to running a business.  I won’t buy new equipment unless I can pay for it.  In other words, I want to be as liquid as possible.”

“Getting busier” in PA

Penn Equipment Co in Burnham, PA, is a combination equipment dealer and rental store located approximately an hour northwest of Harrisburg. In addition to offering a wide selection of general rental products and equipment to homeowners, contractors, and industrial facilities, the company sells Mustang loaders and excavators, Komatsu and Manitou forklifts, and TYM tractors.

“The rental store seems to be getting busier all the time,” said Rental Manager Terry Shank, who with some team members, attended the Rental Show in New Orleans.  “We enjoyed the show and took the opportunity to add a small trencher to our rental fleet, one that fits a mini track loader. We also looked a light towers.  A few of our contractor customers have been inquiring about them.”

Shank doesn’t anticipate any dramatic changes forthcoming in the store’s rental operation. Instead, his focus is on making sure it has the equipment on hand to help generate more business for his customers and the store. 

“Not married to old equipment”

Also from Pennsylvania, Gary Gotwals, sales manager for George’s Tool Rental (GTR) in Hatfield, had a busy Rental Show. “It was a big buying show for us because we’re not married to our older equipment,” he remarked. “We made several purchases, including a self-propelled floor stripper. We have several strippers in our fleet, but this will be our first self-propelled unit.”

He looked at adding a ride-on stainless steel fertilizer spreader, as well, but felt the demand wasn’t quite there yet to justify the purchase.

GTR has been in the general business since 1970 and currently has three locations in Pennsylvania. Its main store in Hatfield is location approximately an hour south of Allentown.    


Face time pays off for Nevada branch manager

Paul Isherwood was one of eight branch managers who walked the Rental Show this year for All Star Rents. “We all found something for our locations,” said Isherwood, who manages the company’s branch in Sparks, NV. “I purchased a couple of walk-behind concrete saws and box fans, the latter to be used primarily to keep the air mowing in warehouses.”

The new products and purchases, however, were not the only highlights. He explains.  “Walking the show, I took note of several improvements to equipment already in our fleet, which I will file away for later reference.  The way a few vendors displayed their equipment gave me ideas on how we can more effectively and safely display some equipment in our store.”

He continued, “The show also gave me an opportunity to discuss an equipment issue with a vendor who gave me a factory contact, and the issue was resolved.”

For Isherwood, the time in New Orleans was well spent between looking at the products and equipment and having that all important face time to network.

Sanders, pressure washers, and more in OK

Doug Smiley, Rental Manager for WBC Rental in Kingfisher, OK, was a little more conservative than usual walking the Rental Show this year. “We replaced a couple of large rental items at the close of last year, equipment we normally would have purchased at the show,” he remarked. “Still, I had a shopping list.”

On that list was a new scissor lift and man lift, something the store already rents, along with a drum sander and a pressure washer.  Smiley noted that the drum sander will likely be rented to contractors and homeowners alike whose jobs require more aggressive sanding than the store’s current orbital model can handle. 

A hot water pressure sprayer is also new to the store.  The mobile wash unit,  referred to as a “hotsy” by oil field workers, can be used to clean oil field sites, remove grease from restaurant vents, and wash equipment on location, among other applications.  Smiley also returned home with a couple other products, one to restore paint and another to extend battery life.

WBC (Walter Building Center) started out in business in 1995 as a hardware store and lumber yard.  In 2008, rental replaced the hardware operation. Today, WBC Rental also has a satellite location in El Reno, OK.



Looking for an early Chicago spring

“Kicking the tires!”  That’s what Michael Wirtz, owner of Chicago-based Wirtz Rental was doing at the Rental Show.  “I was only there one day and wasn’t really making any purchases,” he related. “But it was busy and there was a standing line in front of every sales rep I knew.”

Wirtz said it was a tough winter in Chicago for doing business, which was the big reason for more kicking and less buying.  “It was cold, but not cold long enough to push heaters and ground thawing equipment out the door like last year.  Because there was only one big snow, we also didn’t move many Bobcat skid steer loaders or other snow removal equipment.  Yes, we had one or two busy weeks, but the rest of the winter was real quiet.”

A slow winter in Chicago, however, is not unusual, he added, just difficult to handle.  On the bright side, several cranes downtown are a good indicator that construction will pick up, something that bodes well for a good spring and summer season. Fall, he emphasized, is usually his busiest time when contractors working in the construction and industrial markets are rushing around to finish projects before the long winter sets in again.

Wirtz Rentals has two locations, one in Chicago and another just outside of the city in Summit.  The Chicago location opened its doors in 1962; the Summit store followed in 1974. 

Growing with a growing area in FL

The Jacksonville and Amelia Island area of Florida is growing. After surviving the Great Recession the area has reclaimed its reputation as both a thriving retirement destination and tourist attraction.  Growing along with it is Do It Yourself  Rental with locations in Fernandina Beach, Jacksonville, and Orange Park.  The company brought five team members to the Rental Show, including Victor Krowiarz, manager of the Fernandina Beach location.

“We’ve  added few new items to our fleet,” said Krowiarz. “But most of what we’ve purchased we already had back in our inventory, including a couple of straight boom lifts. We were also looking for a motorized tracked concrete carrier to complement a wheeled model we offer to customers.”

Krowiarz mused that he could spend millions at the show, but reality is something different.  Again, I was mostly looking to replace aging items in our fleet, but you also have to be selective and find equipment and products that are customer friendly. Especially in our area where the majority of our customers are homeowners, ease of operation is critical.”

The story may be different for the company’s other locations closer to Jacksonville where contractors generate more store traffic.  Homeowners or contractors, general rental or party, Krowiarz said the company is doing well and looking to grow with the area.

From mowers to ground thawers in South Dakota

Weismantel Rent-All in Aberdeen , South Dakota, has been in the rental business for over 65 years. Owner Jeff Weismantel attends the rental show every year. "Seems like the show this year in New Orleans was comparable with the number of exhibitors and attendees," he remarked. We didn't come home with anything new that we already didn't have, but also did quite a bit of buying to replace equipment or supplement our lines."

He noted that aerial lifts and ground thawers are popular rental items. In fact, the store is expanding its line of thawers because construction projects seem to go year-round. “Even in the depths of winter, contractors them to continue to work in the frozen ground,” said Weismantel.

The rental store has seen dramatic changes since Weismantel's father rented his first piece of equipment, a used lawn mower, from his gas station. It still has push mowers for rent , but they're mostly for show and reminder of the store's roots. "Youngsters today will bring their own mower and do the work for less money than we can charge rent for just a mower," Weismantel added.