Equipment Renters in Idaho Adapt to Changing Customer Base

Equipment rental professionals that supply both construction equipment and party supplies said the party side is what's keeping business afloat

Idaho may not be building much these days, but at least it is still partying.

Equipment rental professionals that supply both construction equipment and party supplies said the party side is what's keeping business afloat as construction-related work continued to slow this year.

"The party side has been our saving grace," said Greg Nelson, general manager for Brown Rental of Boise.

Nelson said September should be an OK month, down just a few percentage points from last year. And he's trying to be optimistic about the coming months, saying it looks like there's a turnaround coming, at least in residential work.

"Some of that could be high hopes, but we've been doing market research ... and we can see it to some degree," he said.

Meanwhile, rental companies are seeing changing customers.

Brown Rental has historically been based around homeowners and small contractors, but the small contractors have been disappearing.

Nelson has noted a rising class of customer: the independent handyman. He said guys who are getting laid off from big construction companies are starting to pick up jobs around their neighborhoods. The pay can't compare to previous jobs, but they're keeping busy.

Over at EquipRent in Meridian, new customers have sprung up in the form of medium-sized contractors. Some companies that at one time owned their own equipment have had to sell it off to stay in business, so they've turned to renting.

Owner Dave Young said he's had to refocus his business on home remodeling jobs rather than new construction.

Tools like jackhammers, dehumidifiers, paint sprayers and pool installation equipment are all doing well at EquipRent. Young said home remodeling projects spiked in the spring after tax refunds and stimulus checks were mailed out, but they've slowed down since then.

Another sector that's provided a source of business is undeveloped lots: developers who own lots waiting to be built on have found the need to maintain those lots, resulting in some weed removal equipment rental.

Like at Brown Rental, EquipRent's sister store, which rents party equipment, has been holding up, and the two units are trying to find better ways to share business.

Beyond those bright spots, business is slow. Equipment rental stores have closed around the state, and those who have managed to hang on have cut back and made changes - like relying more on party supply or remodeling projects.

EquipRent sold off construction equipment as things started to slow in the spring of 2008.

"I think it's going to be a while yet," Young said. "I think maybe late next year we'll see an improvement. But anybody trying to get more into renovation is doing fairly well right now. The only people we're doing business with in new construction is Hubble Homes and CBH. "

"It's been an unpredictable year," Nelson added. "None of the past 20 years of trends have followed in the last year and a half. It's hard to follow, hard to predict. "