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Interview with Larry Workman: Covid is a Four-Letter Word

Jan. 21, 2021
Larry Workman, CEO of Illini Hi-Reach, talks about canceled projects, the difficulties of communication with customers, why Covid is a “four-letter word” to the rental industry and why contractors will embrace rental even more.

RER recently interviewed many rental executives on how Covid-19 has affected the rental industry. Larry Workman, CEO of Illini Hi-Reach, talks about canceled projects, the difficulties of communication with customers, why Covid is a “four-letter word” to the rental industry and why contractors will embrace rental even more.

RER: How has business been for Illini Hi-Reach in 2020 and how has the pandemic affected you?

Workman: It was adversely affected by Covid right as we were moving out of winter in the Midwest. Illinois and Chicago were the most greatly affected due to Covid shutdowns for entire state and/or City of Chicago. Projects immediately stopped or canceled by month of April. Delays and restarts of projects were either long undetermined or, at times, canceled until further notice. Major projects scheduled for startups at the end of 2020 are, on the whole, delayed until further notice/or 2021 with no firm timelines at this time.

The pandemic has truly affected our company and other equipment rental companies/distributors. Estimating that rental revenues are down in the 25 to 35 percent range starting back in March 2020. Layoffs and reduced work force and work weeks are common in our area and are still in place at most companies that I am familiar with. The pandemic coupled with an election year plus political protests and rioting have put a strong damper on any projects in Chicago city limits with another Covid shutdown for the city and one looming for the state of Illinois very soon.

What are you expecting in 2021?

It will have a negative effect in 2021 for at least the first six months of 2021 and I will not be surprised if Covid depresses construction activity for the entire year.

How has the pandemic affected your relationships with customers as far as being able to get out and visit them on the jobsite?

Covid has affected customer contact enormously. Jobsites are closed to most sales contact and customer offices also pretty much the same. It’s very difficult to see customers ‘face to face’ in an industry that is built on that type of relationship and customer contact. No normal or traditional rental habits or practices remain in 2020 from sales calls, service calls and machine deliveries or pickups. All are much more difficult and cumbersome. Covid is the new “four-letter word" for our industry.

Have all construction segments been adversely affected?

Practically all areas of construction activity have been affected. A bright light is housing construction in Indiana and Wisconsin. Loads of people are leaving Illinois for a long list of reasons.

Do you see any potential good news from Covid?

Yes, as we realized from the ‘great recession’ of approximately 10 years ago. A sound prediction would be that contractors will embrace rental equipment more when we all get economically re-situated to a recovery or uptick like happened in 2012-13 and up through 2018. I believe that recent ARA forecasting has that in play for 2022 and beyond. I’m hoping so! It seems logical to assume.