The RER 100, which will be released next week, showed, to quote RSC's CEO Erik Olsson — and a nod to Charles Dickens — a tale of two halves. Most of the RER 100 companies spent the first half of 2010 in the doldrums, many feeling as though they had reached bottom. So it was the proverbial “bouncing along the bottom” and that bouncing can be pretty stressful on one's spinal column, not to mention their company's bottom lines.
The second half, for most, brought a noticeable change: Far more customer demand and optimism; improved utilization; even rising rental rates, albeit not rising enough. Those developments brought far better margins — and for many, it brought margins back into the black. The margins may not have been much to scream about, but red ink was replaced by black nonetheless.
It's no secret to anybody that the recession these past few years has been fierce. We'd be talking about a lot more casualties — both among the RER 100 and the industry as a whole — had so many companies not de-fleeted, decreased the size of their staffs, concentrated on paying down debt, and put expansion and growth plans on hold. And for many companies, there were great leaps forward when it came to improving efficiencies with creative technological approaches.
I spoke with or had e-mail dialogs with executives from a majority of the companies on the RER 100, and almost all said 2011 was starting out better than recent years, with more consumer and customer confidence, more demand and utilization. As one CEO, a hands-on guy who loves this industry, said to me, “The business is starting to be fun again. I'd forgotten what that feels like.”
The top 10 of the RER 100 — the big players — were much like the rest of the RER 100 in terms of their overall numbers. The top 10 declined in 2010 less than 1 percent year over year, just like the rest of the 100 companies. For the most part they were flat but are starting 2011 strong.
So enjoy reading the RER 100, soon to be in your mailbox and on our website at www.rermag.com. This is the 25th year of the RER 100, including its first few years when it was the RER 50. Carry it along in your pickup truck or on your computer.