Do You Need a Pump or a Dry Ditch?

Nov. 1, 2016
If the rental industry is more capable, it’s because the customer has come to expect it, and that has led to a level of professionalism that probably was unforeseen 20 or 30 years ago.

As I was researching this month’s cover story on pump rental, particularly while interviewing people from Sunbelt Rentals, Xylem, Thompson Pump and Tsurumi, one of the themes that continually jumped out at me was the fact that pump rental is so much more than just a transaction where a customer calls up and rents a particular pump. Pump rental specialists, and there are others out there besides the ones I mention in the article, typically do so much more than just rent a piece of equipment. They include engineers on staff that go out to jobsites and figure out the best way either to dewater a site or move water from one place to another. Very often it’s not just a matter of recommending a particular unit but designing a complete, often very complex, solution.

One of the reasons the equipment rental industry has continued to grow and has become so indispensable to construction companies and all kinds of contractors is the expertise the rental industry offers. The industry as a whole has grown because customers have recognized the economic benefits of renting versus owning their own equipment, but more than that because of the capability of this industry. The customer knows that if they need a particular machine their equipment rental suppliers will have it or know where they can get it quickly. The customers also increasingly know that if they need a machine delivered, that the rental company will be able to deliver it on time. Rental companies have developed this capability out of necessity; intense competition means if they can’t perform the job, somebody else will.

This competitive environment has led to an expectation of performance. So if the rental industry is more capable, it’s because the customer has come to expect it, and that has led to a level of professionalism that probably was unforeseen 20 or 30 years ago.

In the rental industry there has been a realization that it’s not just renting a backhoe or a scissorlift, it’s getting a job done. and possibly no other aspect of the equipment rental industry encapsulates this more than pump rental. If the customer needs to do a sewer bypass, the customer may be very professional. They may have done something many times, so it’s “I need this machine tomorrow at 8 a.m.” and no further discussion is required. But with the many different types of issues a customer is likely to face on such a job, very often they need the expertise of the pump rental company’s engineering department as much as they need the pump itself.

Bill Thompson talks about how when he started in the pump industry more than 40 years ago unless a customer was seeking a small diaphragm pump or small, wet-prime trash pump, a customer couldn’t easily find a solution to a water problem when installing a pipeline, pouring a culvert, by-passing a broken sewer line or dewatering a deep open-pit mine. Nor was it easy to just call up and order a machine for the next day or get somebody to replace or fix a broken-down unit in an hour or two. Forty years is a long time, obviously, but over the years the dewatering capability of the industry has changed dramatically.

Yes, the rental industry has changed a lot, hasn’t it? There is a place for online rental portals where a customer can just go shopping and get what he needs. There is nothing wrong with just providing a machine, filling an order as simply as ordering an item online and having it delivered. But the real key to the growth of the rental industry is the depth of problem solving it provides.

A customer can rent or buy a generator anywhere but if he needs to power a concert or a hospital or a golf tournament or a city, he better makes sure he’s doing it right. He can rent or buy an 80-foot boomlift for a variety of reasons but to do it safely and properly he might need advice or expertise. And, as Thompson says, a customer might want a pump when what he really needs is a dry ditch.

And that’s why the rental industry will continue to grow.

About the Author

Michael Roth | Editor

Michael Roth has covered the equipment rental industry full time for RER since 1989 and has served as the magazine’s editor in chief since 1994. He has nearly 30 years experience as a professional journalist. Roth has visited hundreds of rental centers and industry manufacturers, written hundreds of feature stories for RER and thousands of news stories for the magazine and its electronic newsletter RER Reports. Roth has interviewed leading executives for most of the industry’s largest rental companies and manufacturers as well as hundreds of smaller independent companies. He has visited with and reported on rental companies and manufacturers in Europe, Central America and Asia as well as Mexico, Canada and the United States. Roth was co-founder of RER Reports, the industry’s first weekly newsletter, which began as a fax newsletter in 1996, and later became an online newsletter. Roth has spoken at conventions sponsored by the American Rental Association, Associated Equipment Distributors, California Rental Association and other industry events and has spoken before industry groups in several countries. He lives and works in Los Angeles when he’s not traveling to cover industry events.