Floor Traffic, Buying and Outlook Improves at ARA Rental Show

While exhibitors were far from unanimous, the majority of vendors at The Rental Show in Orlando, Fla., this week, said this year’s American Rental Association trade show was considerably better than last year’s convention in Atlanta. Exhibitors reported improved sales on the show floor and a more optimistic attitude among rental companies in attendance. Foot traffic was steadier than last year and rental people who spoke with RER at the show, while not exuberant about this year’s business prospects, felt that signs of hope and improvement were on the horizon.

“There’s definitely a sense that the worst is behind us,” Bill Thompson, CEO of Thompson Pump & Manufacturing, Port Orange, Fla., told RER. “We might still be bouncing on the bottom but most people feel we’re not going to plunge further downward and their customers are a bit more optimistic.”

“We did a hell of a lot more business than at last year’s show,” said Mike Arness of ClearView Financial, Ephrata, Wash., a company that finances equipment purchases. “People are more willing to invest in their fleets now, they are more confident. People are expecting to invest more this year.”

Dennis Von Ruden of General Equipment, Owatonna, Minn., said that his company sold more than at last year’s show, but said, “People are still cautious and uncertain about the future.”

Still, not all exhibiting manufacturers were pleased with sales or what they considered subpar floor traffic. American Rental Association CEO Chris Wehrman acknowledged the difficult and uncertain economic environment and thanked attendees for supporting ARA during this difficult period. Noting that many exhibitors opted for smaller booths, she said the smaller footprint of the show may enable show organizers to consider slightly smaller cities in the future, such as San Antonio and San Diego. ARA has contracts to put on the Rental Show in Las Vegas in 2011 and New Orleans, La., in 2012.

While attendance did improve compared with 2009, once again the weather — which cut into attendees travel plans a year ago — had an impact. While local weather in Orlando was not a factor, record snowfalls delayed travel in Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh and a number of other eastern cities where airports were closed or significantly reduced the amount of outgoing flights.

During the opening assembly, the late Bill Bourque, a major force behind the establishment and growth of the Taylor Rental and Grand Central Station franchise chains, and Mike Watts, founder and chairman of Phoenix-based Sunstate Equipment, were inducted into the ARA Rental Hall of Fame.

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