Industry Size, Metrics and Rental Passion

Feb. 1, 2010
For quite a few years now we've been presenting to you, in our February issue, industry analyst Frank Manfredi's annual look at the size of the rental

For quite a few years now we've been presenting to you, in our February issue, industry analyst Frank Manfredi's annual look at the size of the rental market. In past years, we would present the article with great excitement and our readers would embrace it the same way as we'd discuss the growth of the rental industry. As the industry passed $30 billion and approached $40 billion, we would proclaim the industry's dramatic expansion.

Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, Manfredi's conclusions are rather different this year. Although numbers for 2009 aren't yet widely available, Manfredi projects about a 30-percent decline in the industry's size after 2009's unprecedented downturn. Based on the RER staff's research and the extensive interviews we did in preparation for last month's forecast issue, as well as the numbers we've been seeing from publicly traded firms, we don't dispute Manfredi's findings. There might be some differences of a percentage point or two, but clearly the 2009 downturn was like nothing any of us have seen before.

Manfredi predicts a continued decline in 2010, more like 15 percent, rather than 30, and the expectations of dozens of people we've spoken to in the past couple of months seem to corroborate that estimate. I wish I could tell you that he's wrong and that a dramatic upturn is about to begin in the first quarter of this year, but don't head for the roulette wheel in Vegas with that expectation in mind.

So the key will be simply to go forward because the alternative obviously is worse. We could all fold up and go home but still the long-term potential of this business portends growth and expansion in the years to come.

If you're looking for some new ideas for your business in 2010, I strongly recommend you take a look at Gary Stansberry's article on page 37. Stansberry addresses some of the difficulties independent and regional rental companies might have in competing with national rental companies and suggests that you learn from them. National companies have brought important metrics to the rental industry. Smaller local rental companies, while sometimes having the advantage of local flavor and relationships, could greatly improve their performance by using some of the measuring methods large rental companies employ. The benefits of tracking revenue on a day-by-day basis, measuring payroll as a percentage of revenue, rental fleet dollar utilization, rental fleet repairs and maintenance expense, and EBITDA as a percentage of total revenue are all areas Stansberry delves into and more, offering percentages and practical explanations about how and why these and other metrics work.

Also in this issue is our cover story on Theros Equipment and its owner Joel Theros. Some of you might know Joel's father Tod Theros, who's McLean Rentals provided Sunbelt Rentals with its first major platform for growth in the United States. Many rental people have credited Tod with influencing their rental philosophy and after spending a day with Joel Theros, I expect many will regard him the same way. His enthusiasm for the business and processes of rental will inspire you.

Over the past decade or two, hundreds of equipment dealers have made the plunge into rentals with varying results. Some have done it because the manufacturers they represented insisted on it; many have done it because their customer base demanded it. Results have varied as some dealers quickly embraced and understood the different business culture of rentals. Others have been less successful as they essentially offered rentals with a dealership methodology and mindset, and never fully understood the urgency and quickness short-term rental requires.

Theros, however, has been unique. Although he grew up in a rental environment, he got his start in business as a dealer who was prohibited from most rentals because of a non-compete agreement. When he eventually got involved in rental, he found he was just naturally better at it than running a dealership and liked it so much he, for the most part, said goodbye to dealership activities and fully embraced the rental model. I think you'll find his metamorphosis fascinating.

If these three stories don't give you enough to read about in this issue, then check out the interview with Dan Kaplan — an annual RER feature — who, as we've come to expect, is candid about what to expect in the year ahead and what will work and what won't. Re-rental specialist Woody Weld and financial services provider Harry Schneider also offer unique insights into the current market.

And if you are reading this issue at The Rental Show in Orlando, I hope to run into you there. Please make a point of stopping to say hello to RER at Booth 3509.