An Amazing Year in Review

Jan. 1, 2004
Journalistic tradition generally calls for January to be a time to look ahead to the coming year, and this month's cover story spotlights 26 trends to

Journalistic tradition generally calls for January to be a time to look ahead to the coming year, and this month's cover story spotlights 26 trends to think about. While they incorporate observations of the RER staff, they are mostly based on interviews with dozens of industry leaders, executives of rental companies both small and large, manufacturers' reps and manufacturing personnel. We've asked industry participants to share their predictions and we'll be equally interested to hear the reactions from all of our readers about the trends we write about and others we might have missed.

Since we never got around to doing a year in review last month, I thought now would be a good time to look back at some of the major events of 2003. It was a very eventful year and not easy to narrow down to one page, but here are a few, not necessarily in order of importance and far from complete. You can get a full week-by-week review from our news website,

The year 2003 started out with the acquisition of Snorkel by a group of Kansas investors, thus bringing a respected aerial work platform manufacturer back to life. The Elwood, Kan.-based company made news throughout the year as it re-opened its factory and resumed production, launched a boom refurbishing program, hired Frank Scarborough as COO, brought back key engineer Richard Hoffelmeyer, began a global parts service and regained a place in the market.

Early in the year, Home Depot announced a 21 percent capital spending increase and said it would open more than 200 rental departments in 2003. They opened about 240 and now have more than 770 rental locations in North America.

NationsRent's emergence from Chapter 11 was obviously one of the major stories of 2003. Former Logan Equipment owner Bryan Rich put together a group of investors to acquire the company out of bankruptcy, hired former AMECO chief Jeff Putman, and added former Multiquip founder and CEO Irving Levine to its board of directors. Given up for dead by many, the company emerged from bankruptcy in June, with a business model more reminiscent of full service rental companies.

Almost simultaneous with NationsRent's emergence, National Equipment Services filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Former CEO Kevin Rodgers resigned earlier in the year, as did his replacement Joseph Guillion following the filing. Now led by restructuring specialists, NES is expected to emerge soon. Fort Worth, Texas-based Crescent Machinery also emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2003. And Neff Corp. went private after about five years as a public company.

While not a major year for acquisitions, there were some significant deals. Eastern Ohio Caterpillar dealer Ohio Machinery acquired Holt Caterpillar, the western Ohio dealer, renaming the company Ohio Cat. About a week later, Volvo acquired the assets of its largest North American dealer L.B. Smith, a big dealer and top 20 rental company reported to be in financial difficulty. And at year's end, a Canadian judge accepted United Rentals' bid to acquire Skyreach Equipment, an aerial dealer and top 25 rental company under Canadian credit protection. The deal is expected to be approved by creditors in the coming weeks. And the Fresno, Calif.-based Quinn Group acquired Los Angeles Caterpillar dealer Shepherd Machinery, making Quinn one of the largest Caterpillar dealers in the country and a major rental player.

It was also a year of the loss of several important industry figures, the most noteworthy being John L. Grove, widely credited as the creative force behind the invention of the hydraulic telescoping crane boom, the modern aerial work platform and the hydraulic roll-back truck bed, and the founder of Grove Worldwide and JLG Industries. Grove died at the age of 82. The year also saw the passing of rental pioneers Jack Wanamaker, who sold his Wanamaker Rents several years ago after 60 years in business; Ted DeVries, founder of Vallejo Rent-All, now known as All-Star Rents; and Thomas Engquist, founder of Head & Engquist, now H&E Equipment Services.

And last, but certainly not least, Brad Jacobs, the brilliant and charismatic United Rentals CEO and architect of the dramatic roll-up of United, which has grown to 750 branches and nearly $3 billion in revenue in less than six years, stepped down at year's end as United CEO. Although Jacobs will continue as executive chairman, Jacobs turned over the day-to-day mantle of leadership to Wayland Hicks, formerly COO. While Jacobs' true legacy will be much debated in the years to come, he was the leading figure in the industry's consolidation and modernization.