Prime Time DIYs

July 1, 2000
Who would have thought that today's homeowners would rent a small backhoe for backyard compaction or a pressure washer to zap mildew off windows? But

Who would have thought that today's homeowners would rent a small backhoe for backyard compaction or a pressure washer to zap mildew off windows? But savvy ones do, thanks to do-it-yourself gurus such as Bob Vila and Martha Stewart.

No one is happier about this phenomenon than Monty Thompson, president of two-location Thompson's Grand Rental Station, Columbia, S.C., a full-service rental company catering to contractors, homeowners and event coordinators. He tells RER why it's happening.

RER: Can you describe how the homeowner market has evolved?

Thompson: The homeowner market or the do-it-yourselfers are braver now. They're like everyone else - they're trying to save a buck. They are apt to try more projects because they see television shows like "This Old House" that tell them they can do (a project), and they'll dive right in. I've noticed this change in the last six years or so, where people are getting more educated about rental stores. And money is tight, so (homeowners) are cutting costs. Plus I think people take pride when they do a project themselves.

How do you respond to the needs of the contractor market and the DIYs?

Contractors know what they want, they know the exact tool, and they typically have multiple days' and week rentals. They rent year-round, so you cater to them as much as you can. They're your bread and butter. Homeowners you spend a little more time with, educating them about a piece of equipment. More women are trying and renting out new kinds of equipment, too, like pressure washers, so we spend extra time with them telling them how to operate it.

Your customers' needs vary from season to season. What are some of the most popular rentals?

It is a seasonal industry. Typically in mid-March through May, everybody is tilling their yard and garden. Aeration is real big. In the spring, there's a rush of lawn and garden equipment customers; they need trenchers, sprinkler systems. In the winter months, when people are landlocked in the house, there's more painting, flooring projects and ceramic tile work, so you rent a lot of saws, sprayers and sanders.

Besides product discounts and training, what are other advantages of being a TruServ co-op member?

The look of rental stores has changed in the last 12 years. The days of the dumpy gas station with a couple of mowers are gone. When we went with Grand Rental in 1994, they helped us get a very professional look and helped with our merchandising. We try to keep our stores spotless and place equipment up front because that's the lifeblood of this business.

What role do the bigger rental chains play in the DIY market?

The theory that bigger is better doesn't work in the rental business because the service level drops. We spend more time with our customers, we get to know them by name, and they call on us by name. For the big companies, it's all about the numbers. Typically, the big rental houses don't seem to cater to homeowners too much because most homeowner rentals are three-hour to a day rentals, and those are not big numbers. Overall we are more knowledgeable because that's all we do. We rent from candelabras to small trenchers and backhoes - we're versed in all types of equipment.