Is There a Light?

March 1, 2010
There was a bit of a different mood in the air at ARA's Rental Show this year. I know a lot of you who I spoke to on the show floor felt the same sense.

There was a bit of a different mood in the air at ARA's Rental Show this year. I know a lot of you who I spoke to on the show floor felt the same sense. Like there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even though we can't quite see it yet, aren't sure we really even see a reflection of it, but we sense it's off in the distance somewhere, we're just not sure where.

Last year about this time most people I talked to in the rental business felt like they were staring off into the darkness and they had no sense that darkness would end. A lot of people I talked to at the ARA show and the California Rental Rally in Bakersfield, Calif., at the beginning of this month, still couldn't say business is any better, but there was a feeling going around the exhibition halls and watering holes that the worst had passed. There were more inquiries coming in, their customers were at least bidding on something.

Contractors at the World of Concrete expressed similar views.

If you're reading this and thinking, “Well, I haven't seen it yet. It's dead around here where I work,” you're not alone. A lot of people are still feeling that way in a lot of places.

Several people — and I've heard similar outside of the rental business, in other facets of business — have said things like, “Thank God for Customer XX. They're keeping us going.” I'd nod my head affirmatively, but something about that concerns me. What happens if Customer XX stops working or decides to take his business elsewhere? You might be thinking that it couldn't happen, but we should have figured out by now that things change, often suddenly, in unexpected ways, and Customer XX is either out of business, changed its business model, or just not producing enough to keep you going like before. If we look around the world and in our lives and the economic picture as a whole, a whole lot of things have happened that most of us didn't expect and far more dramatically.

You may have a customer that seems reliable and loyal, but pressures now unseen can cause that customer's needs to change. And you might not be prepared to meet those needs.

So if Customer XX departs, and all you've really got left is Customer Y, your business might be in trouble.

Did you read our cover story last month on Joel Theros and Theros Equipment? If you didn't, please take the time. Theros told me that no single customer of his company represented more than 2 or 3 percent of the company's business. Losing one of your biggest customers at any time is tough, especially in times such as these, but if it means 2 or 3 percent of your business, it probably won't break you. But if you've got two or three main customers representing the lion's share of your volume, it might be time to attempt to diversify.

Whatever the percentage, now more than ever, don't take those customers for granted. It may be time to once again take stock of what your top customers' business needs are and are going to be down the road, and make sure you're taking care or preparing to take care of those needs.

If your company rents aerial work platforms, please check out our aerial safety section this month, with RER's Brandey Smith writing about the importance of training customers, and JLG's David Baxter on the value of checking out the jobsite for potential hazards.

I've heard some say they are not responsible for the conditions of the jobsite. While admitting responsibility for making sure the operator is properly trained, they overlook the role a rental company can play in making sure a jobsite is free of hazards that can result in damages to your equipment as well as injury or death to the operator.

Baxter writes that evaluating a jobsite is complementary to evaluating equipment. Your equipment might be in fine mechanical working order but hazardous conditions on a jobsite can change that in an instant. Or, says Baxter, it's like preparing to play football without studying your opponent.

ANSI specifies that a worksite hazard inspection be conducted before every use. While you may say that's the contractor's role, you are also performing a service to your customer by making a quick review of the situation.

You might be saving the life of that operator, and others in the area, including your own employees.