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Detouring Off the Paper Trail

As flat or falling rental rates remain a constant theme in many markets, more equipment rental companies might turn to Internet transactions to help cut costs.

On average, businesses spend $100 on paperwork alone each time they do a transaction, studies show. By transferring inventory and parts buying to the Web, rental companies might be able to slash costs instead of rates, saving thousands of dollars in overhead each year.

This growing realization is already spurring some rental companies - and not just the industry giants - to invest in the necessary hardware and business-to-business software to buy, rent and sell over the Internet, according to an informal RER survey.

And not surprisingly, a number of dotcom entities are emerging to help rental companies with the transition to online operations.

Last month,, a business-to-business e-commerce site for lawn and garden products, entered into a strategic agreement with the nation's three largest hardware cooperatives, TruServ Corp., Ace Hardware and Do it Best., a subsidiary of San Francisco-based U.S. Home & Garden, will offer the three co-ops' members a dedicated online area to buy lawn and garden equipment and accessories from a wide range of manufacturers.

Combined, Do it Best, Ace and TruServ have more than 18,000 smaller independent members who generated a combined $24 billion in sales last year, including about $3 billion in the lawn and garden market.

About 2,000, or more than 10 percent, of the members participate in tool rental programs. Now they'll have one more weapon at their disposal in the battle to maintain rates in a crowded marketplace. - HERC's web site, now offers customers the ability to look up daily, weekly and monthly rental rates and equipment availability by locations and equipment specifications. On the same screen, contact information and a credit application are presented. - This site, launched by metals and plastics distributor Ryerson Tull, offers a wide range of product lines, from maintenance and repair items to haz-mat handling equipment. First-time shoppers receive a 10 percent discount.

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