An Exploding Rental Market

The pressure washer market has been one of the fastest-growing rental equipment segments over the past decade. Its growth has, to a large degree, been spurred by a rising interest on the part of homeowners who have discovered the relative ease of using these machines.

With the increasing willingness of do-it-yourselfers to take part in home-improvement projects, coupled with a strong economy that has made such participation more widespread, the use of pressure washers for cleaning backyard decks and other projects has increased substantially.

To appeal to this burgeoning segment, manufacturers are making pressure washers lighter and simpler to operate, producing large quantities of lightweight machines and selling them at lower prices through mass-merchandisers and hardware chains. Some manufacturers, however, are concerned that the trend toward smaller, lighter units could lead to a substitution of emphasis on quantity over quality and durability.

The homeowner segment is not the only one that has stimulated growth, pressure washer manufacturers say. Scott Steffen, rental division manager of Mi-T-M, Peosta, Iowa, and David Sobel, vice president of sales and marketing for Englewood, Colo.-based Hotsy Corp., say industrial utilization is on the increase because of the achievement of higher pressures and flow rates.

Lisa McBreen of Hydro Tek Systems, Redlands, Calif., says the food-processing and heavy equipment markets are growing quickly as well. "In food processing, we see a lot of water waste," she says. "With stricter government regulations, factories are required to clean floors, equipment and assembly lines regularly. The water usage is metered by the city and can become costly for most companies. By using a pressure washer to clean factory floors, equipment and assembly lines, you can cut wastewater by almost 90 percent." McBreen adds that growth in construction activity will necessitate keeping heavy equipment clean on a daily basis, spurring growth in that segment.

Reductions in component prices have also boosted pressure washer market growth by enabling manufacturers to lower production costs, says Dave Huml, worldwide product marketing manager for Graco Inc., Minneapolis. "Components' cost-reduction, most notably in engines and water pumps, has driven down prices over the past several years," he says.

Andy Gale, president of Landa Water Cleaning Systems, Camas, Wash., says increased usage of 12-volt burner assemblies on hot-water machines has been an important development. "They're making hot-water units more portable because they don't need a generator on a hot-water machine to make it work," Gale says. "The 12-volt burner assembly isn't new, but it's been vastly improved in the past several years." Vast improvement in hot-water pressure washer technology has stimulated popularity considerably.

Ken Rothmel of Wap International, Charlotte, N.C., adds that the growth of the accessory market has made pressure washers a more useful tool. As manufacturers develop more accessories, pressure washers will become more profitable for rental companies.

"Some pressure washer manufacturers are becoming one-stop shops," Rothmel adds. "Rental companies can now buy pressure washers and many other items from the same company. When they buy many types of equipment from the same supplier, they'll get more discounts. That will grow the market."

While pressure washers are becoming more popular with the homeowner, a segmentation has developed, to some degree, between what Huml calls "professional washers built for the professional user and price-point washers designed for the homeowner and part-time users."

Professional units have also become more user-friendly, he says. "Features such as highly portable carts make loading and unloading and movement on the job much easier. Convenience features like tip storage ports, hose racks, lift handles and chemical bucket hooks distinguish the higher quality professional units from the cheaper homeowner models in the marketplace."

While this trend is likely to continue, other technological developments will come into play in the coming years as well.

Red Wieburg of Wieburg Enterprises, Camdenton, Mo., says electric units are likely to grow in popularity. "Less amperage draw and stronger output produce more volume and pressure," he says.

"I expect a major breakthrough in high-pressure pump technology in the next few years," says Huml. "The basic technology has not changed significantly over time and the market opportunity is significant enough for the company that innovates successfully to attract the attention of the major players."

"The developments we expect to see over the next few years are going to be more environmentally friendly," adds McBreen. "We are seeing a greater trend in use of wet sand-blasting as opposed to dry sand-blasting. With more government regulations and health concerns, wet sand-blasting is becoming more widely used. By using water, you eliminate the dust that causes environmental and health hazards."

Environmental regulations may make water containment a more important issue, leading the industry toward more sophisticated units.

"We'll have to recoup the water as the Environmental Protection Agency cracks down on spraying buildings and letting the water flow into sewer systems," says Rothmel. "So pressure washers and vacuums will have to be merged into one unit that can suck up the water that is sprayed out. And that will be the type of unit that most customers will have to rent rather than buy cheap at [a mass-merchandiser]."

Other manufacturers say, however, that such a merging into one unit is likely to be cost-prohibitive. "However, we may see [the development of] some kind of self-contained spray platforms," Gale says. "So users who couldn't put in a wash pad could use a portable contained wash unit to recover that water. But if they're washing a house, they can't put the house on a platform."

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