RERMAG

Petterson Starts Own Rental Center

LA VERNE, Calif.- Brian Petterson, former director of rental operations at Wickes Lumber, has left that organization to form his own rental company, Specialty Rental Service, here.

Petterson, a veteran of more than two decades in the rental industry, told RER that he always aspired to form his own company. "The opportunity came along for me, and I had some shareholders interested in making the investment," he said.

Before playing the lead role in developing a rental program for Wickes, Petterson worked for Dixie Rents in Memphis, Tenn., owned by his father, Carl Petterson, and then joined industry legend Sam Greenberg at Sam's U-Rent, Van Nuys, Calif. Petterson also played a major role in the development of the Contractors' Warehouse in-store rental department program.

Petterson said Specialty Rental Service will focus on a variety of niche-type items, such as large chippers and stump grinders, skid-steer loaders with specialty attachments such as planers and telebooms, landscape rakes, scissorlifts, ride-on trenchers and specialized compaction machines.

Brian Hightower has taken Petterson's position at Wickes.

Big players hold dominant presence NEW YORK - Consolidation is slowing, but rental's biggest players continue to increase their dominating presence, according to an industry survey recently conducted by Merrill Lynch.

Taking stock of the dramatic shifts among heavyweight rental companies during the past two years, the study indicates that a handful of heavyweights are attracting increased attention in the marketplace.

"We can see a definite change in the competitive landscape," said Elaine Thomson, a vice president at Merrill Lynch who compiled the survey of 100 large and small firms from across the country.

In less than two years United Rentals has gone from being a little-known operator to earning top billing as the best-known rental firm. When the survey asked which companies had an increasing presence in the industry, United topped the list with 64 percent. In July 1998, United notched an 18 percent showing.

Caterpillar, with a 53 percent showing, followed in second place in the recent survey. Another noteworthy item in the recognition sweepstakes is the rise of NationsRent, which climbed from 21 percent to 47 percent in one year.

Small rental companies say United is more visible than larger ones. "Caterpillar and National Equipment Services are the only companies that have a greater presence with the larger industry participants than the smaller," said Thomson.

On the consolidation front, the survey reflects the slowdown in acquisition activity. In the current poll, 55 percent of respondents said they had been approached within the past year regarding sale of their operations, down from 68 percent in the September 1999 survey.

The survey also addressed the most popular reasons customers rent. The two most frequent answers remain: provide supplemental capacity during peak activity, which was cited as very important by 80 percent, and provide additional capacity for a specific job, cited by 72 percent. The findings were basically consistent among both large and small firms.

The third-most popular reason remains the avoidance of capital outlays for equipment.

When buying equipment for the company fleet, quality continues to be the primary consideration, with 98 percent saying it is very important. Price has become a bigger issue in making purchasing decisions. "It is noteworthy that price has moved from the third or fourth reason in our prior surveys to number two," said Thomson, who added this could be partially because of increased pressure on rental rates. (See RER, March 2000.)

"This focus on pricing could also relate to the rental companies' increasing purchasing power and the lack of brand loyalty in short-term rentals," said Thomson.

She pointed out that in other Merrill Lynch research, the primary concern of many contractors is availability of equipment. Price, service and location are all secondary issues, said Thomson.

Finally, service is a more important factor to smaller rental companies when purchasing equipment, cited by 73 percent of respondents. Only 53 percent of large companies said service is very important, "most likely because they are large enough to employ their own mechanics for routine maintenance," Thomson said.

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