Industrial rentals have always demanded a sophisticated skill set. Finding the appropriate contact at an industrial facility can be a major challenge in itself, and then building a relationship can take time and serious effort. As industrial rental specialists have long observed, relationships are not formed easily, and loyalty is hard won and difficult to maintain. The very nature of rentals to industrial applications such as shutdown/turnarounds in the petrochemical industry is such that a jobsite breakdown that holds up a job can cause the customer tens of thousands of dollars in lost production time.
Industrial rental customers have long been conscious of safety and security but those concerns have ratcheted up dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One rental center owner compared getting on to a government-operated jobsite in the post-9/11 world to “trying to break into Fort Knox” and security concerns in such sensitive industries as petrochemical have heightened significantly.
“Since 9/11 plant personnel typically want to see drivers' drug tests, and even sales reps have to go through the plant's safety program and drug-test procedures,” says Kenney Perkins, southeast regional vice president for Greenwich, Conn.-based United Rentals. “They will often inspect and search the vehicle of a sales rep, who will be required to fill out security forms. Vehicle inspections have increased since 9/11 for security reasons.”
Perkins points out that even though inspection of equipment has always been stringent at industrial facilities, it is even more so now. “You can't have cuts in tires, the machines have to be cosmetically clean, and they check carefully for any kind of fluid leaks. They are very concerned about the legibility of decals, and they review the load charts carefully. They check for motion alarms for when machines go in reverse, as well as up and down in the case of aerial equipment.”
“The security levels are much higher than ever before,” adds Horst Wasel, president of the Prime Energy division of Rental Service Corp. “Industrial facilities also look at equipment from the environmental perspective. They don't want old equipment with high noise levels and potential for leaks and breakdowns.”
While the heightened security concerns means a lot more attention to detail for rental companies, some see it as an advantage. “With such security concerns, the customer wants fewer shipments and fewer suppliers to monitor the ins and outs of,” says Brendan Horgan, executive vice president of operations for Charlotte, N.C.-based Sunbelt Rentals. “That can give us a larger share of a job for a particular customer.”
Industrial rental demands a higher degree of specialization than most construction jobs. “When you go into a refinery and tell them what products you have, you have to understand the application,” says Wasel. “It's not enough to have product knowledge. If you bring in products they don't need, they will not listen to you. Application training is very important. For example, you have to be very well versed on turnarounds, you have to plan months in advance to make sure you are providing exactly what the customer needs. RSC, for example, provides in-depth application training online for its sales people.”
Industrial customers often require unusual machines and tools that the typical rental company wouldn't normally carry. “Our industrial resource group carries highly specialized product lines such as mechanical trade tools, hoisting equipment, hydraulic torque wrenches, double-drum air winches and more,” says Sunbelt's Horgan. “We stock chain hoists from 3/4-ton capacity to 25 tons, and air impact wrenches that deliver 80,000 pounds of torque. Some of these items the customer may only be able to source through four or five suppliers in the country.”