West Side Story

Since coming to work at RER more than three years ago I've become a big advocate of rental and often recommend rental items to friends when they tell me about the latest home improvement project they're planning to tackle. I have a tendency to go a little overboard on my recommendations — in the same way Tim “The Tool Man Taylor from TV's “Home Improvement” would have — but I'm sure most rental coordinators have the decency to tell my friends and family that a mini excavator isn't truly necessary to plant a small tree. So without any good reason to rent an excavator (and believe me, I tried very hard to come up with one), I recently completed my first rental — on a pressure washer.

Rather than fight the parking lot and the weekend crowds at a big box rental/home improvement center, I decided to rent from a small independent rental business in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Though its location wasn't as convenient to my home as the nearest Lowe's and Home Depot stores are, I did probably save myself some time by avoiding the crowds.

Wanting to cover all my bases I called a few days before I planned to do the rental to make a reservation. I explained that I needed to rent a pressure washer over the weekend. The woman at the rental store said, “We have several; what are you washing?”

I described my job — garage, driveway, fence — and she placed me on hold for a few minutes to check the availability of the appropriate unit. While I was on hold, the message playing sold me on taking my grill's propane tank in to be refilled because it's cheaper than exchanging an old, empty one for a new one. I'll remember that next time it's empty.

When the sales coordinator came back on the line she told me I didn't need a reservation because they had plenty of pressure washers on hand. She didn't offer information about the term of the rental and the various rates, so I had to ask. The unit I needed rented for $65 a day or $45 for three hours.

Conveniently, the store offered Sunday hours — a great option for families like mine that have to cram in most of the weekly chores and home maintenance projects into the weekend. I arrived at about 1 p.m. Sunday, walked into the store and someone quickly came out from the back to help me. I explained what I needed and answered questions about my pressure-washing project. The rental coordinator called to the back for a 2000-psi pressure washer, then asked for my driver's license. Though he did ask for my phone number I found it interesting that he didn't ask if the address on my driver's license is correct. It's not, but that's what ended up in the computer.

After telling me about the $100 deposit, he asked me to sign the contract without further explanation of its intricacies or the other charges, which included a fuel surcharge of $1.80 and a 9-percent damage waiver of $4.50. Both charges are fair, of course, but I like to know what I'm paying for before I sign the dotted line.

Instructed to drive around to the west side of the building for pickup, I quickly scrambled to get my bearings. I'm not blessed with a working internal compass. As I turned to walk out of the store, I noticed a sign posted on the west wall marked “West.” Nice touch. I know I'm not the only one out there without any sense of direction.

When I pulled around to pick up my pressure washer I noticed a mechanic trying to air up a flat tire on the unit. The tire didn't look like it was responding, so he grabbed another unit sitting close by instead. I appreciated not having to wait and I ended up getting a 2400-psi unit instead.

The mechanic asked me if I'd ever used a pressure washer before and then gave me a quick run down on how to operate it. He checked the gas level, topped it off and then loaded it into my car with the help of another mechanic. I was driving off the lot about seven minutes after I walked in. The process was quick and easy, but I couldn't help but feel like I'd interrupted an otherwise lazy day and been rushed out.

The pressure washing went smoothly. The worst part was taking everything out of the garage before getting started. It took about 30 minutes to finish the garage and driveway before moving on to the fence, which took a couple hours more. I was ready to return the unit by about 4:30 p.m.

I went in to the store to pay the bill and then drove around to the west side of the building to have the unit unloaded. This time I was in and out in about 5 minutes.

My first rental experience left me with one thought for the independent rental businesses to consider: Unless you know otherwise, always assume that you're dealing with a first-time renter. Cover all the bases of the contract, including rates and rental terms, and provide a thorough demonstration of the equipment. These efforts will make your customer feel more comfortable and will lead to a lasting rental relationship built on trust. Because Home Depot is a popular destination for do-it-yourselfers, its rental department encounters first-time renters every day. If you do business with weekend warriors, remember to cultivate those relationships with the same care you do your contractor customers. The choices of where to rent equipment are growing. Give customers in your area a reason to choose your business.

I'm looking forward to my next rental. Next time I'll think of a reason to rent that mini excavator. Maybe I'll put in a pool.

TAGS: Ar Features
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