RER interviews Guy Manuel, CEO of Canada’s Stephenson’s Rental Services, about successes in 2023 and high expectations for 2024, growth in technology and other services, keeping rental rates strong, new hub locations, Canada’s population growth, and more.
How was your year, 2023, overall? Not necessarily in numbers or percentages, just in general?
Manuel: 2023 was another record year for us at Stephenson’s! Not only do we continue to grow aggressively, but we are very proud to have outpaced the market growth in every province we operate in today (Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta). What’s even more impressive for us is that we continue to be more strategic in terms of the customer segments we want to dominate that underpins this growth. Choosing a lane and doing that better than anyone is difficult, but we are really starting to see the benefits in all facets of our business.
What kind of year do you expect in 2024?
Once again, we are anticipating a best performance as we continue to grow in the double digits, and again out pace our competitors in every province we are in. We are definitely seeing some softness in Ontario with the Residential and Commercial segments slowing as a result of the interest rate levels, but despite this we will still have another record year in Ontario in 2024 as we expect the market to rebound mid to late 2024. Alberta and Quebec continue to be as strong as ever!
How was demand in your marketplace and what do you expect in 2024?
In general, there continues to be a lot of discipline in our marketplace in terms of fleeting up / down to match customer demands, and in terms of pricing as well. We see both continuing into 2024. In terms of market activity, while there is a temporary slowdown on the residential and commercial side of things, the investment and start values in Civil and Infrastructure projects centered around Transit and Healthcare continue to keep the markets buoyant. In addition, Canada’s aggressive population growth is another key to long-term growth as all three levels of government in Canada remain focused on building more housing across the country.
Any interesting new developments in 2023? New branches, product lines or segments, acquisitions, new software or telematics, new people, new emphasis?
We continue to expand our footprint to support our long-term strategy. We have invested in two large hub locations, in Oakville and Toronto in 2023, and have a new hub being built in Ottawa for 2024. In addition, we added a major hub location on the South Shore of Montreal and have expanded and completely renovated our St Jerome hub in Quebec.
On top of that, we have three existing branches under renovations this year with another three branches targeted for 2024. We are improving the experience for both customers and employees alike, with a focus on getting our customers and internal teams in and out of the branches quickly to continue to support our on-Time delivery promises!
In terms of technology, our entire fleet is outfitted with telematics which is connected into our operating platform as well as EasyLink (our customer portal). It is transforming our ability to maximize our fleet, help customers understand and improve their business, and convey in real-time notifications and alerts to our customers for updates on deliveries, pick-ups, service calls, as well as equipment issues. The key in offering all of this to our customers is keeping simplicity at the forefront.
In terms of product offerings, we will be expanding into power generation and distribution this year to continue to support our target customers. We are bringing a higher level of professionalism to our propane business, and we continue to build out our climate control and scaffolding specialty branches through technology improvements.
How are rental rates? Have they peaked?
As new equipment costs soared over the past years, we have unfortunately had to pass along increases to our customer base, but we do see our input costs slowly normalizing and anticipate 2024 to continue to flatline, albeit at higher-than-ever costs. Considering our aggressive growth, we have felt the immediate impact of the inflated costs of equipment a bit more than the average competitor, which is forcing us to continue to be disciplined in our approach. 2024 will be more of the same.
Is the marketplace more competitive now than a few years ago?
I don’t think so, but what we do see is every competitor upping their service game to try and take more market share. We see this as a huge positive! As consolidation and high input costs continue to add barriers to entry, we are benefitting by being the rental house of choice as our customers want to support a strong, independent Proudly Canadian rental company. What a great time to be in our industry, and we are also very excited to celebrate our upcoming 70th Anniversary in 2024! Quite an accomplishment, and a real testament to our employee base and loyal customers.
What do you expect for 2024?
We continue to be bullish on the markets and segments of choice for us into 2024 and beyond. Our goal is to represent 20 percent of the markets we operate in, and we are well underway to achieving that goal in the next few years.