Photo by Finning Canada
Finning Covid 2 Counter Plexiglass

Interview with Finning’s Michael Frey – Connecting Through Technology, Minimizing Risk

Feb. 4, 2021
Late last year, RER interviewed a series of rental people about how COVID 19 affected their business. Michael Frey, rental operations manager, Finning Canada, talks on the company’s safety measures, optimism for 2021, adoption of online tools, and more.

Late last year, RER interviewed a series of rental people about how COVID 19 affected their business. Michael Frey, rental operations manager, Finning Canada, talks on the company’s safety measures, optimism for 2021, the adoption of online tools, and helping customers balance the flow of work.

How has business been for you in 2020? How has the pandemic affected your business?

When COVID hit in March our rental business declined and with the closing down of job sites and equipment being returned to the branches, it created anxiety and concern. But since May, business has steadily increased, so the rebound was fairly quick on the rental side. Business in urban centers, particularly in Western Canada, started picking up and it has been steady through the fall.

Although many of our offices were able to move to remote working, at the field and branch level that wasn’t fully possible, as we needed to be present to serve our customers. We acted quickly to ensure our customers and teams stayed safe. Finning invested heavily in outfitting branches with the tools and measures to operate safely - this included an audit of every single location. From signage around social distancing and new processes for cleaning and sanitizing, to plexi-glass dividers between customers and staff, every identifiable risk was considered. And the plan was actioned immediately to get our rental business up and running safely.  

How do you expect the pandemic to affect business going forward into 2021?

Continued infrastructure investment is predicted as we move into 2021 so we are optimistic that our rental business will remain steady. Commodity investment will vary across industries, but demand will return as we move through the pandemic.  We will continue to focus on keeping our workers and customers safe with the protocols we have in place including self-assessments for our people working in our facilities to ensure they are fit for work. 

We expect telematics like remote monitoring will experience broader adoption as we move into 2021. This technology allows us to gain useful data and insights, to better serve our customers and to arrive more prepared when we need to visit a site.

How has the pandemic affected and changed your company’s ability to meet with customers, go on jobsites and essentially conduct rental business as you always have?

Relationships are very important in the rental business especially our interactions with customers. Back in March, customers started to restrict non-essential access to their locations that remain in place today.  We have and continue to respect those customers’ wishes and are only visiting approximately 15 to 20 percent of our customers in-person, which means we were presented with new challenges for prospecting for new business and gathering information on-site to understand our customers’ needs.

What we have noticed across the business is the adoption of online tools. Customers are researching brands online more than ever and are using social media to initiate interactions. LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook have really become key tools for us in terms of connecting and working with our customers, and we anticipate this will continue to be a part of the way we do business going forward.

How have different areas been affected and how do you expect them to be affected going forward?

Every area of our business and our customers' business has been affected by the pandemic. The rental industry has recovered somewhat, and for many small contractors who adapted quickly it’s business as usual. Other industries like oil & gas continue to experience challenges with low commodity pricing and demand, job losses, reduced investment, and market decline, so we are working across the business to continually evolve to meet our customers’ needs, whenever and however they need us.

Going forward, we expect an increased focus on connecting through technology. This means everything from products to people, asset management to virtual meetings. This focus will allow businesses to safely operate, lower their cost to serve, and maintain effective relationships within their teams and with customers.

Have there been any good opportunities that have come out of the pandemic?

One of the biggest opportunities we are seeing is a better understanding of the value of technology and having efficient systems and processes in place. E-signing for example, isn’t new but it’s becoming commonplace. Necessity drives innovation and so technology like remote monitoring is also becoming more wide-spread.

As our equipment works across various applications, we do see the demand for rental equipment shift from time to time and during the pandemic we have definitely seen an increase in rentals for landscaping and home improvement projects.

This is a very uncertain time in the economy in regard to the pandemic and so many job cancelations. Does this uncertainty benefit rental in the sense that contractors would want to avoid capital expenditures on equipment and would therefore rent more?

Rental can be a leading indicator of how the market responds due to economic challenges - when equipment purchases decline, rental often picks up.

Customers may be more likely to rent during challenging economic situations, as it means they can still do business without a large capital investment. Rental helps minimize the risk. Customers can rent equipment at a certain rate for a specific period of time, and when it is no longer needed, just return it to the dealer. They don’t need to worry about the machine sitting unused on a site, maintenance, or the hassle of selling it. Rental can also help customers balance the flow of work - scaling up or down when needed. This is particularly relevant to our customers right now with the level of uncertainty about the pandemic and how it will affect upcoming work and investment in industry sectors.