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Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on the Rental Industry

Wayne Walley
Rental Management Group

Access 101

Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on the Rental Industry

Expert Q&A - Aug 20

What are your big-picture predictions for how COVID-19 will affect the equipment rental industry long-term?

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic helped to shine a light on the essential nature of the equipment and event rental industry. While there are varying definitions of an “essential business,” there is no doubt that equipment and event rental companies provide essential services in times of need. The crisis also has shown how resilient the industry is in terms of adapting products and processes to keep employees and customers safe, as well as shifting inventory to meet the needs of other businesses. The industry reaction to the pandemic will help to increase awareness of the professionalism of rental businesses and the industry’s commitment to health and safety.

In support of the industry efforts, the American Rental Association (ARA) launched the “Clean. Safe. Essential.” campaign that includes a training certificate program for members. This program standardizes the best practices for keeping rental facilities and equipment clean and sanitized and helps businesses promote that fact to their customers. The association plans to expand this campaign to further the awareness of rental industry best practices to the public and promote safety as a core concern to people looking for career opportunities in the industry.

Another long-term impact relates to the use of technology. While many rental businesses have adopted technologies like online ordering, advanced websites and more, the crisis has made it painfully obvious that every store needs to lean hard into technology and rely on a fully functional website, online reservations, electronic signatures, etc. As an anecdote, one rental store owner says his business can now turn equipment faster and has increased utilization because all the paperwork can be done online, and the time to load, deliver and return equipment takes less time.

The equipment and event rental industry has been growing faster than the general economy and the industries it serves for at least 10 years now. With business booming over that period, the time to implement and train employees to use new processes, software systems and more has been delayed until now. By seeing how new technology can improve business, the equipment rental industry will be more inclined to adopt new technologies.

What have we learned about crisis management as a result of COVID-19? How do these takeaways apply to the equipment rental and construction industries?

Equipment and event rental companies are often right in the middle of helping during natural disasters and other crises. These businesses have learned how to adapt and pivot to meet the needs of customers through hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires and more. Pandemics are now another crisis to be added to the list of disasters to be prepared for. Many have learned the value of their industry association in terms of providing support, best practices to use and advocacy at the local, state and federal level. ARA, for example, stepped up its efforts to make officials aware of how COVID-19 has hurt the industry, pushing for additional federal support and helping ARA members better understand and use what has been offered, such as the Paycheck Protection Program. Rental people are resourceful problem solvers; this is what they do every day for their customers. They figure things out in their business, and they bring that same approach as volunteers for the association. When it looked like the world was falling apart, they suggested creating a Facebook discussion page so they could share information and ideas in real time. The ARA board of directors also made decisions to help members with cash flow by suspending dues and adjusting insurance payments. Then, they turned their attention to reopening and came together to help build the “Clean. Safe. Essential.” program.

In your opinion, what will "business as usual" look like going forward?

Business as usual for the equipment and event industry will focus on and highlight efforts to keep employees and customers safe. When it comes to renting equipment, safety always has been a priority in terms of helping customers know how to safely use the equipment rented. Going forward, customers will also want to know how a company is being “Clean. Safe. Essential.” and those that adhere to these best practices are more likely to be successful. In addition, curbside pickup, online reservations, touchless delivery, electronic signatures and more will be business as usual. Technology will become more of a differentiator in serving rental customers. Over the past several months, every consumer has become more comfortable with online ordering, curbside pickup or delivery services and apps that track progress. Many of those folks will expect those same conveniences from the rental industry moving forward.

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