It has now been one year since the first wave of shutdowns began in the United States in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While calls for social distancing changed personal lives, it also forced companies to change how they do business. Many had to adopt new technologies — like those that enabled contactless transactions — in order to survive.
Some studies have shown that the pandemic fast-forwarded digital adoption by at least five years and has set the stage for rental companies to incorporate new technologies into their business operations sooner rather than later in the future.
“Like most companies during COVID-19, the need to create digital and touchless experiences that aided in creating safer practices for our customers and team members was paramount,” says Katy Lovering, vice president, operational excellence, Sunbelt Rentals, Fort Mill, S.C.
“Sunbelt Rentals was the first large rental company to offer curbside pickup at the onset of the pandemic, and we have no intent to change this service offering. There were many advancements made in a short amount of time at Sunbelt Rentals, especially in the areas of technology, and those advancements really helped us understand that our customers and team members are eager for a technology-driven rental experience,” she says.
While the pandemic changed the way businesses handled transactions, it also caused many to find ways to be more efficient. One way to do that is by utilizing telematics hardware in equipment. Telematics can offer a plethora of important information including the location of equipment, usage data and details on needed maintenance.
“United Rentals has invested in telematics devices and technology since 2014, helping customers track equipment utilization across much of our fleet,” says Norty Turner, senior vice president – services and advanced solutions, United Rentals, Stamford, Conn.
Currently, the company’s telematics-enabled fleet includes a variety of equipment types from material handling, aerial, power and pumps to large earthmoving equipment. More recently, smaller tools and non-powered fleet also have been enabled with location and utilization tracking technology.
“Our customers tell us they have three primary reasons they like to use telematics: First, the visibility into equipment location. They can track and locate equipment on job sites at any time and eliminate the unnecessary downtime crews spend looking for machines. Second, our customers like to monitor machine usage, which helps us ensure the equipment is properly maintained. Third, it gives fleet managers actionable insight into fleet utilization so they’re only renting equipment they are actively using,” says Turner.
“Ultimately, it’s all about maximizing productivity. The industry obviously is not static and customer needs will continue to evolve, and we’re evolving as well to meet those needs,” he says.
Last year, Ahern Rentals, Las Vegas, selected Trackunit® as its telematics platform partner for the Ahern family of companies. The company is currently in the process of rolling this technology out to its equipment fleet of nearly 100,000 pieces.
“A large volume of data is collected through the telematics system that we are installing. The key data types that benefit both our customers and ourselves include latitude/longitude, utilization, Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) alerts and controller area network (CAN) bus faults, along with equipment usage data, such as fuel level, battery voltage, engine speed, operating time, distance, speed, fluid temperatures, torque percentages, diagnostic troubleshooting codes, ambient air temperature, fluid levels and various pressures,” says Don Ahern, chairman and CEO, Ahern Rentals.
In addition, the use of geographical virtual fencing — geofencing — is providing the company additional protection, issuing alerts if equipment is transported outside of a certain area.
“This is beneficial to both the rental customer and ourselves while the equipment is on rent, but it also is a valuable tool when the equipment is off-rent in our rental yard,” says Ahern. “The alert of a border being broken enables a fast response to a possible theft scenario, and the GPS tracking assists in locating any equipment which may have been successfully removed from a job site or rental yard.”
Throughout this cover story section about managing technology, readers can find more on the benefits of telematics, plus details on rental-specific software designed to help rental operators get the most out of their telematics data, the advantages of radio-frequency identification (RFID), and the expansion of virtual and online training.
ARA offers online training opportunities
The American Rental Association (ARA) offers members numerous online learning opportunities. Educational courses and programs for any skill level are available for all segments of the equipment and event rental industry. Education includes:
Box Truck Training. This new interactive training program is designed for delivery and operations staff in the party and event rental industry. It includes in-depth information about proper lifting and loading techniques, Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements, warehouse safety, safe driving, customer service, and delivery and pickup considerations.
Professional Driver Education Program (PDEP). This nine-course program is designed for those in the construction and general tool segments of the industry. Topics range from loading and unloading to DOT regulations and customer service.
Certified Event Rental Professional (CERP) program. This is the event rental industry’s only designation and is offered exclusively by ARA for party and event rental professionals. The in-depth, self-study program covers several topics such as sales, tabletop design, tenting, warehouse operations and more.
RentalU. This is ARA’s online learning platform that includes rental-specific content and training. Courses are designed for all skill levels and for each segment of the industry — construction, general tool, and party and event. Course topics include:
- Customer service
- Introduction to rental
- Forklift training
- Sales skills
- Warehouse safety
“RentalU is a free resource for all ARA members. It enables members to assign courses and track their employee’s online learning progress,” says Lauren Watts, ARA director of education. “The platform also includes member-generated content, so those in rental can find videos, notes and other advice shared by fellow ARA members.”
To learn more about the learning and training opportunities ARA offers, visit ARArental.org/learn.