ARA Regional directors offer insight and expectations
By Ashleigh Petersen Brock Huffstutler and Connie Lannan

ARA Regional directors offer insight and expectations

Sarah Wilper
Sarah Wilper

Big business mixed with big change in the Northeast

Sarah Wilper, executive vice president, Taylor Rental Center, Manchester, Conn., and incoming American Rental Association (ARA) Region One director, has observed significant shifts in the industry’s dynamics across the northeast.

“The landscape of rental locations has changed in the last couple years,” she says. “A number of locations have closed due to retirement or COVID, or merged into larger rental companies. That has added an increase to many rental businesses as they absorb the work. Smaller rental houses continue to face competition from corporate rental houses. The purchase of family businesses is a leading source of growth for corporate rental. In a time where corporations must answer to shareholders expecting a return, the pressure on small to mid-scale rental is harder than ever.”

Wilper says that while heavy equipment rentals are holding steady from big and small construction projects, the “rising costs of materials along with equipment availability has impacted the construction industry significantly, and the fluctuating costs of fuel have given the industry whiplash. Costs across the board in most categories have gone up and for the bulk of employers, finding, keeping and training help are significant challenges.”

While general tool will always have its place, Wilper says much of the DIY/homeowner side of rental has left the market. “Weekend warriors will purchase smaller tools or utilize franchises like Home Depot to meet their needs. There has been a divide in rental towards event on one side and construction on the other. Most use general tool as a profit line item but not a main source of income,” she says.

The Northeast’s event rental landscape also is experiencing an ownership evolution, even while it enjoys its biggest boom in years. “Event rental locations have flexed coming out of COVID; many have retired, closed or sold off inventory. This has created an opening for existing rental houses to build up their business through expanding into areas where locations no longer operate. Despite ongoing concerns about recession, event rental has continued to see strong growth as people are finally able to hold events without restriction, post-COVID. This segment remains cautiously optimistic,” Wilper says.

— Brock Huffstutler

Brian Richardson

Optimism in parts of the East

“Everybody is bullish,” says Brian Richardson, president and CEO, L & A Tent Rentals, Hamilton, N.J., and ARA Region Two director, of equipment rental operators across the Mid-Atlantic. “Even though there is that looming specter of a possible recession, everybody is enthusiastic. Whether it’s because this administration is willing to spend money or the infrastructure bill that passed, there is a lot of opportunity in the equipment rental segment for all that money to be spent, so they’re really excited about it.”

Richardson sees a high level of enthusiasm in the region’s event segment, too. “Events seem to be more booming than equipment. We are booking events through January here in the East, which historically settles down by mid-November. It is showing no signs of stopping. Money is still out there, corporations are still booking and even as interest rates keep going higher, businesses don’t seem to be pulling back,”
he says.

Although the industry-wide labor challenge endures, Richardson is seeing some improvement. “It’s gotten easier to obtain employees through H2B visas,” he says. “That has seen a steady increase in the Mid-Atlantic for all segments. We’re not hitting 2019 [employment] levels, but I’m more optimistic than I was a year ago.”

Richardson says a major dilemma now for rental operators is the volatility of diesel fuel prices. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a backhoe or a box truck to deliver plates — pricing as far as charging for delivery is up and down. People are struggling to price out rental rates for next week, next month or two months from now just because of the uncertainty of diesel fuel prices,” he says.

— Brock Huffstutler

John Scott

Holding steady in the Southeast

John Scott, owner and managing partner, First Source Equipment Rentals, Burlington, N.C., and ARA Region Three director, reports that in his region, heavy equipment rentals are strong and poised to hold steady into 2023 — but with some caveats.

“Price increases and delays on getting equipment are a source of frustration,” Scott says. “We are into 2024 [delivery estimates] on a ton of stuff. There is no certainty from any manufacturer to plan your business and they don’t have any good answers.”

Scott says there has been a slowdown in homeowner/DIY rentals stemming from national economic factors. “People taking equity lines out to spend more money to do remodels, add pools or fix up their properties seems to have slowed down compared to last year. Interest rates rising is a big part of it. People are cautious right now,” he says.

Event rentals across the southeast are strong, but Scott reckons operators in this segment are at a crossroads of sorts when it comes to how they approach labor. “The No. 1 problem is they can’t find people and they’re turning down work. I think the event world is going to struggle until they can figure out how to pay employees more, with benefits, while not working crazy hours. People don’t want to do that anymore for a living and not have a normal home life. A lot of event rental companies closed during COVID. That business now has to go somewhere, so I think they’ve got a real opportunity to switch their entire setup. It used to be they jumped for the customer. Now they can say, ‘If you need it, these are the hours that we can do it; we won’t run at 2 in the morning,’” he says.

Scott also points to the pandemic as something that has turned into a catalyst for better business across his region. “We are in a hot market, especially after COVID,” he says. “We had a gift in our area in that we weren’t completely shut down. People are moving here quickly. It is a little easier to operate or open new companies here in the south than it is up north.”

— Brock Huffstutler

Bryce Puckett
Bryce Puckett

Overall outlook positive for south central states

For both the equipment and event rental segments, the outlook is for a “continued show of economic strength in most sectors,” says Bryce Puckett, general manager of rentals, Kirby-Smith Machinery, Fort Worth, Texas, who serves as ARA Region Four director.

“With the housing market starting to slow slightly from an elevated level, it is expected that any housing downward trend would be very minimal to flat for next year. Nonresidential construction, do-it-yourself homeowner rentals and infrastructure spending in the region are very high, which will likely cause the entire construction market to rise with minimal pullbacks from housing,” he says.

Puckett sees a solid year for the event side of the aisle, too. “The consensus is that the event sectors will continue to be strong with pre-pandemic-level seasonal activities,”
he says.

The headwind is the labor situation. “Labor markets continue to be one of the more difficult areas for expanding business right now, so rental operators will need to continue to watch and be cognizant of that when looking at growth in 2023,” Puckett says.

— Connie Lannan

Dean Miller
Dean Miller, CERP

Eastern midwest should see a return to ‘somewhat normal’

The anticipation is that by mid-2023, “everything should start to return to a somewhat normal status,” says Dean Miller, CERP, vice president, Miller’s Party Rental Center, Akron, Ohio, who serves as ARA Region Five director.

“From what I am hearing, the supply chain issues might straighten out by then, and it looks like some pricing may begin to come back down as well. Also, it appears that demand will still be high even if a recession does hit. Those aspects should help us return to a more normal level,” he says.

However, “we see labor continuing to be at a premium, and pricing should reflect that,” Miller adds.

To be ready for whatever comes their way, “members should watch what’s happening in their respective markets and make sure they are part of their local chambers of commerce and other organizations that can keep them informed,” he says. “Everyone will need to be watchful for whatever way the economic winds blow.”

— Connie Lannan

Doug Haas
Doug Haas

Looking ahead in the upper Midwest

“Business is good, but we can’t find people,” says Doug Haas, president and CEO, Crown Rental, Burnsville, Minn., and ARA Region Six director, summing up the sentiment shared by most equipment and event rental operators across the states in his region: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.

In addition to confounding labor shortages, Haas says that supply chain tie-ups have sunk in and have become an understood reality among all, with no end in sight. “I think that realization has set in,” he says. “It hasn’t gotten any better. I just received an email [from an industry supplier] that construction products are out to late 2023 into 2024.”

DIY/homeowner rentals across the region remain strong but have somewhat backed off from pandemic-related heights. “They have leveled off,” Haas says. “It’s not like it was in 2020 when it was just nuts. It’s as good, if not better, than it was before COVID, but they are getting back to normal.”

Haas says that while event rental operators are bearing the brunt of labor shortage woes, the segment is poised to head into 2023 “real strong; they struggle more with staffing problems but are as busy as they can handle and are turning away work.”

— Brock Huffstutler

Andrew Heesacker
Andrew Heesacker

Rental expected to ‘remain strong’ in the mountain states

Even though there are anxieties about certain economic possibilities, “I expect rental to remain strong,” says Andrew Heesacker, president/CEO, Arvada Rent-Alls, Arvada, Colo., who serves as ARA Region Seven director.

“I know that people are nervous with all the ‘recession’ and ‘interest rate’ conversations that are happening, but ARA equipment and event rental operators say they continue to see rental on a strong path in 2023,” he says.

“Equipment rental operators who serve the industrial, contractor and homeowner markets say that business continues to be steady, and they don’t foresee any major slowdowns. On the event side, demand for events continues to be high. People still want to gather. That should help continue to fuel the demand for event rentals,” Heesacker says.

Even with that more positive outlook, Heesacker says rental operators need to “pay close attention to market indicators and be good stewards of their operation’s financial health. That will benefit the overall business and our valuable employees and customers,” he says.

— Connie Lannan

Steve Ricci
Steve Ricci

Pros and cons ahead in the Northwest

“Everybody is knocking it out of the park — that includes equipment and event. Rental is doing fantastic,” says Steve Ricci, president and owner, Bigfork Rentals, Bigfork, Mont., and ARA Region Eight director, of rental companies across his region covering Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Ricci points to lingering supply chain tie-ups as the biggest problem rental operators face today and if that wasn’t enough, he also is noticing what could be a disturbing trend relating to equipment that manages to get delivered.

“I just bought a $16,000 reversible plate compactor that weighs 1,000 lbs. The mounts that hold the handle to the base unit were plastic and they broke on the first rental. I think during the pandemic people were outsourcing parts to whoever could manufacture them the fastest, and they were using parts that were not tried and true. I think we’re going to suffer with a lot of equipment for the next several years,” he says.

Like everywhere, labor shortages remain an issue across the northwest. Ricci says that this is both a positive and a negative for rental companies: positive, because fewer available contractors has meant booming homeowner/DIY rental business; negative, because already understaffed businesses have to spend valuable time educating DIYers on the use of complex equipment.

“We have to take time to educate them on stuff they have never operated, like vibratory screeds, power trowels and things that trade professionals typically operate,” Ricci says. “People are coming back two and three times asking, ‘How do you operate this?’ You can go broke when you don’t have enough people the way it is. It’s a big deal.”

— Brock Huffstutler

Alberto Pianelli
Alberto Pianelli

Consensus is that 2023 will ‘remain steady’ in the west

The overall sense is that “next year will continue to be steady for those in Region Nine,” says Alberto Pianelli, general manager, F & B Rentals, Santa Ana, Calif., who serves as ARA director of that region.

“From the conversations I have had, the consensus is that we might not see the growth that we saw last year, but many rental operators are predicting another solid year,” he says.

It’s not just ARA rental operators who are feeling this way. ARA associate members also are coming to that conclusion, Pianelli notes. “One ARA associate member shared that he had more than $20 million worth of product on his future books. Instead of trying to figure out a sales forecast, he told me that he was just trying to lock down materials and get dates to customers when things were available. Another associate member told me that he no longer was a salesperson but more like an order taker. Rental operators are putting in orders for the future, which is a good sign.”

Pianelli’s customers also are expressing the same sentiments. “They have told me they can still pick and choose their work and have enough to last a while. While we obviously cannot predict the future, the signs are pointing to positive and steady outlooks for our industry in Region Nine,” Pianelli says.

— Connie Lannan

Angie Venekamp

The outlook is positive from Canada

Angie Venekamp, general manager, Rental Network, Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, and ARA Region Ten director, says the market for construction and general tool rentals in her region is strong, but could be constrained into 2023 by rising interest rates.

“Things are holding strong in Q4 but looking forward, there are a few construction projects that are on hold. With interest rates going up, [contractors] have been sort of holding off, but there are still a lot of projects that are forging forward. Things still look decent for 2023. This last quarter did slow down a bit with DIYers; they are not wanting to take on big loans to do their renovations with interest rates the way they are. Things that can hold off will hold off,” Venekamp says.

Canada’s event rental segment remains hot due to pent-up demand and the loosening of live event restrictions across the country in 2022. “This year was extremely busy for event rental operators. Everything was wide open, so there was more work than the event rental companies could handle. They expect this to carry through to 2023; some companies are saying they are fully booked for some months next year. I think that trying to get through the backlog from 2020-2021 will carry through 2023,” Venekamp says.

Venekamp also says Canada is in the same boat as the rest of North America when it comes to equipment shortfalls. “Everyone is pivoting around the lack of availability,” she says. “We are all having to be better at projecting and looking at 2024 now instead of 2023. The crystal ball is not so crystal.”

— Brock Huffstutler

Ashleigh Petersen

Ashleigh PetersenAshleigh Petersen

Ashleigh Petersen is the digital communications manager for Rental Management. She writes news and feature articles, plus coordinates the monthly Safety Issue and several sections in the magazine. Ashleigh loves spending time with her husband and young son, baking, gardening and listening to true crime and comedy podcasts.

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