Looking on the bright side at the Rental Show in Orlando

By Murray Pollok10 February 2010

Volvo's stand at the Rental Show in Orlando.

Volvo's stand at the Rental Show in Orlando.

The American Rental Association's Rental Show - taking place this week in Orlando, Florida - has seen busier aisle traffic than last year's Atlanta event and evidence of increased optimism, but few at the show were predicting a significant recovery in the US rental market this year.

Christine Wehrman, chief executive officer of the ARA, speaking to over 1000 rental delegates at the opening session, said; "I'd like to be able to say that 2010 will take us back to..2007 levels of business. I can't say these exact words to you; I would like to, but I can't."

Ms Wehrman said the recent ARA survey for the final quarter of 2009 did at least point to an improving situation in North America, with over half of rental companies saying that they expected rental revenues to increase in 2010, and the same percentage expecting to spend more on new fleet.

On the show floor, however, suppliers were being more cautious, and this was reflected in the generally much smaller stands being taken by big suppliers. Craig Paylor, president of JLG Industries, told IRN that he expected aerial platform sales in North America to be flat overall this year, although with the prospect of increases in the second half of the calendar year. JLG returned to the show in Orlando after having missed 2009; "We're very happy we came this year, and very happy we didn't come last year...This year I'm very pleased with the turnout", he said.

Kale Paulson, director of sales, rental channel at Volvo Construction Equipment, was cautiously optimistic; "I think there's a window of opportunity. A lot of national accounts didn't purchase last year...the opportunity isn't a reflection on increased demand, but by necessity because of the age of the equipment.

"It's going to be a slow climb. The average fleet age is in the mid-40s [months], it might be higher for compaction equipment. You hit a critical point where you need to re-fleet. Hopefully we'll see some fleeting this year...at the end of the second quarter, start of the third quarter."

Not all were as optimistic. Brent Hagedorn, vice president of AWP sales for Haulotte Group in North America, told IRN that he expected flat or declining sales in North America in 2010. He said, however, that Haulotte was growing its North American market share - he claimed 7% for 2009 - by virtue of the company's strength in selling to smaller independents and through dealers, rather than the major rental companies.

The show itself is significantly smaller than in previous years, and ARA said it would exploit this smaller footprint to take the event to new venues in future, including San Antonio, Texas and San Diego, California. These locations could be included from 2014 onwards.

With the manufacturers taking smaller stands, it was left to some of the IT companies - like Result Group, SmartEquip and Wynne Systems - to make a bigger impression on the event with large stands. Alex Schuessler, chief executive officer of SmartEquip, the online parts ordering system, told IRN that the company was now investing heavily in its networks to prepare for a rapid increase in parts ordering when the recovery starts.

"It has to happen", said Mr Schuessler, "the question is when. As soon as there is a pick-up, there are no parts in the system. It's going to be a massive spring-effect." The company used the show to launch a lower-cost version of its online parts system targeted at small rental companies and contractors.

James Horsfall, vice president at rental software company Result Group, which has been operating in the US for several years and has several large US customers, told IRN that "Since the start of this year we started to see a lot more interest, particularly on the [off the shelf] Express product." Speaking halfway through the show, he said "Yesterday we saw good quality people. The number of people being sent by companies is reduced...but so far we've been pleased, especially after last year in Atlanta."

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