No surprises as Rental Show hit by recession

By Murray Pollok09 March 2009

This year's ARA Rental Show was as quiet as many attendees could remember, reflecting the poor busin

This year's ARA Rental Show was as quiet as many attendees could remember, reflecting the poor business climate.

Attendance at last week's Rental Show in Atlanta, Georgia, appeared to be as much as 50% down on recent years, reflecting the general economic climate, although exhibitors had anticipated the decline and did not appear to be complaining too much.

The show organizer, the American Rental Association (ARA), would not comment or speculate on the attendance figures ahead of the official audit, with official numbers to be released in four to six week's time.

Shawn Sweet, president of Doosan Infracore Portable Power, told IRN; "I wasn't expecting the attendance to be this low - probably even more than 50% down". He added, however, that those attending had at least been "seriously looking at products".

Jim Layton, marketing communications manager at Wacker Neuson in the US, told IRN that the company had expected the show to be slow, partly because of the location in Atlanta; "it's probably one of the hardest hit areas of the country. This show relies on local drive-ins, and many didn't come...we're thinking it might be greater than 50% off compared to Las Vegas [last year]. Sales are reflecting that, but we were expecting it."

The US rental sector is bracing itself for a difficult 2009. The ARA's newly published State of the Rental Industry report for 2008 reported a 2.7% decline in rental revenues last year and is forecasting a greater fall in 2009, although the ARA would not say what the fall would be. The only sector of the market to grow last year was party and events rental, a fact reflected in the generally busier aisles in the party sections of the show in Atlanta.

Most industry insiders are expecting the US rental market to fall by more than 10% in 2009. Chris Bowers, senior vice president, customer strategy, sales and marketing at NES Rentals, told IRN in Atlanta that a 10% fall this year was "optimistic".

The aerial platform market, which is a major component of the US rental scene, is being particularly badly hit. IRN understands that Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) statistics reveal that sales of aerial platforms in North America fell by a remarkable 85% in January compared to the same month in 2008. This was also reflected at the Rental Show, with the Heavy Construction area of the show - where aerial platform manufacturers traditionally exhibit - being the quietest area of the exhibition.

Nevertheless, most of the major aerial platforms manufacturers attended, with the notable exception of JLG Industries. Ken McDougall, president of Skyjack Inc, told IRN; "We have to continue to support the industry and our customers. Just to be here is important. It never crossed our minds not to be here. We looked at the budget and decided to be a bit more frugal, but having our face to the customer is important, even more so now."

The show also presented opportunities for European suppliers to push their products in the US, benefitting from more favaourabvle exchange rates, with manufacturers including Brendon Powerwashers, Birchwood Products, Teupen and Belle among those attending the exhibition.

Nick Taylor, general manager of Belle Group in North America, said the show had been worth attending; "Certainly orders are down, but we've accomplished some tangible things, such as finding a new rep group in an area where we didn't have one before." The new representative is Shultis Sales Agency Inc, which will cover Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado.

Some manufacturers were allowing themselves just a hint of optimism for the future. Wacker's Jim Layton, for example, told IRN; "There are a lot of parallels with 1982. There are many projects out there that have just slowed down. If these start up again, then I think we'll be in good shape."

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