US operated access rental and sales company Shanghai Universal Equipment Co is playing a key role in developing access rental in China.
Established in Shanghai in 2005 by US rental veteran Paul Beal - who managed John Deere's Shanghai rental business before it was sold by Deere - Shanghai Universal is slowly developing the local access market and also in nearby cities, having opened a second location in Nanjing late last year.
Doug Stewart, a US friend of Mr Beal's who has been general manager of the business since August 2009, told International Rental News (IRN) that Shanghai Universal did not have a grand schedule of depot openings; "The idea is to develop the business internally, cultivate local managers and staff."
The new Nanjin location is an example of this, with the depot being managed by an ex-Deere rental employee who lives in the city.
"We definitely have an ambition to have a network of branches wherever people need aerial platforms", said Mr Stewart, with the Tianjin area near Beijing being one particular obvious target. Tianjin is where JLG has established its factory.
"There is plenty of rental opportunity up there and lots of construction, with western companies building facilities", said Mr Stewart, "If we could find the right person it could be [this year]."
Mr Stewart said Shanghai Universal experienced its best years in 2007/8, before the financial crash, but that both sales and rental have come back. He said the sales market - Universal represents JLG and MLE (the US explosion proof platform specialist) - had improved so far in 2011, but that rental demand was flat.
Access rental remains largely undeveloped in China, but Shanghai is its most developed market, with several large players, including Hertz, Kanamoto's local joint venture and Caterpillar dealer Lei Shing Hong.
"There are the larger layers and then half a dozen entrepreneurs in Shanghai", said Mr Stewart, "We compete with all of them. The big players focus on the big projects and the little guys sweep up the small projects. We try to do both."
The company has a fleet of around 50 booms and scissors but hopes to double that by the end of this year. It started with used Genie and Snorkel machines, and some Haulotte models, but the focus is now on JLG, whom it represents.
Universal has not yet invested in Chinese machines from local suppliers; "There will be no change until we see the quality gap close", said Mr Stewart.
Its customer base spans construction, shipyards, aviation (for aircraft manufacture and maintenance), local government contracts and major events such as last year's Shanghai Expo and the bauma China showground.
Mr Stewart is not anticipating any rapid shift in China's approach to health and safety. "I've heard that there has been some efforts to address the safety aspects of scaffolding. If there are new rules, that could have a big impact, but we're not counting on it. I would guess changes will be slow and steady rather than spectacular."
On whether China's spectacular economic growth is sustainable, Mr Stewart is relaxed; "For a company of our size, even if there are hard times in China there is such an opportunity for even normal growth in platform usage....This is a giant untapped market, and there is tons of room for everyone."