Your rental competitors are never standing still. Want to get out in front of the pack?

A rental company owner, looking for ways to differentiate his rental company from those of his competitors, came up with an idea in the middle of a cold winter. He would send his service staff out to jobsites where his equipment was being rented and have them start the machines before the workers arrived for work. By the time the workers arrived, the machines would be warmed up and ready to go. When he told his service manager about the idea, his response was “I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.”

“Exactly,” said the owner. “And that’s why we’re going to do it.” The company began the practice, and it was well received by the customers during the cold winter months.

A good friend of mine, Jim Mathers, who passed away very recently, was a terrific sales manager. For years he ran the rental program at a Cleveland company called Phillips, Day & Maddock (PD&M). He was a creative guy who was always looking for an edge. He came up with an idea for the whole PD&M service, sales, rental and delivery staff to dress all in black. Not only that, but they painted the company’s equipment black as well, and soon the company distinguished itself in the Cleveland market with its black equipment and black attire.

On the one hand, you could say this was a gimmick. And Mathers knew well that that is all it would have been if the company’s equipment was not well-maintained, if they didn’t respond quickly to equipment breakdowns on the jobsite, if they didn’t deliver on time, if they didn’t help the customers get the right equipment for their jobs. But the company did those things and the marketing of their “men in black” approach had its desired effect.

Another idea the PD&M team came up with was bringing lunch to workers on jobsites. At major jobsites where the company’s equipment was being used, the Phillips staff would show up from time to time with a load of pizza and submarine sandwiches, along with coffee and sodas. This popularized them pretty quickly with their customer base.

The point of these efforts was to be different, to be bold. For the most part, if you’re in the rental business, you are competing against other companies that have similar equipment. It’s great that you believe in the brands you represent. You may be delivering John Deere machines and your competitor might offer Doosan and another has JCB. You offer JLG aerials, one competitor is delivering Genies, another offers Skyjack and another is also bringing JLG. Presumably in this day and age, you and most of your competitors are offering similar and well-maintained equipment. Probably they also have good preventive maintenance and good service departments and respond quickly to customer needs. Some type of differentiation can be helpful.

While you should have confidence in the fleet you have, that in itself doesn’t guarantee differentiation. You may have certain customers who are happy with your service and prefer your particular brand, and that may serve you well with that customer. But in a tough, competitive marketplace, you most likely have competitors that will undercut your rate and get your machines kicked off a jobsite so fast your head will spin. So anything you can do to gain an edge is worth the effort.

Efficiency is critical. There is no excuse whatsoever for not delivering equipment to a jobsite on time. The customer wants it at 6 a.m. – if you have a problem with that, then why are you in the rental business? You couldn’t get it there because there was so much traffic? Do you think the customer is impressed by that? His staff got up early enough to be on the jobsite on time, so why weren’t you there when they said they wanted it? Couldn’t get up early enough to beat the traffic? Pretty lame excuse. There is no doubt whatsoever that you have a competitor that can get up on time.

According to contractor surveys that we’ve done at RER, on-time delivery is one of the key expectations of customers. But things happen sometimes, right? Things go wrong, the machine wasn’t ready, the driver was behind on his delivery schedule for some reason, and the delivery is going to be late. Sometimes it happens. At these times the most important thing is communication. The machine was expected at 11 a.m. and it’s not there. What contractors have told us is they can understand that. But what they can’t understand or accept is not being informed.

In 2017, every contractor has a mobile phone attached to his belt or in his shirt pocket. You can call. You can text. You can send an email. It doesn’t matter what you do, the important thing is that somehow or other you communicate. It might be automated. It might be you pressing your phone and speed-dialing and actually speaking by voice, which is the more human method – and this is still very much a human-relationship business no matter how high-tech it gets. I’ve heard numerous times from contractors: “I expect the rental company to be on time. But if they can’t, there is no excuse for not letting me know.”

A rental company owner told me one time he called a contractor customer who was a pretty good friend of his. “John, I’ve got a deal for you,” he said. “I’ll give you a free rental, but here’s what I ask for in return. I want you to take notes on the rental process for me and how my staff performs. How do they treat you when you call? How do they treat you when you show up to pick up the machine at the rental center or if the driver delivers to your jobsite? Is there anything about the process that could be done better, quicker, smarter, more efficiently? Give me a report on what you find.”

The customer did point out a few things that could have been done a bit better, and the owner incorporated the suggestions. In a few months, he repeated the exercise with a different customer and learned a few more things. This owner told me his reasons for doing this were pretty obvious. He wanted to know what the rental experience was like for his customers – how they perceived it, how they experienced it. He could see it from his point of view and his staff’s, but he wanted to see it from the customer’s viewpoint.

“And,” he added, “if you’re not getting better and gaining ground, you’re getting worse, and you’re losing ground. I know my competitor is never standing still. I’d better not either, or I’ll be left behind.”


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