The good, the bad and the ugly

Smitherman Hardware, Lewisville, N.C., offers some compact equipment, like a Takeuchi mini excavator, Cat skid steer loader and a Takeuchi tracked skid steer, along with their other traditional rental equipment.
Photos by Dexter Ewing.

Power equipment retailers are always looking for ways to boost their bottom lines, especially in light of the recent economic situation. Unfortunately, sales of new equipment have dropped off, but at the same time sales of parts and in-house repairs of equipment have increased as contractors are keeping their existing machines running longer. Some dealers are now offering contractors the service of equipment rentals, which can be a win-win proposition for all parties involved. It is definitely beneficial to a dealer’s bottom line, since dealers who offer equipment rentals are also increasing traffic into their retail locations, therefore increasing the opportunity for sales and service.

Two Ryan Lawnaire aerators are part of the rental equipment available at Forsyth Mower Works, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Craig Smitherman, president of Smitherman Hardware in Lewisville, N.C., says, “We rent out skid steers and compact track loaders from Caterpillar and Takeuchi. Attachments for these machines from Construction Implement Depot include a brush cutter, pallet forks and root grapple bucket.” In addition to these larger pieces of equipment, Smitherman also rents out the typical smaller equipment that landscapers sometimes need, such as aerators, augers, tillers, bed edging machines, trenchers, pressure washers and walk-behind brush cutters. Some of the major pieces in the Smitherman rental fleet include a Takeuchi TB125 mini excavator, a Takeuchi TL130 compact track skid steer and a Caterpillar 232B skid steer loader. While Smitherman Hardware has some of the bigger pieces of equipment among their rental fleet, Forsyth Mower Works of Winston-Salem, N.C., rents out Ryan Lawnaire 4 and Lawnaire 5 walk-behind aerators, Ryan tow-behind aerators, a Brown Products Trenchmaster 780H bed edger, an Echo 280BDR stick bed edger and an Exmark self-propelled dethatcher. As far as rental rates are concerned, walk-behind aerators have a rental fee of $45 for four hours or $65 for 24 hours. There is also a $25 deposit, says Corey Ingle, owner of Forsyth Mower Works. He also offers the tow-behind aerator, stick bed edger or dethatcher for $50 a day, and the Trenchmaster for $75 per day. These rental rates are competitive with other local rental outfits in the city.

Why do contractors opt to rent equipment as opposed to purchasing it?

Ingle says, “Lack of storage, the cost of upkeep and not enough business to pay for the equipment.” Smitherman agrees. “It is one more piece of equipment they don’t have to inventory and maintain.” If, for purpose of example, a bed edger is only used five times a year, there isn’t any justification for purchasing and maintaining the equipment.

However, renting a piece of equipment can lead to a purchase. For example, it gives the contractor an opportunity to try out the equipment before purchasing it. If the contractor is renting a piece of equipment because they only have a few jobs of that nature, it could become a popular service for their company, meaning at some point it will more sense to purchase than rent.

A Takeuchi mini excavator and Cat skid steer at Smitherman Hardware, Lewisville, N.C.

Ingles says one of the major issues that equipment retailers face is customers returning the equipment late. “You are being paid for it, however, when someone reserves something and it is not returned on time, it causes big problems,” he says. Obviously, the issue of customers not treating rental equipment as if they owned it is also a big issue; sometimes equipment gets returned broken. “We have great clientele,” says Smitherman. “If we were a larger rental outfit we would have more customers that would not take care of the rental equipment.”

If you’re considering offering equipment rentals, late returns and broken equipment are two major issues that you will be dealing with. When deciding whether to offer equipment rentals at your store, consider the pros and cons and evaluate if it’s worth it. If you are willing to work through the trouble spots, equipment rental is worth the investment.

Dexter Ewing is a freelance contributor and former LCO based in Winston-Salem, N.C.