Relieving the risk

Equipment providers utilize new approaches to handle a pick up in rental activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As the construction and demolition (C&D) industry braves the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, equipment rental providers have had to implement major changes to their operations in order to meet new demands.

“We’re definitely seeing a change in patterns with COVID-19 and customers,” says DeWayne Searcy, chief information officer and vice president of sales administration for Cowin Equipment Co., Birmingham, Alabama. “From a rental perspective, we’re finding customers preferring to rent than buy equipment right now.”

According to Searcy, there are two main reasons contractors are pursuing rentals rather than buying: risk aversion and the uncertainty of what 2021 will bring.

“When renting equipment, the rental company carries those risks,” he says. “We have the risk of providing all of this equipment, and as a customer, you can just rent it at a certain rate and then when you’re done with it, you can return it. So, you minimize your risk and you minimize any uncertainty if the downturn gets any worse than it is now—you don’t have a several hundred thousand dollar piece of machinery sitting in your yard, it’s sitting in our yard.”

“[Renting] is a perfect solution for someone who’s unsure of the future and really wants to conserve their cash,” he adds.


As an online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers through equipment inventory listings, Norfolk, Virginia-based Equipment Trader emphasizes the importance of having a strong online presence when approaching rental operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When COVID-19 hit, we worked really hard to create resources that supported dealers in making that transition to a socially distanced and virtually focused rental and buying experience,” says Paige Bouma, executive vice president of sales and operations for Equipment Trader. “So, rentals have become more and more popular across a lot of our sites.”

To help encourage dealers to create a virtual dialogue with customers, Equipment Trader added new options to its website, including video tours and a “Make an Offer” option to directly connect interested buyers with the dealership.

Since the start of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions, Equipment Trader reports its search impressions have increased 5.5 times per rental listing, vehicle description page (VDP) views have increased 5.4 times, and email connections have increased 9.5 times per rental listing.

In order for rental companies to efficiently handle the sudden pick up in activity, Bouma says her biggest piece of advice is to keep inventory listings up to date online.

“One of the main questions we get from consumers is if a unit is still available,” she says. “There’s nothing like a bad experience of going to the dealership or contacting the dealership and saying, ‘Hey, I found this listing on your website and it’s exactly what I’m looking for,’ only to find out it’s not even available anymore.”

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In addition, Bouma encourages dealers to ensure they are supporting a safe rental experience for their employees and customers by requiring appointments for inspections and test drives.

“Talk about some of things that you’re doing as a dealership to make a renter feel comfortable,” she says. “We really encourage dealers to be sharing the special things that they’re doing in order to keep their customers safe and their employees safe.”

For example, Stamford, Connecticut-based United Rentals has provided its COVID-19-related information on its website. The online resource features the company’s latest safety policies and procedures, including its newly introduced drive-up service and equipment cleaning practices.


With the effects of the pandemic likely to impact the C&D industry for the foreseeable future, renting equipment can pose several benefits over the long term for dealers.

“A big takeaway is in the long term, rentals are going to be a lot of the times more profitable than sales,” says Bouma. According to the Rental Equipment Register, after renting out a piece of equipment for many years, and then finally selling it used, that unit will oftentimes generate as much as two to three times higher profit margins than if the machine had been sold new.

When offering rentals, an equipment dealership is also making an investment in future revenue streams that have the potential to earn incredibly high returns.

“It expands our dealerships’ reach quite a bit by offering rentals because you can serve customers you may not have been able to serve previously [if you were only selling equipment],” Bouma says.

For customers, renting can also be a cost-effective way for them to get their job done due to lessened service costs.

“It gives renters the tools that they need without that upfront cost of purchasing the unit, but it also allows them to not have to spend money on maintenance or repairing their own machinery,” says Bouma.

She adds, “You can also boost your business by supporting different jobs that you may not have been able to do previously due to a lack of equipment. By renting, you can expand your business by offering more services because you can rent out the equipment as needed.”

Bouma says there are two factors consumers can consider when torn between buying and renting equipment—the frequency of use and the state of the economy.

“Equipment should be used 60 to 70 percent of the time to be worth purchasing,” she says. “If the equipment is being used less than 60 to 70 percent of the time, renting may be a more economical option for the business.”

In addition, Bouma says if there’s uncertainty in the market like there is now, it could be best to rent rather than investing in a machine due to unforeseen shakeups in work that could be on the horizon.


To help contractors make the best decisions when considering a new piece of equipment to rent, Bouma has a few recommendations.

Most importantly, Bouma stresses the importance of understanding the type of job the contractor needs to complete. Before shopping around, contractors should make note of the project scope and timeline to decide what equipment is needed to complete the task.

Once the consumer determines the necessary equipment, they can find out what rental options are available to them.

“Knowing a rental dealer has a good reputation can give you greater confidence in renting equipment from the dealership, so take steps to research the dealer,” Equipment Trader says. “Ask around, look them up online, conduct a business background check and confirm their ownership of the equipment. Being able to rely on the dealer is an important consideration when renting equipment.”

When a rental unit has been chosen, Bouma urges consumers to ensure the quality of the machine by requesting an inspection to learn its history.

“Be sure to examine the machine at every level, including mechanical, hydraulic, structural, in-cab, fluids, exhaust and tire/track components,” she says.

A potential customer will also want to understand how the equipment has been used and cared for in the past. Equipment Trader suggests consumers ask for the equipment’s maintenance schedule and possibly repair records to ensure that they’re getting a machine that is well cared for and that will deliver the performance they expect.

The author is the assistant editor for Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be reached at

September October 2020
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