Chain of Thought

Does Brand Matter in Forklift Rental?

Some people are snobs when it comes to the brands they buy. Debates can get pretty passionate about who makes the best beer (if you're a guy) or shoes (if you're a gal). But when it comes to cars and lift trucks, men and women seem more practical. While style is nice, the brands most closely tied to safety and serviceability tend to do best with everybody.

But while interviewing industry sources for an article on lift truck fleet management for MH&L's upcoming September issue, one of them told me something that made me go “hmmmm.” I'll share this proposition with you in hopes you'll tell me if you agree:

When it comes to rental, branding isn't a factor.

Now guys don't rent beer (although I remember Archie Bunker disputing that statement after exiting his bathroom in one of the funnier episodes of “All in the Family”) and women don't rent shoes (except for bowling), but rental is very common in the world of cars and forklifts. And where forklifts are concerned, rental has actually been exploding lately because companies have been holding off on new purchases and they've been renting to compensate for seasonal business surges. But when they rent, do they care what brand of lift truck they get?

Bruce Pelynio doesn't think so. He's president and CEO of Heli Americas, the Memphis, Tenn.-based U.S. representative for Heli, a leading lift truck brand in China. He told me his company has been doing well renting to managers of large fleets because rentals don't have the mystique of a certain brand.

“It's seen as a forklift,” he said. “The same as a car rental agency. If you rent a midsized car from Avis you don't know if you're getting a Chevy or a Buick or a Hundai or Kia. You get a mid-sized car. The same with these guys. When they rent they rent a 5,000 pound pneumatic and the customer doesn't get to specify what they want, they're renting a capacity.”

While you ponder whether generic is good enough where lift truck rental is concerned, I'll throw you one more thing to ponder: What if you could rent an operator along with the equipment? When you throw humans into the mix, it's hard to keep your rental transaction generic. People tend to be unique components.

I've heard about the concept of renting an operator/lift truck combo for a few years, but it's always seemed to be more popular overseas than here in the U.S. Is the surge in rental changing that? Nick Adams, business development manager for Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America (MCFA) had an interesting answer:

“Where renting an operator as well as the equipment would have the best chance of success is if the lift truck provider sticks to its core competencies, like providing the asset and seeing to its proper maintenance, and if it partners with a personnel service company whose core competency is hiring and evaluating employees, and handling liability insurance.”

So, what would you think if your lift truck dealer partnered with a Kelley Services to provide an asset with maintenance and an operator?

Adams told me that conceptually it may sound good but those partnerships would have to be worked out carefully on paper—and that's where these efforts have lost steam when pursued in the past.

Let me know how the idea of renting a Ray on a 5,000 pound pneumatic compares to that of renting a 5,000 pound Raymond for your own Toms, Dicks and Harriets.

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