Getting Attached to Rental

July 1, 2005

More and more contractors are stretching budgets and broadening business opportunities by renting attachments. While obviously it’s more cost-effective to own the particular attachments dedicated to everyday core functions, those used less often—pricier or more specialized pieces—may be great candidates for rental, and great ways to expand service offerings and profit potential. And, in a market that’s glutted with attachment options—particularly for compact equipment—renting just the right attachment for the job allows contractors to push the productivity envelope. On the other hand, renting the wrong piece of equipment can result in machine stress and downtime. For that reason it’s best to establish a relationship with a true rental equipment expert (whether a dealer, an independent rental company, a national rental chain or franchise, or a manufacturer-based rental outlet) who can direct customers to the ideal attachment solution for their tasks, while also training them how to use the equipment safely and productively. In rental, customer service is just as important as product inventory.

Rental Is on the Rise
In 1993, the US rental industry recorded revenues of approximately $11 billion. Today that figure has more than doubled to $24 billion, largely due to the proliferation of national rental chains such as Hertz Equipment Rental, United Rentals, NationsRent, Sunbelt Rentals, and RSC Equipment Rental. In fact, Chicago-based NES Rentals recently announced that it had invested more than $150 million in new rental equipment during the past 18 months.

Also, manufacturers such as Caterpillar, Bobcat, Case, New Holland Construction, Daewoo, Volvo Construction, and John Deere place rental as a top market segment. The compact equipment sold to rental outlets—skid-steers, loaders, excavators, and backhoes—accounts for nearly one-third of all the new units manufactured each year.

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When Caterpillar, for example, decided to throw its hat in the rental ring in the 1990s, the company began by expanding its compact-equipment line and its arsenal of attachments, which it refers to as “work tools.” Then the company plunged into the rental business by putting together a program to help Cat equipment dealers become effective rental players as operators of Cat Rental Stores. “Today, our goal is to widen the scope of work-tool options that we can offer to our customers,” says Dixie Sanders, Caterpillar marketing consultant for work tools, who adds that the company’s recent market studies show that its largest rental opportunity lies in the growing landscaping market. Caterpillar’s current financial reports indicate that its rental-store fleets are up approximately 21% over the previous year.

Bobcat Marketing Manager Lance Mathern reports that his company is also seeing major growth in the rental industry, at an estimated level of 30% over the last several years. “Our sales of skid-steers, compact track loaders, and attachments to rental operations mirror our sales to contractors. The same things that contractors are buying they are renting as well,” he says, adding that it pays off to rent attachments prior to purchasing them. A general rule of thumb, he says, is to consider purchasing the equipment if you can utilize it on at least 25% to 30% of your jobs.

Commercial Ready Mix Products Inc. of Winston, NC, rented a 60-inch sweeper attachment to control dust and runoff, and to keep stone off the concrete surface. After testing it out, the piece was purchased and is used two hours each day at its plant.

The company had also rented a hydraulic breaker attachment, but did not purchase it. Construction Estimator Steve Sumner says that the company really has to analyze how many times an attachment is used. “If you pay more in rent than you would in a payment, then you’re better off owning the attachment and having it at your disposal,” he says.

Combine the hottest compact-equipment rentals (ones with all the bells and whistles) with readily available specialty attachments and rental customers can quickly turn just one machine into a versatile tool carrier, without the considerable capital investment.

“A good contractor is always going to be looking for ways to make their people and their equipment more productive. Attachments allow them to use the same machine and the same operator to complete multiple functions,” says Bill Strickler, regional fleet manager for RSC Equipment Rental, a company within the Atlas Copco Group that operates nearly 500 rental stores across the nation. “We look at the application, length of rental, and job-site conditions. Then we offer solutions to help increase a contractor’s efficiency, by meeting the needs of the job, the operator, and the owner.”

Drew Pickens, corporate communications director for NationsRent, points to the fact that traditionally a contractor had to own a grader, a wheel loader, and a backhoe at a minimum. “Now one skid-steer, for example, can do the job of all three machines by combining it with attachments such as forks, augers, brooms, planers, hammers, grapples, and stump grinders,” he says.

Ever-Changing Technology
While attachment rental has been around for years, attachment technology is no longer your father’s Cadillac, as they say. With fierce competition for space on the rental floor, manufacturers are designing their products to fit a wider range of equipment. In fact, many attachments can be operated on different brands without the need to switch attachment brackets. Plus, new quick-attach coupler systems enable some attachments to be shared between the wheel loader and skid-steer units.


Another high-tech example is Case and its optional “integrated” hydraulic couplers for its M Series backhoes. “This is the first hydraulic coupler to be integrated into the end of the dipper stick,” says Case Marketing Manager Rusty Schaefer. “It allows the contractor to change buckets without getting out of the cab. Another advantage of integrating is that you don’t lose any of the backhoe performance, and you maintain your breakout force for the bucket.”

Rising attachment use is significantly changing the design requirements of the machines that power them. “Compact-equipment models are being engineered with more hydraulic flow to handle larger, heavier attachments. Machines are moving from the simple to the very complex and are designed to do so much more than the models of yesteryear,” says Bret Berghoefer, who serves as the brand-marketing manager for excavators at New Holland Construction.

“The hydraulic flow of the machines that a contractor owns or rents, and the type of application [heavy-duty versus lighter duty], will determine which work tool is best for the job,” says Gustavo Valecillos, Caterpillar sales consultant for work tools for compact equipment and building construction. “That’s how the contractor will make the right decision on what to rent or what to buy. Remember that a tool may mount on the machine, but that doesn’t guarantee that it will perform well. The majority of your tasks just might require high-flow hydraulic work tools,” he says, explaining that some tools, such as cold planers or large augers, require extra hydraulic capacity to operate. Standard-flow versions of these tools may be available, but may not have the muscle of high-flow units.

So Many Attachments, So Little Time
As flexibility increases, so do attachment types. No doubt there’s a mind-boggling attachment invention born every day. But many of these highly unique and super-specialized contraptions do not end up in the rental yard and can more likely be acquired through a regional equipment dealer.

Most large rental operations invest in the latest popular attachments—hydraulic hammers, augers, trenchers, and cold planers—as they appeal to the broadest base of contractors. That’s not to say that these attachment rental options are not specialized. Equipment rental is a regional business based on the climate, terrain, and development in a given area. What is specialized to one contractor may not be to another. A breaker, for example, may be a common tool for the contractor who works in urban redevelopment. Those who primarily tackle new site development may use a breaker quite sparingly and will rent it if the need arises.

But ultimately—from site prep to site cleanup—there are numerous specialized attachment rental options for every facet of the construction process. The following outlines a sampling of what may be available at your local rental outlet.

For land clearing, particularly if you want to selectively remove trees:

  • Rotary cutter—cuts through tough grass and brush; mulches small branches and saplings up to 3 inches; most come in 60- to 90-inch cutting widths and travel in forward and reverse.
  • Brush saw—cuts through brush and small trees up to 15 feet tall; cuts trees flush with the ground or slightly below ground level.
  • Stump grinder—grinds stumps from larger trees.
    For demolition, beyond the use of the traditional hydraulic breaker and grapple bucket:
  • Drop hammer—an easy-to-operate attachment that breaks concrete and asphalt slabs as thick as 18 inches; leaves the surface somewhat intact while breaking the concrete below; the loader can roll over the surface until breaking is complete.
  • Wheel saw—more precise than a breaker when cutting through asphalt, concrete, frozen ground, or wire mesh; ideal for road repair, or laying water, gas, or electric systems.
  • Multi-processor—features interchangeable jaws that can tackle cutting, crushing, shearing, and pulverizing functions.
  • Shears—widely used for demolishing steel and reinforced concrete structures, cutting cables, and preparing scrap for mill use.

For grading and excavation:

  • Buckets—consider those with tilt features for easier digging and contouring.
  • Rotating grapple—allows contractors to dig straight down in a tight area.
  • Combination bucket—with its clamshell closed, you can dig, doze, and level; with an open clamshell, the bucket works like a blade or grapple.
  • Box blade—for precision grading; can be equipped with a laser control system to automatically achieve within 0.25 inch of final grade.

For concrete and asphalt applications:

  • Concrete pump attachment—attaches to a skid-steer for small concrete jobs; allows for easy placement of the pump; eliminates the need for a tow-behind concrete pumping unit or the need to call in a concrete pump truck.
  • Concrete mixer attachment —allows contractors to mix, transport, and pour concrete more effectively than with a standalone mixer.
  • Cold planer—handles the selective removal of concrete or asphalt.
  • Curb planer—mills down slip-formed concrete curbs, creating a smooth approach from streets to driveways.
  • Surface planer—for uneven sidewalks and other pathways; levels and smoothes out the concrete.

For building tasks:

  • Pallet fork—moves building materials and supplies with ease, saving time and labor.
  • Soil conditioner—can be used to knock down ruts on a job site, making it easier to get equipment in and out.
  • Dumping hopper—used to quickly move and dump waste materials.

For landscaping and grounds maintenance:

  • Tiller—quickly breaks up the ground and mixes compost and other materials into the soil.
  • Soil conditioner—grades and levels topsoil and windrows; creates a smooth, soft bed for laying sod; separates rocks and other debris.
  • Sod layer attachment—lays 24- to 28-inch-wide sod quickly and easily.
  • Landscape rake—creates a smooth, level seeding surface.
  • Seeder attachment—seeds directly into the soil for better germination and more accurate coverage.
  • Tree spade—lets an operator dig, transplant or package a tree without leaving the cab of the loader.

For site cleanup:

  • Sweeper—collects and dumps dirt and debris; or spreads material evenly across a site.
  • Angle broom—sweeps away dirt, dried mud, light snow, and other debris from driveways, sidewalks, and parking lots.

From the Rental Yard
A branch of NES Rentals in Springfield, MA, maintains a number of Bobcat skid-steer loaders and excavators for its rental customers, which comprise mostly contractors. The in-stock skid-steer attachments offered here include augers, utility grapples, snow buckets, and hydraulic breakers. Pallet forks are another popular attachment for the company, which says that its customers use them as a convenient way to move roofing tile, cinder blocks, and other materials around a construction site. The rental outlet’s excavators can be rented with 13- or 24-inch-wide buckets and a hydraulic clamp, or with a hydraulic breaker. Their rental excavator units employ a convenient control pattern selector lever that allows operators to quickly switch between ISO and standard control patterns. This means that operators who are used to one pattern don’t have to re-learn a different one.

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From the Job Site
With a try-before-you-buy focus, Maple Park, IL–based Forstar Landscaping decided to rent a Caterpillar 252B bucket before considering its purchase. Forstar Supervisor Todd Williams says the demo was a success. “We were able to get one and a half times the material in each scoop, so we were definitely able to save time and labor costs,” he says. Williams also says that since the job requires that the company change implements frequently throughout the day, its automatic coupler saves the operator a tremendous amount of time.

The company also tried out, then purchased, a Caterpillar landscape tiller attachment. “It’s given us a huge hand in saving production time,” says Forstar Owner Randy Conaway. “The tiller mounts in front and creates a more pulverized soil that’s a lot easier to work with. It’s probably doubled our efficiency per day. Just knowing that we have rental options each day is important, because if a machine quits and there is no alternative, the crew has to take over and the dollars are going to jump really quickly. We don’t want to be penny foolish and dollar poor.”