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Equipment rental, also called plant hire in some countries, is a service industry providing machinery, equipment and tools of all kinds and sizes (from earthmoving to powered access, power generation to hand-held tools etc.) for a limited period of time to final users, mainly to construction contractors but also to the industry and to individual consumers.
The equipment rental industry is relatively new. The American Rental Association was founded as early as 1955, and first waves of consolidation took place as early as in the 1970s in America and continued through the 1990s, leading to the creation of companies with nationwide operations. Although, there were some companies bucking the trend to serve niche markets. Consolidation was slow in the 2000s, but seems to have picked back up again with a major consolidation of the 2 largest North American rental companies United Rental and RSC.
In Europe the industry has moved from mostly family-owned small businesses to the creation of a number of international groups, some of which have an annual turnover close to €1billion. The large majority of companies in the industry however still have fewer than 5 employees and concentration in the industry is expected to set for a pause in 2008-2009 as a consequence of the international credit crunch.
The situation of the equipment rental industry still varies largely from one country to another in Europe. The industry is indeed more mature in some markets than others. Equipment sales penetration is for example lowest in Italy and Germany (around 10-11%) and highest in the UK and Northern Europe (up to 62%). Its growth potential is still important in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, where some countries saw a double-digit growth rate for rental in recent booming years.
The main reasons for the industry's overall fast development are:
- Capital Release: In times where they have to demonstrate high levels of profit compared to invested capital, contractors are increasingly eager to rent equipment, as it allows them to minimize the size of their equipment fleet. Less immobilized capital, allows for improved cost control, lower maintenance costs as well as for a reduction in transportation fleets. Renting equipment with operators even allows for optimizing staff costs.
- Range of recent equipment available: Some rental companies have fleet inventories reaching up to the hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment while others are very specialized in only a very specific product range. They can thus supply the most comprehensive range of state-of-the-art equipment – with or without qualified operators - as and when contractors / customers need it. Average fleet age in Europe is only 3.8 years.
- Maintenance, compliance with standards and regulations: Rental companies bear the responsibility for ensuring the equipment they rent out complies with all applicable regulations. Safety checks are performed before each delivery. Routine maintenance and major repairs are typically handled by the rental company, saving the renter the expense of having a maintenance crew on staff.
North American business
In 2013, rental revenues in North America were expected to exceed $38 billion and industry growth is expected to outpace the general economy. As of 2013, the top 20 largest rental companies were all headquartered in the US.
In early 2009, the European Rental Association and Global Insight published the first-ever statistical report on Europe's rental industry, based on a research carried out in 11 countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK).
According to this study and previous research on countries not included in the study, the total size of the European equipment rental market was €33.6 billion in 2008. Of the €33.6 billion turnover, €24.4 billion are without operators and €9.2 billion are with operators. In 2012, the total size of the European equipment rental market (without operators) was €23 billion at 2012 exchange rates.
Based on 2010 statistics, and for the 12 countries covered under the study, the structure of the European equipment rental industry (without operators) is as follows - the number of rental companies (without operators): 13,900 and the number of employed persons (without operators): 114,600.
Average fleet age in 2008 was 3.8 years, ranging from 2.9 years for the lowest country to 5.7 years for the highest.
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