Canadian Rental Service

Canada goes to Orlando

Patrick Flannery   

Features Shows

Notes from North America’s big rental show.

It’s a bird...it’s a plane...it’s...Canada Man! Humble purveyor of Ahern rental equipment by day, intrepid promoter of the frozen north by night, Tom Bell recovered his iconic maple leaf disguise from a packing box in the nick of time for the Canadian receptions.

Canadian Night was a little different at the ARA Show on Feb. 12, with not one but two events for Canadian attendees happening concurrently with the Super Bowl. 

There were two events because the Canadian Rental Association and the American Rental Association are now separate entities following their split in 2019. Angie Venekamp, ARA Region 10 director, has been determined to maintain a Canadian presence for the ARA and to continue to offer ARA services to Canadians who have kept their ARA membership, so she along with ARA staff, added the ARA Canadian Happy Hour event at a restaurant in the convention centre. Venekamp was visibly thrilled at the result – she had planned for 150 attendees and the crowd on hand looked to be closer to 400. Luckily, the bar was large and able to accommodate everyone…barely. It’s common to report a buzz in the room…this was more of a roar. Several people commented that Canadians seem to react well to an open bar. ARA incoming president, Steve Mau, was on hand, making time between two other events he had to attend the same night. He is a true independent rental operator, running one store in northern Minnesota in a town of about 25,000 people. He can relate well to the Canadian rental store experience and commented that most of his clients have pulled something out of the ice and eaten it. Several other leaders from the Canadian industry were there, including past CRA presidents Jeff Campbell and Ed Dwyer, past region 10 director Jill Holtsman and past ARA president, Richard Paquette. There were probably more but it was impossible to see everyone.

A lot of the people at the ARA happy hour made their way over to the CRA’s Canadian Hospitality Night, held in a cool upstairs space at a nearby Hispanic-themed bar. Several big screens enabled people to watch the Super Bowl. More familiar faces on hand, including chair-elect, Sheldon Fingler, executive director, Nathalie McGregor, and secretary-treasurer, Colin Wilson. Ken Malott was on hand despite having supposedly retired and closed down Kensal Rental in 2020 – he’s been helping out Campbell at St. Thomas Rent-All for fun. Neil DeJong of ITE is eager to see regular Ontario meetings start up again. Once again, Tom Bell of Ahern provided the entertainment with his iconic Captain Canada getup, which apparently was narrowly rescued from oblivion in a moving box just prior to the show. Rental people were happy to see it back, Bell’s wife maybe not so much.

ARA economic forecast
Tom Doyle, vice-president of association program development, hosted a press conference sharing information from the ARA’s economic data team including Scott Hazelton frlom IHS Markit and John McClelland, ARA’s chief economist and vice-president of government affairs. They reported on a survey that showed Canada had the highest 2023 purchasing intentions of any of the ARA’s regions, with 65 percent of stores asked saying they were planning to add to the fleets. “Canada has had a sensational run,” Hazelton said, referring to the last two years of record revenue growth. Their survey showed 44 percent of construction contractors were planning to increase their reliance on renting this year, with intent to rent online reaching 27 percent. Unsurprisingly, availability of equipment and delivery has shot to the top of rental customers’ concerns, overshadowing such considerations as price and maintenance. The presenters said they are seeing telematics growing in popularity.

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The ARA team talked a lot about revenue but the profitability of stores in this time of high inflation is a fuzzier picture that they didn’t have data on. Hazelton and McClelland were confident, however, that stores have been overall doing quite well at the bottom line. They are predicting flat growth or a quite mild recession for both the U.S. and Canada in the general economy, but feel the rental business may escape it as contractors turn to rentals rather than buy expensive and hard-to-obtain equipment for themselves. McClelland felt that in general government infrastructure investments were good news with the benefit outpacing any inflationary impact, most of which he said is coming from wage inflation. The effects of interest rates on homebuilding remain concerning, however, though Hazelton predicted central banks are unlikely to do any more aggressive rises this year.

On the show floor
The show floor did its usual Orlando thing of being busy and buzzing in the morning then getting quiet as attendees joined their families at the pool or Disneyworld. Exhibitors seemed overall happy with some saying it had been their best show ever. Canadians seem to have certain vendors they prefer, as some booths reported seeing lots of them and others hardly any. Cooper reportedly sent 45 people to the show. Notably absent were JLG and Skyjack, both apparently choosing to focus on ConExpo. Electric versions of equipment dominated the promotions, of course, with some really very heavy stuff being powered by lithium batteries now. Manitou introduced an 8,000-pound telehandler that is battery-powered – 700-volt batteries!

Organizers thrilled
The ARA didn’t provide specific numbers in its post-show report but described attendance as “phenomenal” with the number of rental stores “increased tremendously” from the October 2021 edition. There were 750 exhibitors with some celebrating as many as 66 years attending the show. Over 700 rental professionals attended the full-day education programs. 

“It was so good to be back on our normal schedule for The ARA Show and it’s the first time in three years that our exhibitors and attendees were able to interact without restrictions.” said Tony Conant, ARA CEO. “Being able to see products firsthand, speak with exhibitors, attend education sessions and network on such a large scale all in one place is such a unique opportunity.”

“Overall attendance exceeded our initial expectations and the momentum seemed to build from Saturday education programs to the trade show floor opening,” said Christine Hammes, vice-president of association services and events. “It was exciting to see the trade show floor buzzing
with activity.” 


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