Editorial: More fun in 2021
In which I try to predict what might lie ahead.
By Patrick Flannery
We all know what is behind us. COVID-19 has upended our lives and economies, forcing massive shifts in at least some of the ways we live and work. For those of us in Ontario and Quebec, our businesses were almost completely shut down with construction stoppages in April. On the party side, business has been either completely shut down since March or nearly so, with only our ingenuity at finding other revenue streams and places to rent our fleet keeping us going. Thousands have lost jobs, thousands didn’t get the seasonal employment they were expecting. They join millions of workers and businesses across the country who became dependent on some kind of government assistance. Those of us who could keep going have had to make major adjustments at lightning speed. Building barriers at counters. Reorganizing and marking out showrooms. Limiting customers. Adopting digital sales and signing on the fly. Renting by appointment. Providing PPE to staff and educating about safe use and practices. Zoom calls instead of meetings and events. Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.
It’s all settling into a sort of new normal. But what will 2021 hold? Here are my best guesses.
We’ll be keeping our distance and wearing masks for at least a few more months but potentially longer until a vaccine is widely distributed. Many companies are making encouraging noises about how close a vaccine might be, but experts advise only cautious optimism. Even once one is approved, there is the little matter of giving 30 million people a needle. It will be at least 2022 before we are back to mass gatherings and shaking hands, I think.
As we learn more about how this virus is transmitted it seems possible that requirements for aggressive surface cleaning will be eased – it doesn’t seem to infect people easily that way. That may be a relief for your poor yard staff who are getting red hands wiping everything down. I also think people may be told they can relax the masking and distancing a bit outdoors. Longer exposure indoors, especially with recirculating heaters and air conditioners running, seems to be the main environment for infection.
The American Rental Association is predicting an 11-percent decline in equipment rental revenues in 2020 followed by a further two-percent decline in 2021, with a return to growth in 2022. It admits these numbers are highly susceptible to changes in the progress of the pandemic. Construction projects will go ahead and become more lucrative as demand piles up behind the slow pace of work. Homeowners will only accelerate their desire for upgraded dwellings as it becomes clearer that they won’t be returning to an office any time soon, if at all.
Event rental companies are going to have to find ways to completely reinvent their businesses, or events themselves. Every single wedding is going to be outside in 2021, with fewer guests but maybe the same amount of tent coverage needed. Pray for sunshine. Outdoor corporate events and meetings may be a growth opportunity. Got chairs that won’t sink into wet earth?
Your connection to customers and suppliers is going to be ever-more online. How about a digital counter where visitors to your website can go into a video chat with your staff? Or maybe browse a recorded tour of your showroom?
Whatever lies ahead, I know the resiliency and determination of the people in this industry will see us through. Here’s to a great 2021, and a not-so-fond farewell to 2020.