Canadian Rental Service

Editorial: Move slow and protect things

Patrick Flannery   

Features Business Intelligence

The rental industry has a particular attitude toward new technology uptake.


A quick flip through our pages this month brings a recurring theme to mind: the constant flow of new technology into the world of construction and tools. In just the 12 years I’ve been editing this magazine, I’ve seen Tier VI diesel, lift load sensing, virtual reality training, telematics, lithium battery power, remote and automated equipment control, digital vehicle security and a whole suite of software advances either introduced or expand hugely in importance and market penetration. Yet many of these technologies are still not seen in the average rental fleet. Why?

This issue includes a discussion of telematics from our friends at Finning. Interestingly, they’ve framed it as debunking four myths about the technology. When you feel you need to address myths, you know you’ve encountered some resistance in the marketplace. 

This issue also includes an item about the big changes at Skyjack as one of Canada’s home-grown lift manufacturers moves to become a global producer, opening and expanding factories around the world to take advantage of regional conditions. The big change on the product side is Skyjack’s launch of its E-Drive scissors, incorporating AC brushless drive motors to replace its hydraulic drives. Skyjack admits it waited longer than many other lift manufacturers to do this. But its attitude toward the change reflects, in my view, the company’s profound connection to the rental industry (Skyjack only sells to rental stores). They clearly wanted to make sure everything was perfect and would work well before launching the product. They wanted to make sure their existing customers would still be able to maintain the new drives with as shallow a learning curve as possible. And they wanted to avoid any major cost increase. To ensure all this, the company assumed the risk of being late to market and looking like it was behind its competition. 

This cautious, incremental approach is the same way most rental stores approach technology change. First, do no harm. We all want to give our customers better equipment that will do more for them. But the benefits of delivering the “gee whiz” factor pale next to the risks of delivering something that the customer can’t figure out how to use or breaks under the abuse our fleet inevitably takes or gives our service teams struggles to fix or just doesn’t work as advertised. You’re going to have some heavy lifting moving a rental store manager off the solution that he and his team understand inside and out and that has worked reliably for years. The nature of the business makes us conservative. It’s our profits at stake, after all, not to mention our reputation.Visiting the spring equipment shows, you’d think the entire industry was going to be powered by lithium batteries in the next year or two. In reality, maybe not so much.

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Read our back page column carefully this time. This is not the Snook you’re looking for. Adam Snook, owner of JustBins in Regina, has taken a hiatus from his excellent Hope Is Not A Plan column citing extreme busy-ness. Stepping in for now is Andrew Snook, an old colleague of mine here at Annex Business Media who has thrown off the shackles of corporate publishing and now roams the world as a freelance journalist and novelist. His background includes editing Rock to Road (aggregates and roadbuilding), Canadian Forest Industries, On Site and Crane and Hoist, among others. So Andrew is well positioned to give us some thoughts on the industries and markets we care about. I just hope you’re not snookered by the similar names.  


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