Editorial: Through the years together
Canadian Rental Service started at Peter and Naomi Watkin’s kitchen table in Exeter, Ont., back in 1976. It was initially a retirement project, but quickly grew into something bigger than the Watkin’s could have anticipated as the industry itself grew quickly in size and sophistication, attracting money, technological innovation, new suppliers and new participants at a rate that demanded a larger and more frequent communications channel.
By Patrick Flannery
Rental stores in the ‘70s and ‘80s were discovering that to remain competitive they needed to adopt a more professional image, with clean showrooms, new equipment, posted rates and policies and staff wearing shirts, even in the summer. Just as offering rentals out of a grimy garage would no longer do, producing a national rental magazine on a kitchen table was no longer good enough. The industry demanded a professional publication produced by a real publishing company, and Peter Philips and Peter Darbishire fit the bill when their group, AIS Communications, bought the magazine in 1984. As you’ll read in our feature interview on page 27 with Darbishire, the long-time editor of the magazine, the evolution of the publication mirrored the evolution of the industry itself.
Fast-forward 20 years. The success of the rental industry and the potential for profit in the market attracted bigger and more aggressive competitors with more money than any one rental store. The huge wave of consolidation through the ‘90s and into the ‘00s reflected the new reality that, assisted by modern communications technology, sprawling multinational corporations could be responsive enough to local customer needs to compete on service while keeping prices reasonable through mass buying programs. The new economics of rental combined with expanding fleet requirements and a big injection of cash created a new business environment where bigger was usually better. At the same time, technology was altering the face of publishing in this country. Producing magazines took fewer people, and advanced presses could churn out more issues than any one title would ever need. Again, consolidation and economies of scale became the path to profit. In response, Annex Publishing and Printing (now Annex Business Media) embarked on a program of buying up small community newspapers and trade magazines and bringing them under one roof and into one production process. Annex bought the AIS titles, including Canadian Rental Service, from the retiring Peters in 2007. Today, Annex is the largest trade magazine publisher
So what does the future hold? I’ve always felt that social media and the current trend toward simplicity and convenience in accessing mobile digital communications reflects a desire among people to cut through the clutter and access like-minded information communities where they can find relevant and useful content quickly. On the rental side, we see a trend in the big chains to specialize and focus on the highest-margin, longest-term rental opportunities, leaving small tools and individual service to the remaining independents. Maybe there’s a return in society to the local, the familiar and the immediately available. If so, it bodes well for another 40 years of both the independent rental store and this magazine.