Focusing on the future at The ARA Show 2023
by Connie Lannan and Brock Huffstutler
The long 16-month wait came to an end Feb. 11 when The ARA Show™ 2023 kicked off in Orlando.
The last time the equipment and event rental community gathered face-to-face at the American Rental Association’s (ARA) premier event was October 2021 in Las Vegas. With the opening of the show in Orlando, it was time to get back on track with its normal operating schedule. For those in attendance, there was no better place to reconnect and focus on the future.
“It was great. People were excited to be at the show. I went with three of my partners. We really enjoyed it, had a really good time and got a lot of things accomplished,” says Lee Smith, vice president, 4-Horn Industrial, Nederland, Texas.
Keith Kitchens, CERP, vice president, Tomball Rental Center, Tomball, Texas, who also serves as Texas Rental Association (TRA) president, agrees. “It was great to have the show and know that things are returning to normal. There was a lot of optimism, and it was nice to see the vendors, including some of the new vendors who were there,” he says.
For first-time attendee Tyler Bennett, owner, Bennett Rentals, Nemo, Texas, the show “was very welcoming. I have been to plenty of other conventions, but this one by far was the most friendly. It was very informative. My general manager and I took full advantage of it,” he says.
The 66th edition of the world’s largest equipment and event rental industry-specific convention and trade show offered attendees plenty of opportunities to network and learn from peers, industry experts and vendors.
Saturday, Feb. 11, featured two brand-new education sessions that bought unique insights: Future of Equipment Rental for those on the equipment side of the industry, and EventsU (formerly Events & Tents) designed exclusively for those in event rental.
The education continued Sunday with presentations delivered by engaging expert speakers and rental industry panel discussions covering tracks grouped into four themes: “Learn and Lead,” “Connect and Collaborate,” “Empower and Engage” and “Plan and Strategize.” Then, following Monday’s Keynote Session presented by Daymond John, attendees focused on the trade show that featured more than 700 exhibitors.
“The educational sessions were very helpful,” says Bennett, who has worked in the industry since the age of 16 and just opened his equipment rental operation a year ago. “I took more out of that one day than I have learned in my previous years of rental experience. It was cool to listen to the success stories of rental operators who have been in the industry 20-plus years and hear from the different speakers.”
Two sessions in particular stood out to him. The first one was the “What You Need to Learn from Chick-fil-A’s Remarkable Leadership Tactics” seminar with Arthur Greeno. “He said that if an employee can’t get with the culture, they have to leave. That lit a fire under me as I have an employee who was having issues with this. I came back and met with that employee and said, ‘This is the culture. Either you buy in or you have to go.’ He has made a 180-degree turnaround. I think it was pretty funny. I guess it was time to have that conversation,” Bennett says. “I also liked how the speaker talked about going above and beyond for your employees. That is one thing I have prided myself in doing. Having your employees buy in and then you going above and beyond really helps everything out.”
The other seminar that made a distinct impression was the “Succession Planning Panel: Real Rental Stories” with Mark Clawson, Robert Pedersen and Cyndi Shifrel. “It was pretty neat to hear how they got started in the rental industry, grew their businesses to several locations and have been successful. I liked hearing their success stories,” he says.
Kitchens, who attended the show with three of his managers, also enjoyed Greeno’s seminar. “It was interesting to hear how he handles his store. He also had a good sense of humor and told some interesting stories that have happened at his location. It gave me a good insight as to how to handle the new hires I have. I don’t have the turnover he probably has, but it was interesting to remember what is important to the employees,” he says.
It was also a buying show for those from Region Four.
“We bought welding machines,” Smith says. With supply chain issues still providing challenges, Smith was thankful that he was “able to find some alternate vendors we have not been set up with before. I am glad that I was able to connect with vendors and have my questions answered. We flew in Monday morning and came back Tuesday night. We were able to get more accomplished than I thought I would.”
“I bought water trailers, forklifts, skid steers — actually quite a bit of fleet,” Bennett says. “I was trying to get everything I could get my hands on. I found that The ARA Show was the best way to get in front of the source of your equipment. That face-to-face interaction was very helpful. And some items I ordered will be arriving in two weeks out while some others are a year out.”
“We purchased tables and chairs for our party division and forklifts and air compressors,” Kitchens says, noting that he dealt mostly with his regular vendors but also tried a few new ones.
“It is always interesting to be able to see and talk with the vendors directly. They were able to answer a lot of our questions, which was helpful,” he adds.
Show favorites like the Welcome Reception, the Young Professional Network (YPN) Reception, Women in Rental Breakfast and ARAPAC Reception benefiting ARA’s political action committee also returned.
Kitchens attended the ARAPAC Reception at Topgolf, even though he is not a golfer. “That was a very nice event. We had a lot of fun, and it was great to network with the people there,” he says.
Just before the wrap-up of the show, many attendees kicked back at the sold-out Tuesday Night Event at Universal Studios Orlando. It was one of the biggest parties ARA has ever thrown because the association reserved special areas of Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park just for show attendees.
“The Tuesday Night Event was a lot of fun. My grandchildren came in and we were able to take them to that,” Kitchens says.
All felt the show provided tremendous value. “It was a great show and I can’t wait for New Orleans [next year],” Bennett says.
“It was a very beneficial show for us,” Smith adds.
ARA CEO Tony Conant summed up the experience this way: “The ARA Show proved again that it is the best place in the world to see rental equipment and products, get rental-specific professional development and network with the best group of people around!”