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 in October 2021 at 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.
“The atmosphere was great,” says Aurelio Sierra, president, Yennis Party Rentals, Anaheim, Calif. “This is the second show my wife, Arlenia, and I have attended. We are second-generation and took over the operation from my parents in 2018. The best thing I liked was being able to connect with fellow owners and operators and share ideas. Even though people are from different markets and states, we related on the same issues and complexities. It was amazing to connect and know you are not alone.”
“It is the primary venue for us to purchase our rental fleet equipment,” adds Rich Soltero, business manager, Dahl’s Equipment Rentals, San Jose, Calif. “On the show floor, there was a general environment of optimism. There seemed to be a lot of people buying.”
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 brought 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.
“We literally landed on Saturday at 6 a.m., delivered our bags to the hotel and went straight to the convention center for EventsU,” Sierra says. “It reminded me of college as it was well-rounded and we touched base on every area of the operation. It was so awesome to see the room filled with people who were hungry to learn. This is an industry that has so many new things coming. We have to adopt the changes.”
The speaker who resonated the most with Sierra was Bick Jones, who addressed “Event Profitability: Are You Actually Making Money?”
“You can tell how much knowledge and experience he has about operations. The class was about being profitable. It made me think that sometimes we are afraid to charge services and fees — you forget that everything has a cost. He highlighted that you have to make profit on the labor. That was big for us. You try to price things as low as possible, but labor is very expensive. For me that was big,” Sierra says.
Brad Baker, general manager, Toro Equipment Rentals, Corona, Calif., attended the show with three of his fellow senior leadership members. They attended Future of Equipment Rental.
“I liked the contractor panel. It was very interesting to learn about their wants and needs, and types of equipment technologies they are looking for from their equipment providers. It also was interesting about their focus on robotics and electrified equipment. And it was good to hear from our peer rental companies to see what they are doing. It was interesting to hear from those at different size rental companies talking about the same stuff,” he says.
The education continued on 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.
Sierra was inspired by the session with Arthur Greeno, “What You Need to Learn from Chick-fil-A’s Remarkable Leadership Tactics.”
“His attention to customer service and willingness to go out of your way for your customer was impressive. That is something we are implementing now. When we got back, we had two customers who had deliveries for a memorial service. They rented tables, chairs and a tent. We asked if we could provide some cases of water as we wanted to make an impact greater than just with rentals,” Sierra says, adding that his customers appreciated this kind gesture.
He also liked that the speaker talked about how it is easy to leave a job, but hard to leave a family. “We have a team member who started out as temporary as she was studying to be a nurse. We thought we would have her for only two months. She received her license and is working, but to this day she hasn’t left us. She is still helping us part time. We made her so involved and part of our team that she hasn’t left. Culture really does matter,” Sierra adds.
For Baker, the sessions he attended were related to employee engagement. “It was nice to hear some of the new ideas, especially engaging with the younger workforce. We are a new, small company, so it doesn’t impact our company just yet, but it will in the future,” he says.
Both Baker and Sierra were impressed with the keynote speaker. “He was pretty inspiring and kept your attention. He was engaging and had a good story to share,” Baker says.
It also turned out to be a buying show for those in Region Nine.
“Every year is a buying show for us,” Soltero says. “My partner and I got all of our purchasing done on Day One. We were pleased that good deals were being made on the smaller equipment, with most delivering this year. On Day Two, our main goal was to look at innovation. We are in California where there is an enormous push by the state government to transition to zero-emissions equipment. Our mission was to start looking at electrics and zero-emission equipment, get a feel for what is available, what battery types there are, the pros and cons and see how it would fit into our rental model in California. We are in a unique rental environment.”
Soltero found some battery-powered equipment that he expected. “We also happened upon electric compaction equipment and rollers, which was quite a surprise. We saw two different manufacturers offering two different classes of compaction rollers. When you think about paving, no one thinks about zero-emissions equipment because that is roadwork, which is predominantly done outdoors. A couple of companies came out progressively with material handling equipment as well. We were impressed with how many manufacturers stepped up and started getting ahead of these California-specific regulations,” he says.
A big benefit was connecting with manufacturer representatives face-to-face. “That was a positive,” he says. “As a general rule, I like to know who I am doing business with and have direct relationships with those manufacturers. You need those relationships to compete.”
“We checked out exhibitors from which we don’t have rental fleet,” Soltero adds. “We wanted to make contacts with some of those companies to review their innovative offerings and evaluate their potential for future use.”
Sierra purchased glassware, flatware, charger plates, dance floors and put in an order for 1,000 chairs. “We were able to find what we were looking for. We tried some new exhibitors. Some said we could have our orders next month. Others said they would be able to ship them out and have them here by early March,” he says. “I think meeting the vendors face-to-face helped and enhanced our relationships. It also was nice to see other vendors than the ones we connect with on a regular basis.”
Show favorites like the Young Professional Network (YPN) Reception, Women in Rental Breakfast and ARAPAC Reception benefiting ARA’s political action committee also returned.
Sierra and his wife attended the YPN Reception. “It was great — a highlight of all the events. It was Super Bowl Sunday. We got to see the football game and chat with fellow peers. We sat with people from different states and countries — Michigan, Canada and New Zealand. It was very cool as we could all relate,” 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.
“We thoroughly enjoyed it. It was wonderful,” says Soltero, who went with his wife. “We went on the rides. It was lovely to go to a section [of the park] that wasn’t open to the public so we could enjoy the entertainment with our industry peers without the overcrowding.”
All say they are glad they went to The ARA Show as it served their needs. As Sierra says: “It was really good. We took full advantage of what the show had to offer and look forward to going to New Orleans.”
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!”