Rental center: 
Making tracks at Noble Iron

Innovative approach matches rental supply to demand.

Management team at Noble Iron
 Vahid Hassanpour, Isaac Ristich, K.J. Park and Iven Baharian from Noble Iron.

Making tracks is a good way to describe Noble Iron, an up-and-coming construction equipment rental center based in Pico Rivera, California, a close-in suburb of Los Angeles.

The making tracks impression starts with the first glance at its logo, which is a tire track crossing the Noble Iron name. That favorable comparison continues as Noble Iron employees share their approach to equipment rental and how they are gaining access to a wide variety of equipment with a win-win plan.

The 60-employee firm, which was created through an acquisition in 2011, has nearly 1,350 pieces of equipment in its fleet for rent with an original equipment cost of approximately $40 million. It serves a wide variety of general and subcontractors up to 100 miles in radius to its 8-acre, 60,000-square-foot facility.

Unlike other rental operations with decades of experience and history, Noble Iron was established in 2011, says Vahid Hassanpour, Noble Iron general manager. ”We are primarily a rental firm, but we also are an equipment dealer for Genie, Daewoo, Haulotte, Terex and JLG. We have recently become a dealer for Magni telescopic handlers. We are always on the lookout for new types of equipment that answer the needs of contractors.”

“We aspire to become a one-stop shop for construction professionals,” says Isaac Ristich, director of innovation and technology at Noble Iron. “As a mission, we’re trying to make construction easy and instant for people. Part of that includes providing rental equipment; we also sell equipment. That equipment ranges from smaller things like air compressors all the way up to earth-moving equipment. Part of our strategy is that we have created a fulfillment center so that from one location, we can service all of the Los Angeles metro and parts of Orange County and Riverside, as well as up into Ventura County. We call it a CELL— Centralized Equipment Logistics Location.”

Instead of setting up several branches to serve customers in a smaller area, Ristich says it leverages one large facility across a large metropolitan area. “It’s like the Amazon distribution model. We have a very large fulfillment center in a major metro. Our location is very centralized. We dispatch and deliver from here. That has a lot of efficiencies. We don’t have to move inventory or transfer equipment from store to store to fulfill an order,” Ristich says.

Tractor trailer fleet
Noble Iron works out of one location and has 16 tractor-trailers making equipment deliveries up to 100 miles away from the facility.

Delivering equipment in the notorious Los Angeles traffic takes some planning, and Noble Iron employs two shifts of drivers to man 16 tractor-trailers to make most deliveries between midnight and 8 a.m. “Many deliveries are for first thing in the morning. They’ll request it to arrive by 7 a.m. on the job site, so we have two shifts of drivers so we can fulfill that need. We have a dispatch center where we manage all of the routes and look at traffic patterns and restrictions to figure out how we can best get the things people need to them quickly and safely,” Ristich says.

Customer approach
One of the main reasons customers prefer to rent from Noble Iron is the company’s commitment to be more customer-centric than transactional. “We are not a faceless corporation like the big rental houses. Our customers, through our business development managers (BDMs), get to know us and we get to know them. They appreciate how we help them solve problems, not just supply equipment,” says K.J. Park, Noble Iron’s vice president of growth and strategy.

“As we get to know their business, we can develop customer portals tailored to their needs, making it easier to do business with us. More of our customers are now demanding these online channels with us,” Park says.

That customer focus has gotten Noble Iron into carrying expensive specialty tools such as pipe benders and threaders. “It’s part of being a one-stop shop,” says Ristich.

Noble Iron takes another step with customers, recommending when it makes more sense for the customer to purchase the machine instead of continuing to rent it. “We also hold our rates steady,” adds Iven Baharian, equipment procurement and customer relations manager. “Some of our large competitors adjust rates based on the season or demand. Most of our customers bid work before they get it, and if we can keep our prices steady, it’s less likely they will be at risk with their quotes because our pricing doesn’t fluctuate wildly.”

Noble Iron routinely performs preventive maintenance on rental customers’ own equipment. “We have the capability to provide service and logistics for contractors’ owned equipment, thanks to our large CELL. Many subcontractors do not have the staff or the space to maintain their own equipment. If we had a smaller footprint, that’s not something that we would be able to do,” Park says.

Noble Iron has its BDMs consistently work with specific customers. If a customer rents equipment from a chain rental store in Ventura County, that customer must deal with a different person than who that person deals with in Los Angeles. “With Noble Iron, the customer usually deals with only one business development manager, who is basically the account manager. They know everything about that relationship – the price and special needs or requests of that customer,” Hassanpour says.

Versatile Magni telehandlers

Noble Iron has a reputation for bringing new types of equipment that address contractor needs. Most recently, Magni telehandlers were brought in, which can easily be converted to aerial work platforms or boom cranes.

Noble Iron is always on the lookout for new types of equipment that can meet customer needs; most recently, it added Magni rough-terrain telescopic handlers to its fleet that can also be used as an aerial work platform or boom crane. “These Magni units have an 85-foot reach and 11,000-pound capacity,” says Hassanpour. “We like adding equipment like this to the fleet. Magni is an emerging brand in North America and once we got customers to try the machines, they have become very popular. We see the Magni telehandlers as being the iPhone of equipment. It will redefine how telehandlers are used.”

As demand for solid used equipment increases, Noble Iron continues to expand its refurbishing capabilities.
Its shop has a complete paint booth as well as several work bays for equipment repairs; nine mechanics work on equipment in the shop plus four mechanics and one maintenance technician work in the field. “We are starting to refurbish equipment again because there is a demand for clean used equipment. We find it helps us get more money for used equipment,” Ristich says.

Approximately 80 percent of Noble Iron’s business is with telescopic handlers and aerial work platforms; the remaining 20 percent is earthmoving equipment, says Baharian, “However, customers continually present problems and needs to us and we excel at finding the right type of equipment they need to fill that need.”

One recent example was a ride-on floor sweeper needed by an industrial customer. “They shared their problem, and we found the right Pelican ride-on floor sweeper that met their needs. It’s turned out to be a very good two-year rental program,” says Hassanpour.

Asset sharing program
Conversely, Noble Iron helps contractors who own equipment not in use, put it to work, says Ristich. “It’s a unique program where we work with contractors who own their own equipment but they are not using it, and we rent it to other contractors. We call it asset sharing and it dramatically expands the selection and availability of inventory we can offer. We are seeing it grow in popularity, especially for earthmoving equipment because of the growing number of infrastructure projects in the area.”

The asset sharing arrangement is a win-win situation. “Conceptually, if a contractor had a piece of under-utilized equipment, they can co-locate it here at our facility. Whenever they need it, it’s ready to go for them. Or, under the agreement, they can asset-share that piece of equipment and we will work to rent it out for them,” Park explains.

Noble Iron has been asset sharing for almost one year with great results and Park says they are working to standardize the process. “This is a very new initiative for us. Interest is very high. The split revenue depends on the type of asset and whether we manage all of the service and logistics or part of it. The equipment is kept in secure storage at our facility. This is something that can create value with an under-utilized asset.”

Live test ground
Most rental centers don’t have the wherewithal to develop customer portals or have the IT expertise to develop the electronic interface needed for programs such as asset sharing, but the holding company for Noble Iron also owns Texada Software, which provides rental-specific software to the rental industry.

“We are able to take products under development by Texada Software and try them out in the real world,” says Ristich. “We are the first ones to try upgrades to Systematic Rental Management, FleetLogic, GateWay and InSight asset management tools. As a software and technology business, we can pretty much create whatever we want, then test it here in a real operation. Not many rental centers have access to that kind of expertise and that gives us a competitive advantage when compared with most of our competitors.”

The future
Ristich envisions that Noble Iron will continue to make tracks in redefining the equipment rental process. “We are continuously improving our processes, incorporating technology, and we think our CELL distribution model makes sense. When the time is right, it will be brought to other metropolitan areas. We also think that asset sharing will greatly improve the breadth and depth of the equipment we offer and get us into deeper, mutually beneficial relationships with our customers.”