Posted June 26, 2020

Rental Center: At the ready

Peachtree Equipment follows its a READY philosophy: RESPOND, EVALUATE, ASK Questions, DO it, YOU are the difference to carve a niche in the rental market.

by Susan Doyle

Brandon Burdett, Peachtree Equipment
Brandon Burdett, Peachtree Equipment.
Lifts at Peachtree Equipment

At Peachtree Equipment, material handling and man-lift equipment make up 60 percent of the rental fleet and its revenue.

Peachtree Equipment

Sales coordinator Tim Brakefield, general manager Brandon Burdett and field service specialist Philip Tucker discuss coming rental commitments. It has found that rotating telehandlers fit a unique niche in the Atlanta construction market.

Mike Lavalle, Brandon Burdett, Peachtree Equipment
Mike Lavalle, product specialist, and Brandon Burdett discuss the progress of its technicians’ certifications to assure staff has the most up-to-date training available for the equipment it rents.
Thomas Butler, Peachtree Equipment
Equipment maintenance tales place at Peachtree’s shop and on site. Here, Thomas Butler, shop mechanic, performs scheduled maintenance in the field on one of the fleet’s telehandlers.

Some businesses develop a plan that is adjustable with each passing year. Peachtree Equipment, located on the outskirts of Atlanta, in Hapeville, Georgia, has a business plan with a vision, “To be a service-centered company focusing on unparalleled customer service, building relationships on trust, knowledge and customer success.” No adjustments needed. This vision is a driving force behind Peachtree’s growth and success in a very competitive market.

Peachtree Equipment started small in the late ’90s with the tried-and-true equipment found at many rental houses. It was in 2016 when Brandon Burdett put together the vision that would change the way Peachtree did business. “We have not looked back since,” he says.

With more than 380 pieces of equipment, Peachtree offers just about everything contractors and specialty trades need to do a job. “We have scissor and boom lifts, rubber-tired and track compact loaders, mini excavators, forklifts, outdoor vacuums, compact track loaders, ride-on sweepers, light towers, golf carts, protective barriers, generators, security cameras and telehandlers…you get the idea,” Burdett says. “Contractors come to us because they know we have what they need.”

60/40 equipment mix
Material handling and man-lift equipment make up the largest chunk, around 60 percent of the rental fleet and its revenue, as these items are in constant demand. The other 40 percent include excavators, trenchers, skid steers, and small dozers up to 18,000 pounds.

There are a number of rental houses, national chains as well as independents, serving the greater Atlanta area. Competition is healthy and margins can be small. Peachtree realizes over 80 percent of its revenue from the robust construction market they serve that is as close as Atlanta and as far as Ohio. Twenty percent of its business is from its growing re-rent program, used equipment sales and rentals to municipalities, landscapers and similar businesses.

As Burdett sees it, rental as a business is rather standard. Stock a machine that is common and requested often, rent it, and move onto the next rent opportunity. When the machine comes back and it’s not too beat up, clean it up with basic maintenance and rent it back out as soon as possible.

Desire to stand out
There is nothing wrong with this model, Burdett says. It works well, but to stand out from this crowded market, Peachtree needed to go in a different direction.

When evaluating how to make the vision work, Burdett realized three things. “We needed to not just supply equipment. We were already doing that quite well. We needed to find a way to ensure customers experienced success on their respective jobs. To do that, we needed to find a niche that would make that goal a reality.”

But where to start? Right around this time, a customer came to Peachtree needing an extended-reach forklift. It was not something Peachtree had in inventory; but Burdett saw an opportunity and then hunkered down and researched what was available.

 “After doing some research on extended-reach telehandlers, we discovered the market niche. We talked and looked at all brands, but because of relationship and proximity to Atlanta, we chose Merlo through Applied Machinery Sales in South Carolina. We found the brand and units have the most intuitive design when it comes to operation.”

“The Merlo Roto became our flagship machine. We currently have four 40.30 MCSS models in our fleet. We are the only vendor in town that offers these machines. Not only do we support it, we train and educate the end user on a Roto’s operation so they can complete their job efficiently and safely with a very unique piece of equipment. Contractors are increasingly calling us for them.”

 “Our approach to the rental business changed when we added the Merlo Roto to our fleet,” he continues. “Our vision – to provide trust, knowledge and customer success – has become a big part of our everyday operation. We provide innovative solutions, such as the Roto, that help contractors solve their job-related problems. We want to make sure the contactor has the right machine for that job.”

Building upon the customer success aspect of the company vision, Peachtree’s staff also takes to heart a READY philosophy: Respond, Evaluate, Ask questions, Do it, You are the difference.

“It is important that, every day, our people are mentally prepared to help our customers have an elevated experience, an experience that is much better than they will get from another rental company in the area.” Burdett says.

How it works: Peachtree’s team qualifies each request, even if this means visiting a job site, to ensure the rented machine matches the required job. “Traditional customer knowledge can be limited to the capabilities of machines they are familiar with. So, by asking questions we guide them to consider other machines that would be a better fit for the desired job than what a machine with which they may be familiar can do,” Burdett says.

 “We realize here at Peachtree not all customers think the same, work the same or plan the same,” says Mike Lavelle, a product specialist at Peachtree Equipment. “So, the easiest way for us to be successful is let our customers tell us what they need, and we do the rest from there. We value and appreciate relationships more than just business.”

Relationship building means doing more for the customer. To prove the efficiency of a machine a customer may not be familiar with, Peachtree techs will do a test run in the field to showcase how a particular machine will perform.

In one example, the field was the Atlanta International Airport. Burdett and his team had already visited the site, saw what the customer needed and suggested the Roto rotating telehandler as the best machine.

The customer was not totally sold and asked for a demonstration, so Burdett loaded up the machine and brought it over. “This customer thought he needed a crane or similar piece of equipment,” Burdett says. “Cranes usually come to a site in parts and take a while to set up. The rotating telehandler, on the other hand, just rolls off the trailer and is ready to go to work.”

The Merlo Roto was set up where the customer needed the machine and immediately went to work. It easily accomplished the lift-and-carry work and the customer signed up for a long-term rental. “It was that extra effort on our part that made the difference. We were able to show them a new piece of equipment that is between what a crane can do and what a telehandler can do. It’s a sweet spot that helped this contractor complete the job they were hired to do.”

Built-in extra effort
That extra effort is built into the READY program as well. There are two levels of training: staff and customer. “There are 14 employees here at Peachtree and I require the Peachtree team to go out at least twice a year on field trips. Take a factory tour. Visit dealerships’ open houses where they can meet like-minded service techs and other people in the industry. I want them to take advantage of conventions and trade shows. It is important to always be on top of what is out there now and what is coming. Plus, by going outside our own business, we learn more of upcoming trends and market indicators.”

Along with the field trips, Peachtree Equipment technicians are required to stay on top of machine technology and innovations. This means continuous certification in all aspects of equipment maintenance and repair.

The second level of training is customer-centric. “Customers, the end users of the equipment, are always first. We do what is always best for the customer. When we deliver a unit, we always go over the machine’s operation with the operators who will run the machine. This may take anywhere from one to three hours. This is partially true of the Roto machines. It is very important that a customer gets the most efficiency from the machine and it’s done safely.” Plus, Peachtree provides on-site machine service, if and when it’s needed, for all its machines in the field.

“We want to be a part of our customers’ process,” Burdett stresses. “We want to really get into the true issues they are facing. Such as what kind of experiences are their employees having? Are there site factors we should know about? Can the equipment do what they want? If not, what cost-effective solution can we provide to help solve this issue?”

It’s this getting-to-know-you level of customer care that is setting Peachtree Equipment apart.

“We want to understand every little detail, from the scope of the work to the operators they are hiring. Once we break the ice and develop that level of trust,” Burdett says, “it becomes all about the customer, it is not purely about the equipment. It is about that customer winning.”

Burdett says they do not rent to everyone. They prefer to rent to a business with whom they can create a solid relationship. “Business is a two-way street. We want our customers to treat us with the same respect with which we treat them. This makes for long-term, beneficial relationships that profits everyone involved.”

Competition is fierce, Burdett says. “We will not win every rental or sale. We accept that. We know we have put our best service foot forward with every interaction with every customer. They may not see it, but we do.”

With many machines coming off rent and going back on rent, customer satisfaction and safety are high priorities. Peachtree offers personalized service by delivering and picking up the majority of its equipment.

COVID-19 concerns
In today’s heightened safety awareness, they have upped service and safety. When a machine comes off rent, a Peachtree driver goes to the site to retrieve the machine. The interior of the cab is disinfected before the driver loads the machine. After a machine comes back to the shop, it goes through a second, more thorough disinfection process. Only after this second process is completed will a technician begin the required full service that brings the machine back to factory specs for the next rental.

All this adds up to customer retention and strong growth. “Since we developed our vision and enacted our READY philosophy, we have seen up to 400 percent growth over the last five years.” Burdett says. “If we see an opportunity, we will introduce our business and what we have to offer, but I would say 99 percent of our business comes from repeat rentals and referrals.”

“It’s the integrity, transparency and honesty of this company that has led customers to us,” Lavelle adds.

Needing to stay in front of the pack is important, Burdett says, as the business of renting for construction has its ups and downs based on market conditions. There are many machines on the market either for purchase and for rent and this has kept rates low. So, Burdett and his team stay diligent with how they position themselves in the marketplace: the READY mentality, innovative niche products such as the rotating telehandlers and staying abreast of trends.

“As many rental centers in the area do not offer this kind of machine, our Rotos are always rented, either direct to the end user or through re-rent programs.” Burdett says. “We expect to be adding a few more of these versatile machines soon because demand is growing.”

Peachtree’s vision is rock solid, but there are a few things that keep Burdett up at night. “I do not take anything, like our success, for granted,” he says. “I think about our company vision and the road we are on. I think about our team, that we are all doing well, and the company is doing right by them. I think about the machine that just left for a job. I never want our equipment to be a reason a project gets delayed or not completed.”

And, he thinks about the community that supports his business.

“Peachtree Equipment participates in many benefits to support our local community,” Burdett says. “We volunteer as well as provide equipment. Recently, we used the Merlo to hold an American flag at a local hospital during an event honoring the front-line workers.”

Burdett thinks the future holds great promise for the equipment rental industry. “I think artificial intelligence (AI) will become the norm. Electric machines capable of producing the same productivity as gas-powered equipment are already rolling into the market. More remote operation of heavy equipment will become the new normal. Some machines, such as the Roto rotating telehandler, have that capability already. Imagine heavy equipment operators putting on goggles and, working from home, move that machine from here to there. They may not ever step onto a job site. The technology is already here. This technology will affect the rental business and I believe Peachtree will be ready to embrace that next innovation.” 


This originally appeared in the July-August 2020 issue of Pro Contractor Rentals magazine. ©2020 Urbain Communications LLC. All rights reserved.