United Rentals is buying RSC. Hertz acquired Arpielle Rentals in New York City. Sunbelt Rentals acquired Topp Portable Air. Volvo Rents made several acquisitions as it continues to extend its national footprint (see Industry News, page 14 for more on those stories.)

I know some of you, when you read such news, wish it was your company being acquired. During the recession, a whole lot of people wanted to sell their rental companies, but not many deals were made because of the lack of available capital. There will likely be more transactions in the coming year as capital markets are more favorable, although some rental companies might feel less urgency to sell because better business conditions make them feel more optimistic about their companies being successful.

Obviously this is a very different era from the late '90s when we would report on a dozen or more acquisitions being made almost every month as national companies and consolidators expanded rapidly. Now as you can see, acquisitions are being made far more selectively and far fewer deals are consummated.

Companies such as United Rentals, Sunbelt Rentals, Hertz, Volvo Rents, and a few others are likely to continue to expand but are doing so strategically here and there rather than in the gold-rush atmosphere of the late '90s. They will look in particular markets for certain types of companies.

Your rental company might not necessarily be what any of those acquirers are looking for. But as this month's cover story makes quite clear, if any potential buyers do choose to take a look at your company, they will most likely be looking for certain strategic qualities, location or purposes rather than a “fixer-upper” or a distressed sale.

As Gary Stansberry's story points out, acquirers are likely to be looking for companies with increasing rental revenues, total payroll of no more than 25 percent of total revenues, dollar utilization of rental fleet of at least 50 percent, average fleet age of not more than five years, EBITDA of at least 30 to 40 percent of total revenue, solid management and sales teams, and well-located and maintained, environmentally compliant facilities. They are not likely looking to bail you out of trouble; rather they are looking for ways to improve and expand their own businesses.

In general in the world of business, we'll see more mergers and acquisitions than in recent years. But I don't believe outrageous multiples will be thrown about, although the purchase of my favorite baseball team, the Dodgers, by Guggenheim Partners and other investors including Magic Johnson, might suggest otherwise! In that case, the prospective owners have the prospect of a multi-billion cable television deal to look forward to — I doubt your rental center can offer that.

So whether you're considering selling your business, expanding by buying somebody else's business, or opening up a new branch, there are some basic metrics you should be looking at that might help you view your situation with realistic eyes. There are a number of merger-and-acquisition specialists in this industry that can help broker deals and some may define the benchmarks differently, but overall this month's cover story will give you a pretty good idea of what you should consider. And even if you're not looking to buy, sell or expand, the metrics discussed in the article on page 20 might give you a good idea of what kind of shape your company is in and what you need to strive for.

I get calls or notes from my insurance agent every year or two inviting me to an appointment to discuss my insurance portfolio and see if it needs updating. I welcome these notices with as much enthusiasm as I do bills or a notice that it's time for a dental checkup, although I respond to those because I know unpaid bills will only accumulate interest and that not taking care of my teeth will cost me more pain and money in the long run.

But insurance needs do in fact change over the years, and that's certainly true in business more so than for a private individual. With the recent recession, a lot of people were laid off and with a shortage of employment opportunities out there, the incidences of lawsuits alleging wrongful termination, sexual harassment, discrimination, wage and hour violations and other issues make employee practices liability insurance more important than ever. I urge you to read about the changing insurance needs in the rental industry: Time to Re-evaluate Rental Business Insurance Policies