This year’s Innovative Product Award entries were an eclectic lot. An award for such a wide-ranging diverse industry as rental equipment can make it difficult for voters who are not comparing apples to apples, much less pears. For example, one participating judge commented that it was difficult deciding what was more innovative, a 180-foot boomlift or a toilet jack. Both products were effective, different, and clearly innovative in response to a need, but obviously so dramatically different it was hard to compare.

Well, ultimately it wasn’t that difficult since the voting in favor of Genie’s 180-foot boomlift was almost unanimous for this year’s grand prize. But nonetheless once again a wide range of products, just like in previous years, were in the running. The 180-foot lift was developed in response to an increasing need expressed by aerial customers to be able to go higher than they could before; and yet still be able to transport the machine without an oversize permit. And in testament to the unique variety of the equipment rental industry, a rental center that stocks the SX-180 in its inventory might also stock the aforementioned toilet jack, which provides a method to lift a toilet without creating a mess or straining a back. It might not turn the heads of trade show attendees as dramatically as the lift, but like all rental products, it came about in response to a need, solves a problem, and satisfies customers, which is what this industry is all about (read story on page 16).

Each of the IPA entries has its own unique inventiveness. Hilti’s cordless combihammer enhances mobility on jobsites where cords frequently get in the way, and it drills concrete faster because of a brushless motor and higher-mass hammering mechanism. JLG’s revolutionary mobile analyzer combines a free mobile application and wireless access module to provide technicians with remote access to program, troubleshoot, calibrate or customize its equipment performance, allowing for an extended operating range of up to 150 feet. Increasingly fast diagnostics capability saves money and time on jobsites and the JLG unit created a lot of interest in our panel of judges.

You hear a lot about alternative fuels these days, and a strong contribution in the solar arena is Magnum Power Products’ solar hybrid light tower, a combination of effective solar power with liquid propane to create a durable rental light tower with minimal maintenance. Vermeer’s stump cutter is another solid entry, a hydraulic unit with no belts, and low ground-bearing pressure.

Not only these machines but an air compressor, a computer software system, a hydraulic excavator, a rammer engine, and a telehandler all made their way into category wins in this year’s IPA competition and some of non-winners were just as worthy.

For all of you who will be attending trade shows in the coming months, such as The Rental Show, ConExpo, World of Concrete, AED’s Summit and CRA’s Rental Rally, I suggest you try something that I did last year and that is read about these innovative product winners before you go on the show floor. One good reason is because most of these very products will be on exhibition so you can see them for yourself after reading about their innovative characteristics. But I also suggest it so that when you look at aisle after aisle of new products, you keep this thought in mind and ask yourself, and ask the staff from the exhibiting companies, what new innovations are there, what problems are being solved and addressed in new ways.

Not all products at the shows are revolutionary, nor need they be. You need a particular item, your customers like it, so you buy it. But others will be offering unique breakthrough technologies that may, to a degree, change the way an industry approaches the marketplace and change the way a process is done. It’s fascinating to keep your eyes open for “game-changing” ideas.

Trade shows are a good time for listening and it’s important to listen to the personnel at trade show booths telling you why their products are the greatest ever. I also find it worthwhile to see what other attendees are thinking. I expect the sales managers for these manufacturers to tell me why their products are great, but it’s another thing when an attendee from a rental company or an end user tells me the same thing, when he has no stake in the sale of that product.

Many of next year’s innovative products award-winners will be on display, unsung and not yet well known, and many past winners as well. It’s a great time to be open to opportunities to improve your rental business.