Why should you bother with social media?
I know some people will look at our cover story and wonder why are we bothering to write about Twitter and Facebook and YouTube? Are we teenagers? Well, no we're not, but my son is and he sometimes can spend five or 10 or more hours a day chatting with his friends on Facebook and laughing at videos on YouTube, and would probably spend more time on these sites if it weren't for such annoyances as homework and his parents.
My teenage son's habits are significant because he is much like most teenagers today, and in a few years they will be adults entering the business world. If he were to come into this industry today, one of the most natural ways he would look to educate himself about it and make contacts in it would be on social media. This is already true for people in their 20s and 30s and you don't have to be that young to be interested in enhancing methods of communication.
Only a few years ago when I would ask rental companies if they were going to try to market themselves to contractors on the Internet, or facilitate the possibility of reserving rentals over the Internet, frequently the answer I'd hear would be something to the effect of “I don't think our customers are riding around in their pickup trucks with a laptop computer.” How many of you feel comfortable making that kind of statement now? And how many of those customers, a few short years ago, had Smartphones with Internet access on them and apps that enable them to do all kinds of things right on their phones — including getting information about where their next equipment rental is going to come from or what kind of telescopic handler might be more effective for their next job?
Just a few months ago, I remember remarking to some colleagues that I thought Twitter was a fad that wouldn't last more than a few years before it gives way to something else. While the future of that particular application remains to be seen, I'm convinced that if it doesn't survive it will be because something more effective will come along, just as early search engines were superseded by Google.
So like it or not, consider it important or don't, but the reality is, social media is here to stay. But don't just take it from me. Find out for yourself by going to the Twitter or Facebook sites of other rental companies or equipment manufacturers and see what they are doing. Come to our own RER sites and see what we're doing — and we're new at this just like everybody. There's still a lot of self-serving promotion going on that gets in the way of real communication, but hopefully real value and communication will get through. I suggest you take a look at our cover story on Page 18, written by RER's Brandey Smith, to see what people in this industry are already saying and doing.
I also remember a few years back when we were talking about e-commerce, about billing customers online, about ordering equipment or buying parts online, about bidding on jobs through e-mail, and more than one of our readers laughed and said such things were a long way away. Well they got here quicker than people thought.
It's to everyone's benefit to enhance communication with customers and suppliers. So please consider some new methods that shouldn't be dismissed without thought.
Consolidation continues to be a topic of interest in the rental industry and while we aren't likely to see a repeat of 1997-1999 any time soon — because the major players already have well-established national footprints, for one thing — once again there are rumors out there about deals and conversations and negotiations and who's buying who. One learns not to jump too high or get too excited every time a new rumor breaks, but just as we are getting ready to go to press, the news hits that United Rentals just acquired Venetor Group, one of the largest rental companies in Eastern Canada. So once again, anything is possible.
We'll have a more complete report on the acquisition of Venetor in May RER and in the meantime you can read about it online at http://rermag.com/trends_analysis/headlinenews/united-rentals-to-acquire-venetor-group-040711/#.
Will there be more big deals in 2011? I think they'll be selective and strategic for the most part. Will big players buy other big players? Always a possibility. Manufacturers buying into the rental channel? Ask Titan Machinery to start with. And stay tuned to www.rermag.com to keep up.