Last year, Modern Group combined its light equipment rental and its aerial rental divisions into one company. That would seem to have been a natural time to merge Modern Group's material-handling rental companies as well.

But the merger of Modern Handling Equipment of Pennsylvania (which handles the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware) and Modern Handling Equipment of New Jersey (which handles northern New Jersey, New York City and part of New York state) into newly formed Modern Equipment Sales & Rental wasn't even considered.

The reason? The difference between the contractor customer who may need to rent a material handler for a day and a plant manager who may have to close down his plant if he doesn't get a fleet of 20 narrow-aisle propane-powered forklifts by Friday.

"Forklift rental requires a high level of specialization," says Paul Hollowell, rental manager of Modern Handling Equipment of Pennsylvania. "It is not as easy as simply delivering the equipment. Industrial customers need service, they need parts. There is a bigger picture."

Another rationale for keeping the forklift companies separate is that the vast majority of their revenue comes from sales, parts and service; short-term rentals represent only 10 percent or so of their total revenue.

Between the combined 11 locations of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey material-handling companies, the forklift rental fleet totals nearly 1,000 machines, including trucks capable of lifting 36,000 pounds. In addition to being among the biggest distributors of the Hyster line, both divisions sell specialized handling equipment designed for automated warehouses.

"We speak the language of industrial customers," says Dave Wiggins, president of the Pennsylvania handling company. "We understand their needs for attachments, long-term rentals, service, sales and fleets."

In other words, material-handling rental and sales is a totally different ballgame from construction equipment rental and sales. That difference mandates at least one - in this case, two - separate companies to succeed. -T.N.