Lessons from the rental counter

After 15 years in the rental business, Home Depot intends to rev up its marketing.

Who are today’s tool renters? They’re usually a pro, or a heavy-duty DIYer, said Gary Lewis, who as a 27-year Home Depot veteran and the tool rental merchant has a pretty good vantage point on the forces acting on the rental market.

One of the trends: a jack-of-all-trades effect across the pro community.

“Today, the pro customers who typically were focused on one trade are broadening their fields,” he said, the result of the need to expand their services in a contracting market. “That’s forcing them to come in and rent certain tools, rather than own them.”

Plumbers might find themselves painting, and that’s helping the rental of sprayers. At Home Depot, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year as tool rental supplier, the pro has always been a key rental demographic.

That familiarity led to another market observation: “The DIYer will rent anything that the pro will rent,” he said. “But the pro will not rent anything the DIYer will rent.”

And of course, price-conscious consumers are increasingly considering renting as an option to buying.

These forces call for a careful analysis of the product mix, the brand mix and the technology mix in the Home Depot rental centers, which Lewis—who has been with the rental division from its humble beginnings 15 years ago—describes as “the most exciting part of the business.”

Sewer snakes, floor sanders and demolition hammers are the top three rental categories, he said, and are likely to continue their strong position. The division’s importance within the larger retail box isn’t likely to change either. There are rental centers in more than 1,200 locations. What is likely to change, he said—without offering details—is the message. “You’re going to see a much stronger play in the marketing side of it,” he said.

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