These days, almost anything can be rented, and the rental industry has done a good job making consumers and business owners aware of the benefits of renting versus owning. In markets such as electrical contracting, renting usually involves tools and equipment, including generators, portable lighting, pumps, various types of personnel lifts, and other equipment.


While most electricians own the basic hand tools they use every day, the latest models of those tools are available to rent. High-end test equipment also has become a popular rental item.


In general, the more expensive and specialized the tool or piece of equipment, the greater the potential benefits a contractor gets from renting.


Tools and equipment


Tools and light equipment are available at general rental centers and big-box retailers. Equipment rental centers also inventory these products along with a wide range of larger equipment, and rental companies recognize the importance of the electrical market.


“Electrical contractors and electricians are an important part of our broader construction and industrial base,” said Chris Lewis, regional product development manager at United Rentals Tool Solutions, Stamford, Conn.


United Rentals is the world’s largest equipment rental company. Lewis said it rents more than 3,500 types of tools, including a full complement of hand tools.


“The tools that electrical contractors use are very ‘core’ to us,” Lewis said.


What factors drive an electrician’s decision whether to own or rent?


“Purchase price weighed against utilization is a frequent consideration, and electric is a good example,” Lewis said. “If an electrical contractor needs the bender for a few months in a year on projects, it doesn’t make sense to buy it when it can be rented for a fraction of the purchase price.


“Another consideration is the pace of technical change, driven by manufacturers’ research and development. If a contractor has the most advanced tool for a particular job, he’ll be more productive, and his margin improves. Renting is a great way to keep pace with technical advances. Someone who buys a tool outright may feel obligated to use it, even if there’s a better, more modern solution available to rent,” he said.


It is possible to make a good renting-versus-owning case for many categories of tools and equipment.


“The key is to consider your total cost of ownership: for example, expenses for storage, maintenance and theft protection,” Lewis said. “And, depending on the bid, it can be helpful to look at tool rental as part of the bigger picture. We often bid projects on a turnkey basis, meaning equipment, tools and adjunct services, such as training. This could be turnkey for an entire project or just for the electrical contracting portion: tool rentals and any necessary equipment, such as generator sets, pumps and lifts.”


Lewis believes renting is a viable option in any economy.


“There are many financial advantages to renting tools, so, during economic troughs, we certainly see an uptick of customers trying to preserve their capital,” he said. “However, we also see significant increases during good economic times, partly due to demand, but also to customer education. Saving money and driving project profitability are always in vogue. In prosperous times, when project starts increase, renting can be a competitive advantage in winning overlapping bids.”


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Lewis said he expects continued growth in rentals to the electrical market.


“There’s a huge upside,” he said. “We see large incremental increases in business year after year in this specific SIC code. Also, we’re continuing to educate the industry. For example, many contractors don’t realize that we offer on-site mobile tool rental rooms where we can track inventory, conduct inspections, provide maintenance, and organize scheduling and billing. Tool rooms facilitate project management and safety. They help control workflow, theft and overall costs.”


Renting testers


Fluke Corp. and Flir testers are widely available from a variety of rental sources.


“In broad terms, Fluke test tools can be found on a rental basis but not through retail rental outlets, such as home centers,” said Dan Wright, communications manager for Fluke Corp., Everett, Wash. “Fluke test tools are available through a wide range of electrical wholesalers and industrial distributors. Many of these channel partners offer rental programs. There are also some specialized test and measurement rental houses where Fluke is present as well.”


Wright said ECs typically own testers and meters.


“The frequency with which they must use their digital multimeters, clamp meters and basic electrical testers makes owning these core tools essential,” he said. “With that as background, there are less frequently used test tools that may make sense as rental tools, including power quality analyzers, power and energy loggers, electric motor analyzers, and battery analyzers.”


Basic factors influencing whether to rent or own are frequency of use and instrument complexity versus cost.


“If a certain type of analysis is rarely required, and the test instrument is complex or costly or both, it may make more sense for the electrical contractor to rent than to purchase,” Wright said. “Often a relatively expensive test tool also requires a skilled operator to get the most out of the tool, so in addition to equipment cost, the contractor also needs to determine if the proper level of expertise is within the company. For those rare occasions where a specific customer need requires an expensive piece of analysis equipment, and the operator skills are available in-house, the electrical contractor might find renting to be a realistic solution.


“Another situation where renting test equipment may make sense is for use on a large, one-time project. An [EC] may have the sophisticated test tools required for the customer’s specs, but the scale of the project may require additional equipment for a short length of time, and this might be a good opportunity to contact a rental distributor,” he said.


Flir offers a rental program through its Nashua, N.H., facility and at Home Depot Tool Centers throughout the United States.


“The majority of our renters are electrical contractors,” said Steve Chisholm, inside sales manager—instruments, Flir. “Thermal cameras are designed to help electrical contractors identify potential issues, so they can get a job done more efficiently and stay safe while doing it. Our rental programs for high-end thermal cameras are a great option for professionals.”


Chisholm cited several reasons why electricians rent Flir products.


“Perhaps they have a quick job, but their own equipment is in use on another, equally important job,” he said. “Renting a unit is a much more cost-effective alternative than investing in another unit. Sometimes an electrician only has a need for thermal imaging during certain times of the year, in which case, a rental program is the best option for them.”


Meanwhile, Transcat (www.transcat.com/products/rental equipment) is a relative newcomer in this arena, entering the tester rental market in 2013.


“We are one of the largest distributors of electrical test equipment in North America, and we are one of the largest providers of calibration services for testers,” said Nico Smrekar, director of rental program and web marketing, Transcat. “This means that we know the equipment better than most other distributors and calibration-service companies. This led us to ask ourselves what other services we could provide our customers with this type of equipment? And rentals became an obvious choice.”


Transcat’s rental products include electrical calibrators, ground resistance testers, insulation testers, digital low-resistance ohmmeters, clamp meters, hipot testers, cable locators, network cable testers (copper or optical), thermal cameras and power supplies.


Popular brands include AEMC, Fluke Corp., Fluke Networks, Flir and Megger.


“There are three main factors that influence the decision to rent, rather than buy equipment,” Smrekar said. “One is that the equipment will be used for only a short time, and it is more economical to rent it. The second one is that rental equipment is provided fully serviced, and the rental company takes care of the maintenance and calibration. The third factor is that a customer often has much more leeway to procure a unit from the expense budget versus the capital equipment purchase budget, and rentals allow that.”

Take a test drive

If you’d rather try out a new product than rent it, Flir has introduced a “Test Drive” program to market and sell its new CM174 imaging clamp meter with IGM infrared guided measurement technology. Potential buyers can try out the product before making the decision to purchase it.

“There is a difference between reading about our technology and experiencing the ‘aha’ moment of actually using IGM technology,” said Richard Wexler, Flir director of marketing. “For seven days, users can test the CM174 in their own work environments without the pressure to purchase upfront.”

At the end of the trial period, users can purchase and keep the product or return it in original packaging with prepaid shipping label. For step-by-step instructions, go to flir.com/testdrive.

“The Flir CM174 Imaging 600A AC/DC clamp meter is the only clamp meter with the power to lead users to problems that can’t be seen with a standard clamp meter,” Wexler said. “We are confident that, once users experience IGM, they won’t want to go back to a standard clamp meter.”

IGM technology, powered by an integrated Flir Lepton thermal imaging sensor, visually guides the user safely to the precise location of a potential electrical problem, identifying unknown and dangerous problem areas that may require further testing and investigation.

Flir offers a broad line of thermal imaging products with advanced models featuring multispectral dynamic imaging technology that adds clarity and definition to the thermal image. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities allow connection to enabled test and measurement tools.

“The Test Drive program is a new sales approach for our industry,” Wexler noted. “Currently, it is only available only for the CM174, but soon we will extend it to the full suite of IGM products.”