Sunbelt Rentals shines in the equipment rental business. A huge rental equipment company in the US, Sunbelt specializes in the rental and retail sale of industrial machinery, construction equipment, vehicles, pumps, aerial platforms, power generators, portable air conditioners, scaffolding, traffic safety products, compressed air equipment, and tools through almost 400 rental locations in about 35 states, as well as its locations inside Lowe's stores. Founded in 1983, the company serves customers in commercial, residential, municipal, and service industries. Sunbelt, which is a principal subsidiary of UK-owned Ashtead Group, also owns NationsRent, and represents more than 80% of Ashtead's annual revenues.
The company, which has over $2 billion in equipment inventory, ranks in the top three US rental companies. The recession, however, took a decided toll on Sunbelt and its competitors, expressing its wrath in a revenue decrease of 25% in 2009 over 2008. Many of Lowe's rental centers yielded disappointing results, prompting Sunbelt to close more than half of the big box store locations; however, the leases for the remaining 40 centers have been extended until October 2012.
Because Sunbelt's revenues are affected by the volume of activity in its end markets, which are experiencing varying recovery times, it expects 15% to 20% declines in the commercial construction industry heading into 2011, but has chosen to view the coming year as one of full recovery. The company plans to increase its capital expenditures from $93 million (£63 million) to more than $332 million (£225 million), targeting fleet replacement and possible fleet growth.
Sunbelt also recognizes that the economic crisis has had a profound effect on smaller companies; some of which may choose to consolidate with larger companies. The consolidations will grow the market share of the acquiring companies. Sunbelt has stated that this is its strategy, and it will look to expand its market share vigorously by taking advantage of post-recession acquisition opportunities. Out of the gate in 2011, the company acquired Empire Holdings, a Louisiana-based scaffolding and petrochemical service company, for more than $38 million. The specialized business allows Sunbelt to move into new markets and expand its product portfolio.
What also helps the company weather the denouement of recession is its market share and brand recognition in the industry. It uses a "cluster market" approach to saturate major market locations, clumping three to 15 stores in proximity to major cities and then providing a comprehensive offering of products and services.
The company derives more than 90% of its revenue from equipment rental and rental services, with less than 10% coming from the sale of new and used equipment, parts, and accessories. Sunbelt's specialty divisions offer a list of products and services its rental customers might need, including scaffold erection and dismantling; trench shoring; portable power generation; fluid handling; compressed air; and catastrophe-related remediation and restoration consultation.
The company also provides equipment for major events, such as music concerts, festivals, and sporting events. Sunbelt has supplied traffic control equipment, as well forklifts and equipment for erecting stages, viewing stands, aerial platforms, and light towers for the US presidential inaugurations since 1993.
Joseph Phelan was named president and CEO of Sunbelt Rentals in 2009, succeeding Cliff Miller, who resigned. Phelan previously was CEO of DHL Global Mail. – less