The internet debate: ERA CEO and leadership panel
By Helen Wright25 June 2014
The three-day European Rental Association (ERA) Convention in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, began with a lively panel discussion featuring senior industry figures from the global rental industry, with the impact of the internet emerging as a key theme.
The CEO and Leadership panel took place on 24 June and featured Michael Kneeland, CEO of United Rentals – the largest rental company in the world – as well as Gerard Deprez, CEO of French rental giant Loxam, Derrick Golden, COO at Volker Stevin Materieel, Hilti regional head of Northern Europe Gareth lewis, and ERA president Vesa Koivula, who is also president and CEO at Finnish rental company Cramo.
Mr Kneeland pointed out that the millennium generation was the largest in existence, and was used to communicating by texting and online.
"That's how our customers are going to react in next five to ten years," Mr Kneeland said. "They want to be able to get what they want when they want, without really having a lot of communication.”
Mr Deprez agreed that behaviour was changing with each generation. "But it is attached to the users," he added.
"Some customers will also continue to order through the telephone. At our heart, we remain a logistics company - we need trucks we need to deliver equipment on site. I see absolutely no need to have a company dedicated to electronic business."
But Mr Lewis warned that, “With the internet, another challenge is transparency. The internet challenges you to be transparent, people expect to see prices listed, for instance, and we do list prices online.
However, Mr Deprez warned against giving pricing too much of the limelight. “Most customers are driven by convenience, and that's also an aspect of business that we can't forget,” he said.
In contrast, Mr Koivula said price visibility on the internet was unavoidable. “We have to turn things so that price is not the only thing that counts, and quality is crucial as well as transparency.”
Mr Koivula, added that the rental industry was currently presented with a great opportunity to improve services, but should be careful not to develop anything that is not needed by its customers.
“I would expect that it will take time before we can really say that companies are using multi-channel solutions. But the fact is that it will change, need to think about strategy now, and I think this will in the end change the entire structure of companies, for instance it could mean that rental businesses don’t need so many depots, and instead create hubs to take care of supply.”
Mr Koivula continued, “The trend is clear, all the businesses are coming more and more competitive.”
Mr Golden also said he thought the equipment rental industry was on the verge of change.
“The rental companies are starting to wake up and realise it's about listening to customer and bringing about a change inside an organisation. To realise a vision is a challenge, and it comes down to a partnership and that's what more or less drives the rental aspect for us.”
The main theme of this year’s ERA Convention is ‘Internet as a Game Changer', and the event culminates on 26 June with guest speaker Richard Robinson, director at internet giant Google – a high-profile speech that looks set to be a real highlight.