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Advice, as well as equipment, is available

Rental operations offer know-how in addition to their inventory

Question: Why buy when you can rent?

Answer: Because your garage is too small.

What sounds like an Alice in Wonderland conversation actually makes sense. Rent, don't buy, is the mantra of the rental equipment industry. They know that a do-it-yourselfer who purchases every tool needed to keep house and yard in top shape will run out of garage space.

Rental equipment agents don't expect you to dump your lawnmower and rent one every time the grass needs a trim. They do point out that buying and storing equipment can be a questionable use of space and money for items used once, or seldom.

Allan Tubbin, genial employee of United Rentals, Tigard, puts it this way: 'A lot of equipment is too expensive to own and too big to store. If you rent equipment, you don't have to buy it, store it or fix it. If it breaks down while you're using it, we exchange it for you.' Lawn thatchers and aerators are examples of bulky equipment used once a year at best. The rest of the time it's better off at the rental yard than underfoot.

Rental equipment stores started as mom and pop ventures, sometimes operated by crusty, even cranky, individuals. After 50 years, the business is changing. Recent mergers and acquisitions resulted in home improvement chain stores like Home Depot and Lowes getting into the business. Many rental equipment facilities sell supplies the do-it-yourselfer will need to complete a project.

Independent rental dealers, most with two or more store locations, still make up 77 percent of the industry, according to a study cited by the American Rental Association. Their longtime employees are a valuable resource because of the knowledge they can pass on to customers.

Tubbin is a 30-year veteran of the industry who started out washing equipment and helping load it onto pickups or trailers. Today he works at a property that sprawls out over several acres and caters to both homeowners and contractors. There's even a concrete batch plant on the premises.

'This is a fast-paced industry - keeping equipment clean and maintained takes a lot of time,' he says.

He hates to see machinery come back layered with dirt or clumped with mud. 'To you, it's dirt,' he explains. 'To environmental regulators, it's like toxic waste. They don't know where it came from, and they figure it might be contaminated. That's why you should at least hose it off before you return it.' Dealing with environmental regulations is a growing concern to those in the rental business.

Tubbin's long years of renting out equipment has made him expert in many aspects of the business. By now he's had experience with purchasing, management, employee training and conflict management. Sometimes he deals with disputes about whether an equipment breakdown is due to wear and tear, negligence, or misuse.

A great barrel of a man, Tubbin seems most at ease in the rental yard talking about equipment. He suggests that chatting with rental yard employees about the project at hand is a good idea. You may find that the equipment you had in mind is not the best for the job, or that there are other ways to get the job done. You can begin the process when you call ahead to reserve equipment.

Tubbin's advice is echoed by Tom Sweeney, editor, American How-To publications. He advises stopping by the rental yard in advance to familiarize yourself with equipment you plan to rent. There may be a video you can borrow or watch at the store to learn about safety and operation issues.

In addition to rental yard personnel, the industry has other sources of information for the do-it-yourself crowd. The American Rental Association provides extensive online information at www.rentalhq.com. Look for descriptions of equipment and how to use it on projects such as floor sanding and concrete repair. There's information on how to use backhoes, trenchers and pneumatic tools.

The Web site has a list of 8,000 store locations. You can search it by your community's name or by your ZIP code. Results are listed by how many miles they are from the center of the ZIP code you enter. More specifically, you can search for local stores serving the general tool/homeowner market, the party and event market, or the construction market.

Not every store is listed, however. Key Events Services, 18179 S.W. Boones Ferry Road, Sherwood, did not pop up as a party planner facility. This may be because they recently moved from Arctic Drive in Beaverton and now represent a merger of more than one store.

Completion of a DIY project can be cause for celebration. You can rent a tent, china, and silverware and invite people to see your new basement, recreation room, or patio. As a do-it-yourselfer, you deserve a pat on the back as you show off your good work.

And yes, the party rental folk can advise you on staging a terrific event. They have the information and they are glad to share it.

Hints from the American

Rental Association

A store employee will ask questions about your project, recommend the equipment you'll need for the result you desire and explain how to use the equipment safely and correctly. It's to your advantage to have everything prepared so you can start work soon after you rent your equipment. Charges start when you leave the store and not when you start using the equipment. Depending on the store and the equipment, you may be able to rent by the hour, half day, day, week or month.