Equipment rental shops caught in financial vice

Construction equipment rental companies have been suffering along with the rest of the housing industry since the building boom turned bust.

Arron Bowman and Don Siewell at Grants Pass Equipment Rental recently spent time working on owner Jerome Brown's Triumph Spitfire, waiting for the occasional customer.

"That's how busy we are. The boys are working on the boss's car," said Leonard Morrison, a 21-year-employee at GP Rental.

Later, Gary Knox came in for a power snake for a clogged pipe, and Jake Adams rented a plate compactor. That was about it.

Rental outfits are struggling. Few people need trenchers, compactors, generators, mowers or any of the other offerings.

The slump in housing starts took another downturn in July, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Two stores in the Medford area, CJ Rentals and Hertz, shut down in recent months.

Cutbacks in hours over the last year also leave do-it-yourselfers and contractors with fewer options.

United Rental shuts down at noon Saturday and is closed Sunday. GP Rental stays open until 3 Saturday and is also closed Sunday.

Morrison said GP Rental started offering rental Penske moving trucks three years ago, which has kept the business afloat. But three men have been laid off in the past year leaving Brown, Morrison, Bowman and Siewell.

"I think we've lost at least 60 percent of our business," Morrison said.

"Right now if you looked into all the pawn shops, they're filled with tools from construction contractors."

Tim Anderson at the Cat Rental Store in Medford said rentals by contractors historically make up about 80 percent of the business. And a lot of contractors are out of work. Anderson's store was closed all weekend.

"I think we've gotten through the worst part," he said. "Next spring we're going to get better."

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