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American Rental Association Celebrates 50 Years in Orlando

Mon February 27, 2006 - National Edition
Christine Coleman

The 50th Anniversaries for the American Rental Association (ARA) and The Rental Show combined for a true celebration in Orlando Feb. 6 to 9, bringing the pre-show expectation of the greatest anniversary party the rental industry has ever seen to large-scale reality.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime event for the entire rental industry, a chance to gather together and to celebrate not only the past 50 years of ARA, but also the bright future that lies ahead for the rental industry overall,” said Chris Wehrman, ARA CEO.

That bright future could be observed in smiles as bright as the sunshine that streamed through the glass front of the Orange County Convention Center’s North/South Building. The smiles, and sunshine, were plentiful throughout the week — for rental attendees and exhibitors alike.

One of the biggest smiles as the show ended was on the face of Daniel C. Kemphues of Rental City in Champaign, Ill. His rental business — a 42-year ARA member — won the 2006 Ford F-250 pickup truck that ARA awarded Feb. 9 as a way to thank members for their support in building the association. Hundreds of hopeful members who deposited thousands of entry tickets throughout the week crowded into the back of the exhibit hall at noon in anticipation of the drawing. Suspense increased as four other finalists selected a key fob and then pressed a button to see if the F-250 horn would honk. Cheers erupted as the remaining key fob for Kemphues produced the winning sound.

The truck giveaway capped off a week of special anniversary events that began just before The Rental Show officially started. The pre-show Events & Tents educational program concluded with the “End Zone Extravaganza,” a party in honor of the Super Bowl that attracted football fans — including table after table decked out in Steelers jerseys and gold “Terrible Towels” — with smiles on every face.

“The 50th anniversary provided an opportunity to celebrate the industry as never before, with these events designed for all to relax and enjoy and spend time with family and peers from throughout the worldwide rental industry,” Wehrman said.

After a full day of educational seminars on the first day, “Dancing Through the Decades” officially kicked off The Rental Show in spectacular fashion, with ’60s and ’70s fashions proving the most popular attire choice. Finding a spot on, or even near, the dance floor was tricky since so many of the 2,000-plus party-goers found the music irresistible. Feb. 9’s “Rock, Roll and Rent” was strictly 1950s, with poodle skirts and leather jackets abounding. While dancing was popular, the ’50s-themed food, décor and entertainment plus the Epcot IllumiNations pyrotechnics show provided many smiles as well.

The crowds Feb. 7 were more serious, yet still smiling, as the humor and warmth of keynote speaker Barbara Bush captivated the standing-room-only gathering of 2,500. Just before Bush took the stage, Rental Hall of Fame inductee Leo Swan of EDCO/Equipment Development Co. had the crowd laughing during his induction remarks. Fellow Hall of Fame inductees Dan Kaplan of Daniel Kaplan and Associates and the late Howard Burnett, represented by his son Forrest, also addressed the audience.

The keynote session was followed by the trade show, one of The Rental Show’s key components. Seeking out and purchasing new rental products was a priority for many attendees. That prompted more smiles from many exhibiting companies and even independent manufacturer’s representatives.

“It was a record-breaking show for the M.J. Miller Co.,” said owner M.J. Miller.

Exhibiting companies all throughout the show floor shared positive results.

“It’s been a great show,” said Chuck Hutchinson of Bil-Jax, which had a booth in the light construction/general tool department plus a smaller one in party/event. “We always enjoy The Rental Show. It’s the one show we look forward to each and every year.”

Keith Watterson of Resilient Furniture echoed similar comments.

“This was a great show for us, plus Orlando is a great venue. The city really draws the rental dealers.”

First-year exhibitor IntelEvent had a fantastic show, said Andrew Ehler. “We knew what The Rental Show was about, always knew we wanted to come and exhibit, and were pleasantly surprised with our great results.”

The news was equally good for the Haulotte Group in the heavy construction area.

“The Rental Show is really important to us,” said Isabelle La Plume. “It was a very good show.”

Mike Ross of Takeuchi Manufacturing was similarly happy. “We’re very pleased. It’s been a really good show, with more sales than last year,” he said.

One of the show’s biggest — and constant — smiles was from Leonard Hawk, first president and one of the founding members of ARA. The Rental Show in Orlando was far beyond anything he and the other charter members could possibly have dreamed of back in 1955. Not having attended an ARA convention since the mid-1980s, he was amazed at the sheer size of the show floor and marveled at the contrast it provided to the early shows. Yet he also was very pleased to see the interaction among attendees, as that banding together to learn more about each other’s businesses was a driving force in creating ARA. And he delighted in autographing copies of the book “American Rental Association: 50 Years of Progress” and sharing comments with those whose books he signed.

With the 50th Anniversary celebrations now concluded, mark your calendar for The Rental Show 2007, coming Feb. 7 to 10 to the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

As the next 50 years get under way, The Rental Show’s core components of new products, education and networking — first set forth by Leonard Hawk and his peers — will be back. And more smiles are sure to be found all along the way.

(The article was reprinted courtesy the American Rental Association.)

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