Equipment rental, also called plant hire in some countries (in the UK for instance), is a service industry providing machinery, equipment and tools of all kinds and sizes (from earthmoving to powered access, from power generation to hand-held tools, etc.) for a limited period of time to final users, mainly to construction contractors but also to industry and individual consumers.
Equipment rental is a relatively new industry, first developed in Anglo-Saxon countries. The American Rental Association was founded as early as 1955, and the first waves of consolidation took place in the 1970s in North America, leading to the creation of companies with nationwide operations. Consolidation was slow in the 2000s but a buyout joined the two largest North American rental companies: United Rentals and RSC.
Europe is catching up since the '80s. The industry has moved from mostly family-owned small businesses to the creation of a number of international groups, some of which have an annual turnover close to €1billion. 40 of the 100 largest equipment rental companies in the world are European. The large majority of companies in the industry however still have fewer than 5 employees. Concentration in the industry is expected to renew at a fast pace, following a pause in 2008–2009 as a consequence of the international credit crunch.
The situation of the equipment rental industry in Europe varies largely from one country to another, with some markets more mature than others. Equipment rental penetration is lowest in Italy, Spain and Poland and highest in the UK and the Nordic Countries. The potential for growth is still important in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, where some countries saw a double-digit growth rate for rental in recent booming years.