COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the events industry, with some businesses faring better than others. Here, Gordon McKay, MD Engineered Solutions at Sunbelt Rentals, evaluates 2020 and looks to the future

Looking back over the last 12 months, how has business changed? What impact has COVID-19 had on your business and how have you reacted to the market?

As COVID-19 hit in early 2020, we had already announced that we would be rebranding A-Plant and its 18 sub-brands into one unified brand. We are part of UK FTSE 100 Ashtead PLC, which was already trading in the US as Sunbelt Rentals, a well-established brand founded more than 70 years ago. With Sunbelt Rentals’ market-leading position, it made absolute sense to expand the brand across the UK.

The rebrand has strengthened the company’s global position, but more importantly, uniting all its businesses into a single brand has brought those specialist teams closer together and working towards one common vision and mission. This makes for an incredibly powerful customer service proposition. With the assurance there would be no redundancies as a result of the pandemic and with a raft of immediate positive improvements that the new CEO has led, the company has never been in better shape.

How is Sunbelt Rentals finding business currently?

As with many businesses, the pandemic has been unprecedented and we have had to respond to Government information on a daily basis. Accredited as an essential service provider, we mobilised our teams to help maintain UK infrastructure and ensured that essential services continued to operate. Not surprising, the pandemic had the same effect on ourselves as was felt by everyone in the events industry. Thankfully, the unified business helped us diversify to our other market sectors. This has proven beneficial and we have been trading at pre-COVID levels for some time.

Sunbelt Rentals has been instrumental in the creation of COVID-19 testing centres. By taking on this project, what have you learned?

Our specialist teams have forged a powerful operation for emergency response. They have designed and managed the rollout of more than 450 testing sites across the UK.

This has been a huge undertaking by Sunbelt Rentals, with installations including more than 270,000 pieces of equipment. The project has included site surveys, design, installation and the continued management and running of all temporary site infrastructure. This includes audits and improvement reviews to match requirements as the COVID situation evolves. We have continued to introduce new products, improve health and safety, reduce operating costs and reduce environmental impact, as well as decontaminating and decommissioning sites.

Sunbelt Rentals

Recent contracts have had quite an impact on the business. Are you looking to move into event overlay?

We have supplied to events for many years but COVID has accelerated the opportunity to package a fully-managed service that dovetails perfectly with the event industry.

We all know the event industry is fairly unique compared to other temporary works sectors. Our director for event infrastructure solutions [newly-appointed] will work alongside our event team who hold current event relationships and build a wider understanding of customer needs to add more value and expertise as a strategic partner.

Would it be fair to say that COVID-19 has had a positive impact on your business? 

Without a doubt. After the initial dip, we recovered quite quickly, and the fact that we mobilised more than 450 COVID sites over a few months, whilst rebranding 200 depots, 1,200 vehicles, 3,700 uniforms and 20,000 rental assets, all in a pandemic – that has got to be a world-class achievement. However, we’re also proud of our decision not to take advantage of any Government financial support or customer cancellation policies, which we saw as an essential lifeline to others who needed it more.

Moving forward, how will you be increasing your service offering?

Our previous brands operated independently so you might have hired temporary roadways from Live Trakway or air conditioning from Rapid Climate Control without an appreciation of the other 17 specialists in our group. Now, under one brand, as a managed service, access to equipment solutions is endless. Our appetite for innovation will see us investing more into environmental and sustainable technologies.

Not only do we include eco-friendly essentials like electric plant and powered access, trackway and fencing, B-rated accommodation, solar lighting, traffic management, low emission power generation and climate control, our offer extends into sustainable ancillary services too, such as alternative fuels like hydrotreated vegetable oil.

Another clear differentiator is our more technical equipment solutions, such as aerial and ground surveys, environmental pollution monitoring, weather monitoring, safety and medical equipment, digital communications and decontamination services. Our “Sunbelt 360” services can source any other rental solution through our strategic partnerships to ensure an events “one-stop-shop”.

Sunbelt Rentals

COVID-19 hugely impacted on events/festivals. Do you still see a future in the sector? If so, how do you plan to play your part?

The sector will recover, without a doubt, but many events will need the support of established suppliers who are passionate about events and can guarantee availability and reliability, and be dependable to manage the rental solution without having to source hundreds of different suppliers. The wider offer will allow customers to reduce costs, lower haulage emissions, reduce administration, avoid duplication and use a socially responsible company who goes way beyond just ticking a box.

In terms of event contracts/projects, how is 2021 looking for Sunbelt?

We are bolstering our offer with more infection control measures, such as sanitising stations, visitor temperature monitoring and full decontamination services to help events return quicker.

We’ve invested heavily this year on even more sustainable technologies and are already supplying these across the UK, so we’re more than ready to get back into the fields with our event customers again and make it happen.