At The Home Depot, we know that the most sustainable tool isn’t necessarily the new one on the shelf; often, it’s the one that is rented, serviced and shared. One person who knows about the impact of tool rental is Tony English. As the Senior Director of Merchandising for Home Depot Rental, Tony has joined Eco Actions to explain exactly what makes tool rental such an environmentally friendly option.
EA: For anyone who hasn’t rented tools from The Home Depot, what do they need to know?
TE: First, it’s important to know that we rent everything from power tools to trucks. We have over 420,000 tools in our rental program, which includes indoor tools, outdoor tools, heavy equipment and power tools. We take pride in being in stock, which means that customers don’t have to worry about showing up and not being able to rent the tool they want.
But to rent a tool, you really only need to know what you want to accomplish. We rent such a huge variety of tools that we have something for practically every project. And one of our objectives is to match people with the right tools for their project or need. The Home Depot’s tool rental associates are extremely knowledgeable. They are essentially project consultants. So, for example, we rent six different tillers with varying functionality. When gardeners come in to rent a tiller, the job of the rental associate is to ask about soil type, project area and the time allocated to get the job done in order to send them home with the best tiller for their project.
EA: What makes tool rental such a great option for pros and DIYers alike?
TE: The most immediate benefit of tool rental for most customers is both financial and practical. Rental rates are around 5–10% of the cost to buy the same tools. If you are looking at the return on investment, you have to use a tool you buy many times over to recoup the purchase price. With a rental tool, you are only paying for that single use.
Not only is renting less expensive, but the tools we rent at The Home Depot are also high-quality. We buy the most reliable tools, from the best brands, in each category. That means that renters can access tools that are high-performing and with more features. In many cases, they can rent a higher performing tool than they can otherwise afford. Ultimately, that improves their project experience and outcomes.
Tool rental is a great option for tools that are needed for occasional use, like tillers. It also makes sense for tools that homeowners don’t want to own, maintain and store like pressure washers. Tool rental also makes sense for tools that are expensive, which is why so many pros rely on Home Depot Rental to be their toolbox.
Take plumbers, for example. From time to time, plumbers need a drain camera. The product we rent retails for over $6,000 but rents for approximately $250 a day. When you consider that many contractors may not have the cash flow to make big purchases like these, the rental allows them the ability to service their customer for a job that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish otherwise, and embed the rental cost in their estimate.
EA: What makes tool rental a great option for the environment?
TE: When you look at the big picture from the sustainability perspective, renting tools is eliminating excess. It’s sharing tools. We’re satisfying hundreds of customers with one tool and optimizing the value and utilization of that one tool. That means that fewer products are being owned, stored, maintained and discarded.
For instance, we rent one tiller in particular, a Honda mid tine tiller. It’s perfect for mid-sized vegetable gardens. Most people only need a tool like this once a year, sometime between April and early June. Suppose you purchase one for your garden. You’ll incur the full cost of that tiller, including storage and maintenance. If you only use it once a year, you’ll need to empty fuel at the end of the season, which many people forget to do. If you keep that tiller for 10 years, you may use it 10 to 20 times at most.
Compare that to a rental tiller, which we will rent out about 25 times a season and which we maintain for five years. That’s 125 uses for one tool. Then, when it starts to look a little ragged but still operates well, we will sell it to an eager DIYer who will probably use it for another 15 years. Consider the 125 uses we get out of a single tool vs. the raw materials and carbon footprint required to manufacture that same number of tools required if each of our rental customers purchased a tiller of their own.
When it comes to environmental benefits, we have to consider the life cycle of tools. At The Home Depot, we perform regular maintenance on all of our rented tools to keep them in top condition. And we’re satisfying hundreds of customers with needs for that single tool within its life span. With individual ownership, tools are more likely to be disposed of prematurely because either the product wasn’t suited for the task, the tool wasn’t properly maintained or the tool was simply no longer needed.
When our rental tools reach the end of their rental period, we don’t dispose of them. They are often in good shape because they have been maintained. They just look used, so we sell them to customers – both pros and DIYers alike.
EA: How does tool rental factor into sustainable tool development and innovation?
TE: Tool rental is a testing ground for new products. If a tool does well in rental, we know it will do well on the shelf. And for customers who want to try before they buy, tool rental gives them that opportunity.
One trend that you can see right now is the adoption of more and more battery-powered tools, which supports The Home Depot’s efforts to reduce gas-powered tools like many of the outdoor power tools in a typical garage. This year, we are bringing in a wider variety of these tools with new, stronger 40V batteries, that enable us to enter new applications such as hole digging, concrete cutting and even tilling.
EA: What role do The Home Depot’s suppliers have in tool rental?
TE: They definitely play a major role. Manufacturers work with The Home Depot Rental to test products as our demanding customers, combined with the frequency of rentals, provides immediate performance and reliability feedback. Hilti, for example, is one of our most important rental partners, so much so that we are part of their design process. We are part of the design and testing processes and help introduce their new tools broadly to the North American market through our rental rentals.
For their part, Hilti not only makes great tools, but also are deeply committed to sustainability. A few years ago, The Home Depot rental team traveled to Germany and Lichtenstein to see the prototype of a new Hilti demolition hammer. It was smaller, more powerful and more ergonomically designed. We made recommendations based on our experience renting similar tools, and Hilti incorporated those features into the tool. We were the first US company to feature the innovative new tool within our rental department. That was three years ago. Today, we have 2,500 of their Pro Small Breakers available for rent. Customers love it. It’s been a great success story for both of us.