“Twenty-five years in equipment rental.”

Behind the quick sum-up by Reid Stilwell lies deep experience: inside sales, outside sales and now branch management in North Carolina. He runs a large rental location in the Charlotte metro that also serves as a Center of Excellence and training facility, making it a natural test site for the company’s COVID safety precautions.

reid stillwell sitting on brick stairs
Branch manager Reid Stillwell says his team is proud of their role in the COVID response: “There’s a real value to getting feedback from the front line.”

As Stilwell explains it, “When COVID first escalated, the Emergency Operations Center was quick to communicate that we all needed to change how we do certain things in the business. So when they asked us to do testing in Charlotte, we understood the importance and were glad to help. We began assessing different types of dispensers that could be used to clean and disinfect the touch-points on our equipment.”

The initial testing under real-life conditions proved valuable, says Stilwell, and the results evolved as the team provided feedback and more research was done. It was a disciplined process: the branch provided each analysis to the operations excellence team in the region, who fed it up the chain to the centralized Emergency Response group managing United Rentals’ COVID planning. Photos of the disinfectant procedures, taken by the branch for the Emergency Response group, became the basis for website and jobsite safety communications.

Safety from the start

“As customers come through the branch, we let them know what safety precautions we were taking, so they could feel comfortable doing business with us,” Stilwell notes. “At the very beginning of the pandemic, I don’t think customers realized the impact the virus would have. That has definitely changed. Now they appreciate how we stick to the protocols and how careful we are with things like curb-side pickup and paperless contact. They can call in the rental, pull into the yard and stay in their truck; we load them up and they’re on their way. Everything’s coordinated at a safe distance.”

As Stilwell reflects on the larger effort, he feels the company has handled COVID well. “One of the best things about United Rentals is the communication, which in this case helped us do our best in preventing the spread. The leaders keep us informed about more than just the nuts and bolts of policies and procedures. They also make sure we stay one big family. Managing through this pandemic has been a balancing act between responding quickly and learning as you go, and I feel United’s done an excellent job with that.”

Different and better

Stilwell had direct interactions with the Emergency Response Team two years earlier when Hurricane Florence came through the Carolinas. The Charlotte branch became the staging area for campers used by displaced employees and ERT responders.

“The RVs and trailers were brought to my branch. My team made sure they were clean, with the refrigerators, lights and air conditioning working,” he recalls, “because the last thing those folks without homes needed to worry about was something not working.”

“Based on what I’ve seen in my years in rental, I would say United is best overall at disaster response,” Stilwell emphasizes. “The company’s preparedness is always thorough, whether it’s a hurricane like Florence, or a wildfire or COVID — and whether it’s equipment that needs to get somewhere, or masks and gloves. We pull together because we know we need to minimize the impact on our team members and our customers, and that lets us support our communities.”

Ultimately, he feels the pandemic is similar to natural disasters in terms of a structured solution, with the ERT reflecting more than just the logistics of the efforts.

“You assess, you execute, you get your people out of harm’s way and you keep the communications going with your customers. We need that ERT structure with COVID, and I don’t know anyone else who does it like United Rentals does. I’m a firm believer that our customers and our employees realize that we’re here to support each other no matter what. I’m very proud to be a part of this organization.”

Chemical Emergency
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