What was behind the Sunbelt Rentals rebrand?

By Andy Wright01 August 2022

IRN columnist Andy Wright, CEO of Sunbelt Rentals UK, explains what he learned from the rebranding of A-Plant to Sunbelt Rentals in 2020 - from how the initiative could support a wider business strategy, through to its successful execution.

The rental company underwent a rebrand in 2020. (Photo: Sunbelt Rentals)

The subject of branding and more specifically the art of rebranding, as you might expect, remains very close to my heart. Many of you will be aware that A-Plant re-branded to Sunbelt Rentals UK in June of 2020, after announcing the move in the March of the same year - as it turned out a full 19 days before the first Covid-19 lockdown!

A-Plant had been around for a very long time, was the market leader in the UK and was consequently a famous name in the European equipment rental sphere. It had a loyal customer base as well as a group of, mainly, long term employees.

Why did A-Plant rebrand to Sunbelt Rentals?

So, given these particular circumstances, why did we choose to rebrand the business?

As I have said, A-Plant was the largest rental business in the UK with the broadest range of equipment, but it operated as over 20 specialist businesses, all with great knowledge and expertise in their own fields. This was, however, both a strength and a weakness because many of them operated under separate identities and were not obviously part of the same group.

Over the preceding years the business had grown both organically and through the acquisition of market-leading brands. Historically, the business chose to retain the identity of each acquired company in order to support brand loyalty, both with employees and customers. Although this strategy has merit, it wasn’t able to extract the maximum benefit from the opportunities that the business had across all of its expert business areas, and this was of little benefit to customers who required a broader rental solution from a single supplier.

What made the Sunbelt Rentals rebrand a success?

So how did we deliver a successful rebrand given the obvious risk of damaging the existing brand value of the business and consequently losing market share and profitability?

Well, it helps when you have one of the most valuable brands in the rental sector within the group already. Sunbelt Rentals is the brand that we face the market with in both the USA and Canada and this has been highly successful, as I’m sure that anyone from within the rental industry will testify. So much so that Ashtead Group plc, which is our parent company, is the most successful stock on the UK stock market over the last twelve years. We are all proud of this and the Sunbelt Rentals story is at the core of this success.

We consulted extensively with employees and customers around the new strategy, the need for the rebrand and its role in the cultural change that we were intending to make. Everyone felt that they had played a part in deciding on the future of the business. It’s critical that you get the inside, onside in a change of this magnitude and complexity. You have to win the hearts and minds of the team if you want to deliver successful plans.

The rebrand was part of a broader strategy around the unification of the business in the UK, the clarification of our value proposition, and our approach to the market. Named Project Unify, we set off on a journey to create a joined up rental giant that could offer a unique range of products and services to our customers, and the creation of Sunbelt Rentals UK was the vehicle for the strategy.

Importantly, the rebrand wasn’t the strategy itself, but it enabled people within the business to understand why we were doing it and they were able to see how they and their own business was able to fit into the broader plan.

Andy Wright Chief Executive Officer Andy Wright, CEO of Sunbelt Rentals UK. (Photo: Sunbelt Rentals UK)

We worked very hard to understand what was important to people from an identity perspective and we recognised that their old brands helped them to identify themselves as experts within their own field. They didn’t want to lose this. We ensured that the plan to rebrand dealt with all of these issues.

In deciding to use the Sunbelt Rentals brand we made a commitment to the American and Canadian businesses that we would uphold the brand values that already existed and that we wouldn’t do anything to damage them.

We ensured that the whole of the team in the UK were aware of this commitment and that they supported it. We also ensured that our UK core values were aligned with the new brand and those of our teams.

And finally, we communicated the life out of the change, both internally and externally using every tool at our disposal, in a very co-ordinated plan of action.

Enabling change

Rebranding an established business is fraught with risk. But it can be done and done well, when it’s done for good reason and with a mutually agreed objective and outcome clearly defined and then clearly communicated.

It’s certainly been an integral enabler for the changes that we have made in our UK business over the last two years.

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