When I first joined Rental Management a little over seven years ago and later covered my first American Rental Association (ARA) Leadership Conference, I was warmly greeted by many rental store owners and managers, particularly those from Minnesota.
This gregarious group of rental veterans all seemed to get along, smile, laugh and simply enjoy what they do.
As time has gone on, I’ve been invited to join members of the ARA of Minnesota for their annual ice fishing expedition, something I’ve been able to decline since they do this during our busiest time of year, producing our largest issues and supplements. Also, I was born and raised in California and the appeal of ice fishing escapes me.
The group also has suggested that I might consider joining one of their annual motorcycles rides, but again I’ve had to politely decline, mostly because I’ve never ridden a motorcycle in my life and my wife isn’t too keen on the idea of me starting now.
None of that, however, stopped me from making a trip to the Minneapolis area during this past summer and making stops at four independent rental stores in two days. I’d like to thank Steve Wagner at A-1 Minnetonka Rental in Wayzata, Rachel O’Brien at J & F Reddy Rents in Saint Louis Park, Andy Way at A to Z Rental Center in Eden Prairie and Doug Haas at Crown Rental in Burnsville and Rosemount for generously taking time out of their schedules during a busy time of year to offer tours of their facilities and talk about the rental business in their area.
The result is our special report, profiling these four independents. Each person had a unique, but similar story to tell. For example, Wagner and O’Brien are both second-generation and will be celebrating 50th anniversaries in business after taking over the companies from their fathers who coincidentally launched their rental stores in 1963.
A to Z Rental in Eden Prairie is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and almost every family member works there including the store’s founder, Jim Way and his wife, Jean, with their two children, Andy and Kim, heavily involved in the day-to-day operation of the business. Now, Andy and Kim’s children are working in the store when they can.
Doug Haas founded Crown Rental in 1988, so he will be celebrating his 25th anniversary in business this year and he now has two locations with three of his four children working at the company.
Each of these independents has found different niches to survive and thrive by meeting the needs of customers in their respective suburbs of Minneapolis.
For example, Wagner’s store is located almost a stone’s throw from Lake Minnetonka, so he’s found a rental demand for pontoon boat trailers as well as tools and equipment to build docks, like post pounders.
O’Brien focuses on lawn and garden as well as home improvement equipment, but the company also does a brisk business with truck and trailer rentals and even has a separate company to rent four-door sedans and 15-passenger vans.
At A to Z Rental, carnival games have become a key business segment catering to churches and schools. During the recession, Haas started selling dry ice to supplement revenue and like many independents, also offers propane, promoting the fact they fill tanks to capacity when others don’t.
It’s stories like these that show the resiliency, creativity and passion people feel in the equipment rental industry and why this industry continues to outperform the industries its serves in challenging times and is forecast to show revenue growth in 2013 that is four times the growth of the general economy in the United States this year.
It’s also why the exhibit floor for The Rental Show 2013 in Las Vegas sold out earlier than in previous years and registration continues to pace ahead of last year. This also is our annual pre-show issue, so you can learn more about what to expect at the show, scheduled for Feb. 10-13 at The Sands Expo and Convention Center, by checking out The Rental Show section starting on page 34.
Wayne Walley is editor for Rental Management, the official magazine of the American Rental Association, 1900 19th St., Moline, IL 61265. He can be reached at 800-334-2177, ext. 253, or 309-277-4253; fax 309-764-2747; firstname.lastname@example.org.