Editor’s note: Mike Blaisdell, vice president, Bunce Rental, Tacoma, Wash., will become the second person from his company to serve as president of the American Rental Association (ARA) when he takes over the position at the conclusion of The Rental Show 2013 in Las Vegas. Blaisdell is following in the footsteps of one of his mentors, Jack Greenfield, president, Bunce Rental, who was ARA president in 1994. “My two mentors — Jack and Mark Greenfield — have been very involved in ARA. Early on, they were always very good at nudging and urging me to go to the local meetings and to get involved. It became second nature,” Blaisdell says. “You participate because of the value you get. We’ve gotten so much back by being involved in ARA.” Blaisdell recently spoke with Rental Management about becoming ARA’s 51st president. An edited version of that conversation follows.
RM: Bunce Rental joined ARA in 1968 and the company has shown its commitment to ARA throughout the years by having people volunteer for the association in a number of capacities. Why?
Mike Blaisdell: Bunce Rental has been in the rental business since 1946. Our involvement with ARA goes back to as early as 1957. Like many entrepreneurs from the 1950s and 1960s, Norman Greenfield knew the importance of being involved in an association and the invaluable networking that came with that involvement. Norman Greenfield, his sons, Jack and Mark Greenfield, and I have volunteered at all levels of ARA — state, local and regional; ARA committees; and ARA national leadership. All four of us have served on the ARA board as Region Eight director and Jack served as ARA president in 1994.
Volunteering has been important for not only the growth of our company, but also for our personal growth. Jack and Mark were always very good at nudging and urging me to go to the local meetings and to get involved. It became second nature. You participate because of the value you get. We’ve gotten so much back by being involved in ARA. As an ARA volunteer, I have learned the most from the networking opportunities and relationships I have developed. I continue to learn new ideas and strategies that I have been able to take back and implement in our business.
If we can give back while we’re doing that, it’s a great thing. The cliché that people will always get more out of volunteering than they put in is true. We also believe that serving your profession makes your own professional life better and we have been honored to give back to a profession that has been very good to us.
RM: What have you learned during your year as ARA president-elect?
Blaisdell: We are involved in a great industry and are fortunate to be part of an association that is recognized as the industry’s leader. We are guided by a very focused and dynamic strategic plan that spells out the goals and objectives of our association. We have strong leadership, a very dedicated staff and great members who volunteer their time to work on association activities. I believe that volunteer involvement is what makes ARA such an exceptional association.
RM: There is a time commitment to serve in ARA leadership. How are you handling that with your business responsibilities?
Blaisdell: It truly is a team effort and I am fortunate to have a strong management team at Bunce Rental that affords me the ability to serve ARA. Having the support of our owners, Jack and Mark Greenfield, also has been key. Each of our locations has a store manager who manages the day-to-day operations at their stores and our service manager, Mark Hafterson, is invaluable in managing the company in my absence. In addition, Chris Wehrman [ARA’s executive vice president and CEO] and ARA staff members do an excellent job in managing our time commitment, knowing that our businesses are what come first.
RM: In your opinion, what makes ARA membership valuable and what more can the association do for members or to attract more members?
Blaisdell: I see the value of ARA as providing opportunities to network and address common issues, as well as offering a platform of programs and services to enhance the success of our company. I feel that the people who belong to and are active in the ARA are, without a doubt, the most successful people in our industry. They give back and add value to others. For me, those are the people I want to meet and get to know.
I also have learned over the years that to leverage that value, membership by itself does not make you successful — you have to become involved and surround yourself with the people who are successful in the industry.
As an association we are always looking at ways to attract more members and encourage more member involvement. ARA’s active or engaged members see the value ARA provides. They understand the value of ARA’s industry leadership role, involvement in government affairs, the value in attending The Rental Show and the many other programs and services ARA provides. To the “engaged member” the value is a “no-brainer.” For others, though, sometimes these “values” are not enough to persuade them to become more engaged or even be inclined to join ARA. You always will have varying levels of member engagement as it comes down to personal choice and value.
Therefore, I see our job as two-fold: making sure we are communicating the value of ARA to the members and finding ways to get members to interact, and use and take advantage of that value to build member engagement. I encourage all members to take a look at the products and services ARA offers as well as the opportunities to be active and involved in your association and your industry.
RM: What ARA products and services does Bunce Rental use?
Blaisdell: Over the years we have taken advantage of many of the products and services offered by ARA. We always attend The Rental Show, subscribe to all of the publications (Rental Management, Rental Pulse, ARA Advantage and more), use the ARA Professional Driver Education Program, the Cost of Doing Business Report, the Compensation and Benefits Report, the Rental Market Monitor™, the Forms and Resources manuals, the Managing Risk manuals, the Business Line Series, the Best Practices Guides, the Lending Library, the Rental Careers job board and participate in webinars — the list really goes on and on. All of these products and services are great tools for our business and contribute to the ongoing success of our business.
RM: You’ve also been Region Eight director and involved on a state and local level. Why are state and local associations so important?
Blaisdell: I see our state, local and provincial associations as a priority. There is no better way to reach more members and develop our future association leaders than through our state, local and provincial associations. One of the great benefits of ARA membership is that you are automatically a member of your state association. State and local meetings provide great networking, relationship building, educational and leadership opportunities. State and local associations also are becoming more involved with government affairs. In fact, many states have very active government affairs programs in place. State and local associations also offer opportunities to become more involved with ARA through serving on an ARA committee and involvement with the ARA government affairs program as well as other opportunities in association leadership.
RM: You also have been involved in the government affairs as a member of ARAPAC and attending ARA’s National Legislative Caucus. Can you describe the value of this segment of ARA programs to the membership?
Blaisdell: I really believe in the value of advocating for our industry and a major benefit of belonging to ARA is its very active government affairs program. The government is constantly enacting new laws that affect the way we do business. Whether its tax-related issues, health care issues, OSHA regulations or industry-specific legislation, government agencies are impacting our businesses and all of their decisions affect our bottom lines. ARA’s government affairs program is our eyes and ears on Capitol Hill and our voice in Washington, D.C. ARA’s influence in Washington, D.C., was at the forefront last May when ARA President Mike Flesher represented ARA members by providing testimony to the House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access about the effect of the estate tax on small business. ARA received that opportunity due to the work of our government affairs program and the relationships our members continue to build through our annual legislative caucus.
RM: What do you see as the role of the ARA Foundation?
Blaisdell: The ARA Foundation has excelled at making a positive difference in the equipment rental industry for the benefit of members and the industry. I see the role of the Foundation to assist and support our members and the equipment rental industry through educational opportunities, advice and assistance — being there for our members when they need us.
RM: What do you get from attending The Rental Show?
Blaisdell: I first attended The Rental Show in 1984. The networking, camaraderie, educational opportunities, and the “wheeling and dealing” on the show floor sold me on my career in the industry. Here I am, years later, and I still feel the same excitement and anticipation for The Rental Show each year. The opportunities to see friends, meet new friends, see the equipment, take advantage of show specials and learn new ways of doing things make The Rental Show a “can’t miss” event for me.
RM: Why should rental store owners and managers be at The Rental Show? What do you see as the value of the show to the industry?
Blaisdell: My perspective is rental store owners and managers can’t afford not to be at The Rental Show. From a pure dollar and cents perspective, our company has always found the savings we gain from just buying equipment at the show more than covers the cost to attend. To me, the real value is in the networking, meeting and learning from your peers in the industry, educational opportunities, and the ability to meet with suppliers and manufacturers on the show floor. ARA’s slogan for the show this year is “Right on the Money — the show for people serious about profit.” That is the essence of The Rental Show — it’s the show that saves you money and helps you make money.
RM: When you look back at ARA’s history, there was a time that each new president would have a new agenda and direction. The strategic plan now brings continuity and each president works within the plan, emphasizing the key areas they feel are most meaningful for the members and helping them be more successful. When you take over in February, what are your goals as you start off your presidency?
Blaisdell: Our association is fortunate to have a very focused strategic plan that is updated on an ongoing basis. The strategic plan is our guide — our road map if you will — with defined goals and objectives. A hallmark for any successful organization is member engagement, which is core to our strategic plan. As ARA president, my role is not to just serve our members, but to strive to involve members. We are all part of the equipment rental industry, but we also are a “people industry” and, if you want to make connections, you need to engage people face-to-face. One of the best ways to engage our members is by volunteering. That is how I became involved in ARA, by being involved and volunteering at the local association level. I still feel the greatest opportunity for involving members exists at the state, local and provincial association level and one of my goals is to continue strengthening this tremendous resource.
RM: When you complete your year as president and make the transition to ARA chairman, what, in your eyes, will make this coming year a success for you? What would you want to be your legacy?
Blaisdell: Over this past year ARA has continued to see increases in new membership as well as membership retention. Success would be keeping that membership growth momentum going and engaging more members at the state, local and provincial association levels. I am so impressed with the innovative ways some of our state associations are involving members and bringing forward new volunteers. The potential is there for all of our state, local and provincial associations to do the same.
Much of my success over the years I credit to being an active ARA member, which has strengthened my involvement within our great industry. In 1984, I was fresh out of college and, at the urging of the Greenfields, attended my first local association meeting. In 1986, I was asked and later elected secretary/treasurer of the South Sound Rental Association and thus began my association involvement. I have served ARA in many capacities throughout the years because I was asked and encouraged by other leaders in our industry. My hope is my legacy will be one of “paying it forward” by asking and encouraging others to become involved with ARA and seeing them grow both personally and professionally from the experience.
RM: What do you see as the association’s greatest challenges over the next year and beyond?
Blaisdell: I see several challenges and opportunities for the association. We need to continue to identify new and potential volunteer leaders emphasizing the importance of recruiting, involving and appreciating others’ talents. It is so important that, as leaders, we seek out and ask members to become involved.
We need to increase the visibility to the membership of ARA’s products and services. ARA is the catalyst for sharing expertise, delivering key business services and leading the advocacy of issues necessary for the success of their members. Sometimes many of our services are the best kept secret around. When talking with members about specific products or services I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “I didn’t know ARA provided that.” We must work to meet the changing needs of our members. Our members are faced with more challenges than ever before. Compliance issues, the impact of legislation on small business, marketing, risk management and access to capital are just some of the areas that keep evolving and providing more challenges to our members.
RM: What do you see as the greatest challenges the industry faces over the next year and beyond?
Blaisdell: Financing and access to capital continues to be a challenge. We are a capital intense industry and money is still very tight. ARA has recently completed a publication to assist members in applying for credit at lending institutions, which provides a lot of insight and suggestions on how to work with and approach lending sources. The Affordable Care Act and its tax and legislative implications bring much uncertainty and many challenges to not only our industry, but also our entire country. I don’t think anyone really knows the extent of this legislation and how it will impact our businesses. Another challenge is the ever-increasing cost of doing business and how as an industry we must adapt to maintain profitability.
RM: What is your opinion about the current state of the equipment rental industry? The industry is performing better than the industries it serves and it seems there is a window of opportunity to expose more people to the rental option and continue to increase rental penetration.
Blaisdell: We have a great window of opportunity to educate our customers on why renting equipment really makes sense. With money still tight for many contractors, businesses and consumers, renting the equipment is a much better option than using their capital to purchase and then store, maintain and repair a comparable, low-cost piece of equipment that is not designed to last. ARA has been very proactive in exposing more people to rental through marketing and RentalHQ, but we need to make sure we are educating our customers as well. We need to make sure our sales and counter people are “selling” the rental concept and why it makes sense to rent. Sell the benefits of renting versus buying and educate customers as to why our “rental-duty” equipment is so much better than the low-cost equipment they can buy down the street. We are the rental professionals with the tools they need when they need them ensuring the right equipment for their job.
President-elect of the American Rental Association
Mike Blaisdell’s parents were teachers, so he says he always knew he would go to college. Along the way, however, he began working at Bunce Rental in Tacoma, Wash., when he was in high school and college.
He wanted to be in business or finance, but when Jack and Mark Greenfield took him to The Rental Show in 1984, it solidified his decision to turn the equipment rental industry into his chosen career.
By the time he graduated from Western Washington University in 1984 with a degree in business administration, he already had agreed to work at Bunce Rental full-time. Since then, he has worked his way up to the position of vice president and is now a minority owner of the Greenfield’s family business.
At the same time, the Greenfields encouraged Blaisdell to get involved with the American Rental Association (ARA), which led to his participation at the local, state and regional level, leading up to his involvement in committees and more on the national level, and his election to president-elect.
Born in Kodiak, Alaska, Blaisdell grew up in Puyallup, Wash. He and his wife, Leslie, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 2012. They have two children, daughter Stefanie, who graduated from college in 2011 and currently works for Bunce’s party and event division, American Party Place, and son Shawn, who is a senior in college.
Outside of work, Blaisdell has several interests, including an extensive collection of football memorabilia (see story on page 28) and Triumph sports cars. He says he enjoys spending time with his wife, watching sports, coaching youth lacrosse, visiting wineries and getting together with friends and family.
“Over the years I have coached youth sports — football, basketball, soccer, baseball — and have been coaching youth lacrosse the past six years. I have served on the board of our youth lacrosse association and my wife and I continue to be involved in our growing lacrosse community,” Blaisdell says.