Building new rental traditions

The history of J & F Reddy Rents in Saint Louis Park, Minn., is an atypical story of an independent rental store in the Minneapolis area now run by a second-generation owner that finds new things that work to be successful after 50 years in business.

Rachel O’Brien, J & F Reddy Rents president, has seen the general rental store grow, add party and event, sell off the party department and now get back into tables and chairs.

Started by her father, Jack Fitzgerald, in 1963, J & F moved into its current facility, a 7,000-sq-ft. building on about a two-acre lot, in 1989. “My dad started in a 1,500-sq.-ft. space with general tools and small hand tools. He kept growing and then he had 3,000 sq. ft. on a busy corner in Saint Louis Park and we did party until 1998 when we sold that department,” O’Brien says.

She recently decided to add tables and chairs to the company’s inventory because “with this new economy, it seems like party is the only thing really growing.”

Her father started two stores in the area, J & F Reddy Rents and Hiawatha Reddy Rents in Minneapolis, which is run separately by O’Brien’s brother, Brian Fitzgerald.

“Brian started in 1976. He purchased an existing trailer and truck rental place and expanded that, but they are separate businesses. We run them separately with separate inventory,” O’Brien says.

At J & F Reddy Rents, they rent equipment like Dingo compact utility loaders and skid-steers as well as 15-ft. moving trucks, and 20- and 24-ft. straight trucks. “Smaller stores like ours have to get bigger with their equipment, because other people go in for the easy stuff. Now we have an S130 Bobcat, a 36-ft. boom lift and the loaders,” she says.

The company also rents four-door midsize sedans and 15-passenger vans under a separate name — Adare Car Rental — as well as trailers, pickups and cargo vans.

The company’s target customers are homeowners, smaller general contractors and landscapers.

After the economic downturn, O’Brien said the company cut back on expenses and was slower to purchase new equipment. “This past year or two, we have gotten back into buying more as business is on an uptick in our area. We are seeing contractors and landscapers we haven’t seen for awhile, so we brought in a new Toro stump grinder and trencher this year as well as a Billy Goat hydrostatic overseeder,” she says.

They also rent chillers, aerators, slit seeders and more, all nicely organized in a rental yard that has touches you don’t usually see at a rental store, like flowering planters near the entrance and a converted wheelbarrow planter repainted with a painted “Welcome,” “Thank You” and “Reddy Rents” on the sides.

They have 10 full- or part-time employees and also offer tool repair as they have a full-time mechanic to keep the equipment and trucks running.

“We’ve been focusing on homeowners because they are spending and doing things themselves now,” O’Brien says.

One way she has promoted tool rental is by offering education. For example, each Saturday at 10 a.m., the store offers a
one-hour “How to Refinish Hardwood Floors Workshop.” They teach a step-by-step process of prepping, sanding and finishing wood floors, allowing potential customers to “test drive” the equipment before using it at home. The cost of the workshop is
$19 and the fee is applied to the rental of a sanding kit.

In addition, J & F sponsors a “Ladies Day” each year with seminars on a variety of home improvement topics. This year’s focus was on using saws and sanders as well as how to do wainscoting.

“We had 17 women this year, so it’s growing again. The first year we did it, we had 37 participants and since then, we’ve been getting about a dozen each year, but it’s been worth it,” O’Brien says.

To market the business, O’Brien is focusing online. The company recently launched a new website that allows customers to request a quote and more. “Now we have equipment specs, photos and more on the site. We also can update pricing, add items or take things off the site, which is great. We also do every type of free listing we can for our floor sanding classes and we have sold boxes on Craigslist,” O’Brien says.