Pella, Iowa, is renowned for its Dutch heritage, its annual "Tulip Time" festival and for being the corporate home of Pella Corp., a window and door manufacturer, and Vermeer Corp., an agricultural, underground and environmental equipment manufacturer. One thing Pella didnt have, however, was an equipment rental company until Arvin TerLouw, a former farmer, decided to start Pella Rental & Sales in 1999.
TerLouw had been a successful farmer for years while also working part-time in southern Iowa, installing plastic fencing for the then-owner of Ames Rental.
"I got to talking to him about the rental business and I thought about starting a rental company for 10 years before we did it. Finally, my wife said, Youre old enough. You better jump in or forget about it," he says.
In 1999, he and his family moved back to Pella and started Pella Rental & Sales. The company is a true family business. TerLouw runs the company with his wife, Gay, and their two children, Brad and Annie. TerLouw and his wife are originally from Pella and call on other local family members to pitch in when needed.
"Brad was going to school and I said, Im going to do this and I need you. He agreed to come on board. Annie, our daughter, worked in a few places, but when we needed someone else up front at the counter, she joined the company. My wife, Gay, was more than willing to pass off answering the phone and taking care of the party and event rentals. Theres enough work for each of us and everybody has their own area. Its not always smooth sailing, but weve been fortunate," he says.
"We can argue about something all day, but at 5:30 p.m., its time for supper and we dont talk about it anymore," Brad says.
Abby, the familys dog, also serves as the companys "greeter" and is happy to play fetch with customers. "Most of our customers know Abby by name and ask to see her when they come in," TerLouw says.
TerLouw, who is currently vice president for the ARA of Iowa, initially talked to owners of other rental companies in the state who were more than 100 miles from Pella to get advice before he opened. The first person he talked to, he says, was Roger Vajgrt, owner of Home Rental Center & Sales Co. in Marshalltown, Iowa, and a former chairman of the American Rental Association (ARA) general tool shared interest group.
"He said rental is a good business, but that youre going to work lots of hours. He gave us good advice," TerLouw says.
The building that houses Pella Rental & Sales was empty for a few years before TerLouw rented the space and then later bought the 2.5-acre lot including an 11,000-sq.-ft. building and 1,000-sq.-ft. showroom.
"There used to be a railroad track in front and we couldnt see the highway. Our street was a dead end. You could see the top 15 ft. of the building and just our sign over the tracks," he says.
TerLouw describes Pella Rental & Sales as "general tool." The inventory includes skid loaders, dryers, air fans, buffers, floor sanders, carpet-care equipment, dehumidifiers, power saws, table saws, block saws, lawn-care equipment such as aerators, concrete tools, generators, scissors lifts and boom lifts. The companys largest piece of equipment, he says, is an extended forklift.
"We were pretty small and kept adding equipment. We have a long way to go," he says. "We were cautious the first year or two. When youre in a small community, everybody knows everybody, so you can beg or borrow equipment. For the first couple of years, people were still borrowing things from their neighbors, but we finally have that turned around," he says.
"We have a following now including all the different contractors. We know them well and many come in at least once a week. We also have people who come in for coffee. We always have donuts around here," Annie says.
The business is open six days a week, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., but usually closes earlier on Saturdays and during the winter.
"We also see a lot of contractors come out of Des Moines and Omaha that come to work in Pella. The big companies will rent equipment and they look for rental companies. With our location, they see us when they first drive into town and we are the only rental store in Pella," TerLouw says.
The company added some party and event equipment rental several years ago, and TerLouw says that part of the business, run by Annie, keeps growing. He said they have about 300 tables, including rounds and rectangles, in addition to around 2,000 chairs and other party and event-related equipment such as arches, candelabra and dance floors. The companys inventory also includes several tents, mostly 20 ft. by 20 ft., for backyard, birthday and graduation parties, with the largest stand-alone tent at 40 ft. by 80 ft.
"The biggest party weve handled so far had 450 people. Some weeks we might have five or six weddings. If its too large of an event, then we pass it on," Annie says.
In mid-August, Annie also was preparing for her own wedding, planning to use much of the companys inventory. "This is kind of nerve-wracking because my wedding will be kind of a showcase for what we can do with all that we have," she says.
Overall, TerLouw says business has been good this year. "I would say were equal to last year and 2007 was an excellent year. We cant complain. Were seeing customers be more conservative, thinking about what they are doing. Instead of renting something for a week, they may take it for a day or two and work a little harder and faster," he says.
"On the party end, we have things booked through November. Construction-wise, I think the year will be good. A lot of new houses have been started lately in Pella. We have the Pella Corp. here, as well as Vermeer Corp. and two pulley companies that are the largest in the world. The community is going all the time," he says.
For the first few years, TerLouw ran the business and farmed, but now he and the family all concentrate on the rental business. "You cant do everything and do it all well. Were going to run our rental business and do it as well as we can," he says.