The President’s Image Award is a business facility or store award celebrating a commitment to improving the rental industry image through a remodeling, rebuilding or renovation project. These awards were presented at the Regional Receptions on Monday, Feb. 11, at
The Rental Show in Las Vegas.
Region 1: Robinsons Hardware, Hudson, Mass. — Steve Reitter
Region 2: George’s Tool Rental, Hatfield, Pa. — Alan Wismer
Region 4: One Stop Tents & Events, Webster, Texas — Karen Keesler
Region 4: Rental World, Harlingen, Texas — Bryan Wolf
Region 7: Aspen Rent-All, Aspen, Colo. — Beth Hoff Blackmer
Region 8: Aurora Rents, Seattle — Larry Steele
Region 1: Steve Reitter, Robinsons Hardware, Hudson, Mass.
Robinsons Hardware was opened in 1874 by John Henry Robinson and John Holden as a general mercantile. In 1931, the name was changed to Robinsons Hardware Co. On Labor Day weekend of 1963, Norm and Marion Underwood took over ownership of the company. In 1978, Robinsons Hardware joined the True Value Hardware Cooperative. Jeff Underwood joined his father and brothers at the business in 1982.
In 2003, the brothers again expanded the business by adding a second location in Framingham and, in 2006, added rental at the second location.
Over the past year, there has been a lot of change in both the Hudson and Framingham locations, says Jeff, one of the company’s owners. “In our Framingham store we just completed an extensive lighting project that included replacing virtually every lighting fixture in the store with new, more energy-efficient fixtures and brighter bulbs that consume less energy. The project took more than two weeks to complete and the impact of the new lighting is dramatic. It’s like night and day,” he says.
The Hudson, Mass., location recently finished the final phase of a three-phase remodeling project. The first phase included moving the service technicians to a larger, off-site facility. “This gave them more room to work in, it allowed us to add additional technicians and it allowed us to turn equipment around faster,” he says.
The first phase included moving the rental department shop into former storage space at the back of the store. “This allows them a more suitable work space that’s better outfitted to their needs. We installed a waste oil furnace to re-use and recycle oil, and that heats both the rental displays and rental equipment shop. Previously, we would have had to truck the oil off-site.”
Phase two was to move the rental and repair counter and displays. “The former shop area has become our new rental equipment display area and we have moved the rental counter into the central corridor,” he says.
Phase three started on March 5, 2012, when the company remodeled the area that formerly housed the rental counter, installed signage and energy-efficient light fixtures. “We installed new wall units to better display our Stihl, Snapper, Honda and RedMax power equipment. We also plan to bring in the Billy Goat line of aerators, dethatchers, overseeders and blowers,” he says.
“We love how the graphics and signage look,” he says. “We hope the customers find the new display area as impressive as we do.”
Region 2: Alan Wismer, George’s Tool Rental, Hatfield, Pa.
George’s Tool Rental, Hatfield, Pa., was started in 1970 by Phil and Bertha Leber. “It was nothing more than a 900-sq.-ft. building
and accompanying house for his family to occupy,” says Alan Wismer, co-owner and president. “Located in Hatfield, Pa., the founding location has grown to buildings encompassing 22,000 sq. ft. and an inventory of over 1,000 items. In 1997, the first branch was opened in Danboro, Pa. The company switched ownership in 2004 when my wife, Marty, and I purchased the business from her father, Phil.”
In November 2011, the Wismers opened their newest branch in Horsham, Pa. “Together, our three locations employ 28 workers to serve Bucks and Montgomery counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania,” he says.
Horsham came about at an opportune time in the economy, Wismer says. “Commercial real estate values were down because of the economy, leaving us with favorable conditions for negotiating a fair price. While there had been rental companies previously located in the general vicinity, they had since closed. I felt it was important to address this lack of competition, also completing an 11-mile triangle created by our three locations. I spent many months searching for the right property, including two initial locations that both fell through before signing. I had noticed a recently vacated U-Haul location, waited until it came on the market and jumped on the opportunity,” he says.
In March 2011, the property was purchased and they began a complete renovation immediately. The buildings were stripped
to their bones, leaving a blank slate, and 6,000 sq. ft. of new structure was created, featuring a 900-sq.-ft. showroom.
Now, Wismer says, “we have polished concrete floors, a bright, open ceiling, a clean break room and all new displays for our sellable inventory. Behind-the-scenes, one can find a propane refill station, a concrete parking area and a drive-thru bay in the rear of the building. Of course, the business stays running thanks to our four full-time employees who know the ropes of the Horsham location. In addition, the store is located next to a major highway, allowing for approximately 55,000 cars to pass by every day.”
Wismer also appreciates the recognition from the President’s Image Award. “We greatly appreciate the nomination for the President’s Image Award and are excited to showcase what we have been working on in the past few years,” he says. “By increasing the size, we can reach more customers and increase the community impact of George’s Tool Rental. I intend to keep furthering our company, one branch at a time.”
Region 4: Karen Keesler, One Stop Tents and Events, Webster, Texas
One Stop Tents & Events was established in 1968. In 1994, Karen Keesler and her husband, Mark, bought the business from her father. “We set out to grow our company and continue to make a positive impact in our community. This is still a family business — our two sons, Chris and Kevin, are also a part of our business’ success and I am thankful to have my dad’s continuous support of our endeavors. He remains a great counsel to me,” Keesler says.
In 1998, the Keeslers built the 14,000-sq.-ft. facility where the business currently resides. “However, we began to outgrow the space and needed to keep up with the demands of our clients, so we decided to expand. In January of 2011, we implemented the first of three expansion and renovation phases by adding an extra 15,000 sq. ft. of warehouse. Phase two quickly followed — an additional 3,000 sq. ft. of office space — and, finally phase three, in which we completely gutted and remodeled our existing showroom and added a design center,” Keesler says.
“Our new design center allows customers to have a hands-on experience in designing their wedding theme or event tables by creating their settings with the company’s vast sample of linens. This has been a great benefit to our customers because it helps them envision their event with tangible materials,” she says.
Throughout this process, the company began to rebrand themselves inside and out, she says. “One of the most significant aspects of this rebranding was changing our name from One Stop Party Shop to One Stop Tents & Events. The community often thought we were a party retail store, rather than an event rental business, so changing the name was our first step in clearly defining to our customers what we do. Yet, our business practices and focus on our customers remains the same — the only thing that changed is our look and name,” she says.
“I am honored and excited to be nominated for the President’s Image Award sponsored by the American Rental Association,” Keesler says. “I am truly proud of One Stop Tents & Events and the evolution of our event rental business in Webster, Texas.”
Region 4: Bryan Wolf, Rental World, Harlingen, Texas
Rental World, Harlingen, Texas, is a family owned and operated chain of general equipment rental stores in South Texas. “Rental World started in 1980 as a United Rentals franchise and expanded to six locations across South Texas before selling during the consolidations of the mid-1990s. In 2000, Rental World started anew as a second-generation rental company. After 12 years, Rental World has grown to six retail locations across South Texas with a corporate office and central warehouse located in Harlingen,” says Bryan Wolf, president.
Although Rental World is a general equipment rental company, Rental World specializes in fairs, festivals, and other special events and services in South and Central Texas including the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, and Corpus Christi, as well as the San Antonio, Austin, and Houston areas. Rental World is the reigning Texas Festivals and Events Association Vendor of the Year, Wolf says.
After many years serving various clients in the Corpus Christi region from its locations in the Rio Grande Valley, Rental World opened its most recent retail outlet at 3729 Saratoga Blvd. in Corpus Christi. “Rental World owners searched the region for quite some time for the just the right location. The poor economy presented an opportunity with the availability of this beautiful property that previously housed a True Value store,” Wolf says.
The property includes almost two acres of land with a 20,000-sq.-ft. open floor plan building. “The open floor plan presented a blank slate to build out the showroom and warehouse. With a lease start date of early 2012, it was imperative to build-out and start operations as quickly as possible in order to service spring events. Using PartyCAD, we developed and evaluated various layouts until deciding to add a simple dividing wall to break-up the building. An existing I-beam provided a natural division point, resulting in a very spacious 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom, along with a 15,000-sq.-ft. warehouse and maintenance area,” Wolf says.
“With our own in-house graphics department and sign shop, Rental World designed, made and installed signage. Signage includes collages on each side of the main sign with graphics and copy representing Rental World’s various products and services,” Wolf says. “A floor-to-ceiling partition wall was added along with double swinging doors on each side of counter. We recycled and added on to one of our original counters built in the 1990s and finished off with graphics from local events.”
Region 7: Beth Hoff Blackmer, Aspen Rent-All, Aspen, Colo.
Aspen Rent-All was started by Beth Hoff Blackmer’s father in 1967. “Looking for a new opportunity, he saw rental stores in the Yellow Pages in Denver and decided to open one in Aspen,” Blackmer says. “For many years the mix was wide with party, medical, general tool and construction. Over the years, he narrowed it down to construction and general tool.”
Space has always been a challenge for the company. “We have a 4,000-sq.-ft. building on a 22,000-sq.-ft. lot with a 1,200-sq.-ft. showroom. Everything has to earn its place,” she says. “I purchased the business from my father in 2000 coming fresh out of the active sports industry where I was used to merchandising in stores like Nordstrom. I now had a showroom that had cinder block walls, exposed cables, peg board, concrete floors and more stuff crammed into it than a closet filled with old junk.”
In 2009, Blackmer decided it was time to remodel the showroom. “We had the entire room taken apart. This was no easy task since we did this all during working hours in the summer,” she says. “A new wall was put in to hide the wires, another was taken out to make more space, and sheetrock was put on all walls with fresh paint and slot wall. We put down carpet tiles and designed new counters. Now, we have two counters rather than one long one, so it is more open. This allows the staff members to come from behind the counters, shake hands and show people to the area to get the equipment. We replaced the fluorescent lights with modern fixtures. We decided to make a statement wall and painted the back wall bright red with our name and logo on it. We also have a television there for viewing videos.”
Blackmer says the renovation has spurred new business. “We now have room to display new equipment, provide information about equipment that we can send with people and have increased our retail sales by 50 percent after doing this remodel,” she says.
Region 8: Larry Steele, Aurora Rents, Seattle, Wash.
Aurora Rents is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the completion of a new facility in Shoreline, Wash.
The company was started in 1962 in a rented building on the corner of 175th and Aurora Ave. (Hwy 99), in Seattle, Wash., by Richard Johnston, Art Jeager and Alfred Bandazy. Shortly after opening Aurora Rents, Richard Johnston bought out his partners and became sole owner. Ten years later, his son-in law, Larry Steele, started working for the business and soon became a partner.
Richard and Larry bought up the surrounding property over time, accumulating an acre of land for the business. On the west side of the property was Aurora Ave, with a traffic count of about 45,000 cars a day, and to the east side was what remained of the original highway, still made out of bricks as it was in 1911. This is the last exposed section of the original brick road that went from Seattle to Everett, Washington, in the early 1900s. The brick road became a cutoff or short-cut to traffic that would bypass the traffic light at 175th and Aurora and take a free right turn to head east onto 175th Street.
In 1990, Steele completed the purchase of the business and the location, which was known as unincorporated Seattle, became the city of Shoreline, Wash. The city began improvements including street and sidewalk repair, and putting utilities underground. One project, the widening of Aurora Ave., led to the Aurora Rents Building being torn down and the business moving to a temporary location a mile north in 2009. With a reduction in traffic, the ultimate goal became getting back to 175th and Aurora.
After lengthy negotiations to vacate and purchase roadways around the original property, came a three-year design, permitting and building process. Discovery of underground storage tanks prompted a soil cleanup and a six-month delay, and a debate over the original brick road resulted in a preservation agreement with the city. The new 23,000-sq.-ft., two-story building was finished in August 2012. The building includes a 6,000W solar panel installation, a recalculating wash-off system with ground water retainment, a 5,000-lb. freight elevator and an 80-ft. flag pole for a 30-ft. U.S. flag. Move-in began immediately, amid a busy rental season, and Aurora Rents is currently operating out of the new property.
“It is with great pride that Aurora Rents has been selected to receive the President’s Image Award from ARA,” Steele says.