Hard work, expansion help Butler Rents grow through the recession
Butler Rents in Denver has a rich history. Located near downtown, the business has the advantage of owning the land they are on. “We have a great location. We’re right near the No. 1 Target and the No. 1 King Soopers,” says Barb Bown-Wyatt, a member of the family management team.
When the recession hit, the company knew it had to stay competitive. Bolstered by its position as a longtime business and its established location, Butler took a unique approach. “We blew up our inventory tenfold. We got to a point where we wouldn’t say no,” says Barry Reynolds, Butler’s general manager. Today, he says, events the company handles just keep expanding in number and in size. In all, it seems the company’s strategy is working very well.
Butler Rents began originally with the Knudson family, who rented tools and lawn equipment. William Bown had established Le Petit Gourmet Catering in 1960, and then asked his brother, Jack Bown, Bown-Wyatt’s father, to buy the rental company, promising to be its best customer. In 1971, it became Butler Rents, and the Bowns joined the American Rental Association (ARA) the same year.
Jack later designed and built a new building on land he owned in Denver. The company moved into the new 12,000-sq.-ft. building on Sept. 26, 1979. In 1990, another 10,000 sq. ft. was added, plus a dispatch office and four new truck loading bays. In 2000, a mezzanine was added to the building, for another 7,200 sq. ft. of storage. The business also has two more storage locations for a total of 60,000 sq. ft. of space.
Bown-Wyatt worked for her uncle and father in the business, first doing dishes at Butler, and then for Le Petit through summers and college. “It was neat to see Butler Rents tables and chairs at the parties I was working at, in some of the wealthiest homes in Denver,” Bown-Wyatt says. Her father died in 2006 and her mother is still working in the business. Bown-Wyatt continues to work in the business and much of the day-to-day is handled by Reynolds, whose son, Michael, also works in the business. Reynolds joined the company in May 1979.
The building itself is large and includes a showroom with decorated tables that are changed out often, as well as tables full of glassware, flatware and china options. “We’re about 25 to 30 percent walk-in/call/pick-up items. Most of our business comes from caterers,” Bown-Wyatt says.
In 2009, Butler decided to meet the recession head-on. They expanded in a big way, buying tons of specialty linens and courting customers face-to-face. “That’s when we got aggressive,” Reynolds says. “We went out to get the business. We started meeting with customers we used to have. We knew all these people, so we had relationships there. We updated our inventory with new flatware and new china. We worked on modernizing our facility. We upgraded to 100-lb. washers. If we thought we could rent it, we would go out and buy it. That alone, to me, turned our economy around.”
That’s not to say it was easy. “The size of events changed. You were working with tighter budgets. You had to get creative,” Bown-Wyatt says. Service also changed from a traditional model to a partnership style, Reynolds says.
“We still meet with a lot of clients and a lot of venues. They don’t have to use you and that’s up to them. It’s up to us to work with them. We want to be their partner,” he says.
Now, business is at full tilt. With nine china patterns and growing, the company just replaced its old dishwashers with high-speed models. The mezzanine is filled with yards and yards of linens. The company just added a new flatiron and employs two shifts for laundry. Linens get washed in one of four machines and then put into one of two dryers. The fleet is tipping the scales at 40 trucks, currently, and they have a few large tent crews to handle different loads at different buildings.
Reynolds says while they have had several upgrades to their operation, the impact of upgrades on the linen operation was the best investment so far. “With the rapid growth in the linen part of the business, the biggest improvements have been the new large capacity washers and the oversize iron. These new improvements have helped us greatly in our ability to keep up with the high demands in our linen department,” he says.
“It doesn’t matter how many colors or styles of linens we have, we end up buying something new for customers,” Reynolds says.
Events continue to add on. During a single month in the winter, the company handles both the Winter X Games and the National Western Stock Show in Denver. The company delivers thousands of glasses for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, an ever-growing event. Butler works with the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver, and sometimes finds time to rent equipment for events as far away as Kansas.
Yet, some things don’t go away. Despite the sheer volume of glassware trundling through the place, they still polish each glass by hand with a CPI polisher. Instead of buying storage equipment, the company built carts for linens as well as storage carts for various other inventory items, all of which fit seamlessly onto the trucks in its fleet.
The business also is a test site for Alert Management Systems software, meaning fleet management and other business operations are handled on iPads and mobile devices. “We are currently in beta test for electronic signature capture for mobile devices and it is proving to be a valuable tool,” Bown-Wyatt says. “It’s great to be on the cutting edge of technology in our effort to ‘go green’ and be paperless in our dispatch/delivery area.”
The company’s goal now, Reynolds says, is “to continue to grow and expand the business while maintaining a high level of customer service.” Bown-Wyatt agrees and believes if her dad were here, he would be proud of how much the business has grown and how it is still a “thriving part of the Glendale business community,” she says. “We have been a part of so many events, and so many people’s lives.”