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FEBRUARY 2014 issue of
Rental Management

Knox-Tenn Rental & Sales Co.: End of an era

Auction to be held for oldest rental store in Tennessee

Charles Cowan started a small equipment sales and repair shop in Knoxville in 1932. When his son, Edward Cowan, returned from his service in World War II, he joined the business and launched an equipment rental component in the mid-1940s.

Over the years, Knox-Tenn Rental & Sales Co., Knoxville, Tenn., grew into a four-location company with stores in Gray and Chattanooga as well as two in Knoxville.

The company closed its first store in 2000. After more than 80 years in business, Knox-Tenn Rentals & Sales Co. closed its last doors on Dec. 13, 2013.

Pro Team Auction Co., White Pine, Tenn., will hold an auction on Feb. 15, 2014, to sell the inventory and other assets of Knox-Tenn Rental & Sales Co., the oldest rental company in Tennessee. The auction will include construction equipment as well as store memorabilia and historical items.

“They’ve been in business for a long time, so they have a lot of inventory,” says Jerry Bowlin, sales and marketing manager for Pro Team Auction Co. “This was a mom-and-pop that grew over time. It was a well-respected, classy organization.”

Leonard Carden, Knox-Tenn vice president, has been with the company since he started as a stock clerk in 1965. He has held nearly every position within the business, even fielding questions about party and event rental before that segment of the company became its own corporation.

“One minute I’d be talking to a construction guy about a backhoe and the next I’d be talking to the mother of the bride about what her daughter needed for her wedding in six months,” he says.

The company was part of the growth of the equipment rental industry for many years and spent several years on the list of top 100 rental companies. Carden has been with Knox-Tenn in its most profitable days and plans to stay
with the company until the very end.

“Contractors were our main source of business. When the economy started its downturn in 2007 and 2008, they started laying off people and closing. That really affected us,” he says. “Over time as that piece of the pie kept getting smaller, we had to start closing branches.”

In addition, big-box companies with rental divisions became more popular and started buying up the competition in the area.

“Ed had the chance to sell out to the bigger corporations, but he wouldn’t do it. He was a family man who cared about his employees and he knew what would happen to them if he sold,” Carden says.




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