Canadian Rental Service

10 influencers

Patrick Flannery   

Features Profiles

Some names keep coming up again and again. These are the people who keep getting mentioned when rental operators talk to each other, about each other.

Some names keep coming up again and again. These are the people who keep getting mentioned when rental operators talk to each other, about each other.

They are the people who keep showing up on lists of award recipients and past officials with associations and committees. They are the people who kept showing up, over and over, in the pages of this magazine over the last 35 years because whenever something important and noteworthy was going on in the industry, they were there.

This list is by no means comprehensive. As you read this, you will be able to think of others who should be here, who had a tremendous impact on your business or on other aspects of rental services. The people on this list stand as examples of the kinds of dedicated, innovative, energetic entrepreneurs who have made the business what it is today. Theirs are success stories in an industry that has enjoyed great success over the last three decades. Maybe in those stories we can find the keys to continued success in the decades ahead.

peter_darbishire  peter-phillips   

Peter Darbishire & Peter Phillips

Company: AIS Communications
Location: Exeter, Ont.
Years in rental: 20
Sectors served: All

Peter Darbishire and Peter Phillips bought Canadian Rental Service magazine in 1984 from its founding publisher, Peter Watkins, and shepherded the magazine through many changes in the industry and the publishing environment over the next 20 years. With Darbishire as managing editor and Phillips as publisher, the magazine’s frequency increased to nine issues per year and built solid, long-term relationships with suppliers and the CRA. Because of their work, Canadian Rental Service is firmly established today as the sole voice and record of Canada’s rental industry, going out to more than 4,000 rental houses across the country. Darbishire and Phillips also ran the Canadian Rental Mart, bringing thousands of operators and suppliers together from across the country.

Darbishire says, “When we acquired Canadian Rental Service, the industry was in the throes of change. Many rental stores had made the leap from being backyard renters of equipment, sometimes of dubious reliability, to being full-fledged professional commercial operations with high-tech, modern and reliable equipment. Others were still making the transition. At this time, several prominent suppliers were encouraging existing entrepreneurs to upgrade their operations. They offered great incentive programs to assist operators in this, and their contributions should be recognized.”


Bill Pedersen

Location: Vancouver, Victoria, B.C., and Seattle, Wash.
Years in rental: 44
Sectors served: Party

Bill Pedersen has done it his way, and that means family. His parents started the business as a catering company back in 1949. When Pedersen graduated from college in 1967, his father asked him if he wanted to join the family business. Pedersen said yes, but wanted to change from catering to rentals. So very soon after getting into the family business full time, Pedersen changed its course entirely.

Pedersen also had his own ideas about how to succeed in rentals. “In those days, everything we read in trade magazines indicated you had to do everything,” he remembers. “You had to rent everything from toilets to tablecloths and that is the direction we went in for about a year. I figured out that the worst thing in the world to be in was renting tools. I had no background and we just didn’t feel like that was our area. It is funny looking back, because when we decided to go all into party equipment we were quite apprehensive because all the information we had indicated that you had to do everything.” Bucking the accepted wisdom paid off. Over 40 years later, Pedersens Rentals is going strong with locations in three cities and Pedersen’s daughters, Rhonda and Kim, and his wife, Albina, all working in the business alongside him.

The Martha Stewart effect
Pedersen says competition and such star designers as Martha Stewart have driven the party business to ever-greater heights since he started out. “In the old days we could get away with what we used to call gas station glasses,” he says. “Now our basic quality is fine glassware. On the whole, people are just more demanding. We have created the situation in the industry ourselves.” On the whole, however, Pedersen says the party rental business is better than ever, with more inventory choices, better software, better shipping materials and more choice for the consumer. “I remember going into rental stores in the ’70s and a lot of them looked like secondhand junk stores. Nowadays, you go into almost any tool or party rental store and everything has to be neat and clean. Expectations are just that much greater.”


Dorothy Wellnitz

Company: Simmons Equipment Rentals, CRA, CMT Rentals
Location: Winnipeg
Years in rental: 47
Sectors served: All

She was the first female officer of the Rental Association of Canada, with terms in all chairs up to and including national president. She was national CRA executive director for 22 years, with responsibility for setting up the first national office in Winnipeg and bringing in such member services as the protected self-insurance program and discount banking. Her name is attached to a scholarship supporting education for young rental operators. If the CRA has a mother, it is Dorothy Wellnitz, and if it is a strong, active association today, it is because of her. Can an induction into the ARA Hall of Fame be far behind?

Even with all her accomplishments, Wellnitz can be hard on herself. She notes her work in helping to set up regional trade shows across the country as one of her most important contributions to the industry. But she still dwells on the struggles of the Canadian Rental Mart. “Unfortunately, when we took on the Canadian Rental Mart, that was our worst failure. We were unable to produce the show to a point where it was a workable show where a profit was realized. That was sad, that was my worst [moment] when I said I had to stop the Canadian Rental Mart. I really wanted that to work into a series of trade shows so exhibitors would have one right across the country and I couldn’t. I just could not get the Canadian Rental Mart on its feet.” When it is pointed out to her that trade shows are a tough business, Wellnitz shows an unflinching refusal to make excuses. “Failure is failure,” she says, “and you know it doesn’t really matter why you fail, that was a failure. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.”

Wellnitz started in the rental industry working at Simmons Equipment Rental in Winnipeg in 1964, and is still participating today at C&T Rentals, also in Winnipeg. Her daughter, Mandy, has taken up the torch of association involvement and serves as executive director of the CRA today. Dorothy says she did it all because she loved the people she met in the industry. “I made a lot of friends in the industry over the years,” she says,” and we shared our love of the industry and did what we could do to make it better. We worked very hard to make things better.”


Shirley McCormick

Company: Party Time Rentals
Location: Ajax, Ont.
Years in rental: 31
Sectors served: DIY, lawn and garden, party

Volunteering with the Ontario CRA was always a social thing for Shirley McCormick. She started out on social committees in the 1980s, planning dances and dinners as well as organizing the regular meetings. McCormick rose through the chairs to become Ontario president in 1999, the first woman to do so. She went on to become Ontario director on the national board.

McCormick and her husband, Claude, started Harwood Rentals in 1975 as a tool rental store. They added a party rental store next door in 1980, and briefly expanded to another two locations in Pickering, Ont. The recession in the late ’80s hit the area hard, however, and the McCormicks were forced to close all but the one party rental store. Claude retired, and Shirley changed the name of the store to Party Time Rentals in 1992. By the time she sold the business in 2006, she had amassed nearly every award the CRA gives out, including Rental Professional of the Year and the Ontario Regional Award.

McCormick was a fixture at every association event, collecting fees, taking minutes at board meetings and keeping everything organized. She was so indispensable that when she sold her business, the CRA gave her an honorary membership so she could continue to serve as secretary. McCormick retired from her duties as secretary this year, handing the reins to Penny O’Sullivan. “I mentored Penny,” she says, laughing. “I brought her on the board and she and I got very close.”


Walter Chapman

Company: Basic Tool Rentals
Location: Sydney, N.S.
Years in rental: 29
Sectors served: Construction, party, lawn and garden, DIY

Walter Chapman was a police officer in the RCMP before starting his first rental operation in 1982, and the habits of careful observation and analysis he learned on the force seem to be a big part of his success. For Chapman does not just do things that seem right at the time. He takes time to learn and understand a situation, then constructs a careful structure of reasoning to support a final conclusion.

Take his decision to locate his store where it is on the outskirts of Sydney. “I’m out on the fringe here in a residential area,” he says. “This is where the transient people move in and out of the city more. There are three other tool rental places in town, but they are all at the other end. I saw when we belonged to the Welcome Wagon at the party store that 75 per cent of the people moved out into this area when they came here. The American Rental Association has shown that people who buy properties spend more money on the property in the first four months than they will in the next four years. And they don’t know the guys they are working next to well enough to borrow a ladder or a rototiller or whatever else they might need, because they are transients where they came from and they are already trained to go to a rental store. Plus I have two major building supply dealers nearby, so the contractors pick up their materials and then they pick up the tools they are going to need when they go by.” It is hard to imagine a more thorough rationale for a store location than that.


Doron Broadfoot

Company: Rent-It Store
Location: Saskatoon, Sask.
Years in rental: 39
Sectors served: Construction, DIY, lawn and garden

When Doron Broadfoot thinks about the rental industry, he thinks about people. He recommends people starting out in rental surround themselves with good people they can rely on. “No matter what level you are going to enter in, you really need to develop a good board of directors,” Broadfoot says. “Even if you are not a public company, you need that kind of a professional team you can use for guidance and as a sounding board. That would include your banker and your accountant and whomever else you might be able to find as a mentor. It is a very capital-intensive business and you want to make sure you are setting yourself off in the right direction.”

After nearly 40 years in the sometimes uncertain Saskatchewan economy, Broadfoot considers his top accomplishment to be simple survival. But his most impressive business accomplishments may still lie ahead, as the Rent-It Store rides the recent wave of oil, mining and potash development in the area.


Bob MacFarland

Company: R.H. MacFarland
Location: Halifax, N.S.
Years in rental: 30
Sectors served: Construction, DIY, cleaning, lawn and garden, party

Just call him The Innovator. Bob MacFarland came out of construction and into the rental industry in 1963 at a time when the rental business barely existed in his area. “It was interesting in those days,” he says. “There were rental companies across Canada, but it was very sparse. There was one in Newfoundland and in New Brunswick and ourselves just starting up here.” MacFarland’s initial chore was to introduce the idea of renting small tools and equipment to his target market. “You came into an area where no one has heard of such a thing as renting lawn mowers or rototillers or pumps for contractors. They had all been buying everything, and trying to get it across was quite a chore. The party was the same way. Once it was started and word got around and we did some advertising it finally took off and was very successful,” he remembers. MacFarland advertised heavily in the local newspapers, on radio and TV, and even had a city bus painted up with his promotions.

MacFarland relied heavily on trade shows and association meetings to learn how to run a successful rental operation and to trade new ideas with colleagues. “I discovered an ad in a rental magazine in Boston. It was advertising a rental show by the American Rental Association in Washington, D.C., in February of 1966. So I sent in my membership dues and went to the convention and what an eye opener that was. I did find some Canadians; several in fact, from across Canada were there and were just starting. They had more or less formed a group in Ontario, so that is the history there. From then on I visited places over the years. I wanted to have something they didn’t, because all the conventional tools and equipment were pretty well established.”

MacFarland’s understanding of the need for a strong brand image, combined with his drive to stay ahead of the competition, led him to get into computers and custom software long before most rental operators. “I was the first one to have an in-store computer to look at equipment and how to use them,” he remembers. “That was in the 1981, ’82, ’83 period. The biggest thing with the rental business is dealing with a person who has never used a floor shampooer. You have got to take the time, and the better job you do, the better job you are going to get with the customer being satisfied and not calling you with little problems like not putting water in it. So I tried to cut down on store time. When people said ‘I’d like a floor shampooer,’ I had four of them set up in the store and display modules to say, ‘Look here, it is very simple.’”


Shawn Parks

Company: Rentquip Canada
Location: Richmond, B.C.
Years in rental: 27
Sectors served: Construction, DIY, lawn and garden, heating and cooling, plumbing, cleaning

Jim Clipperton of Nor-Val Rentals in Vernon, B.C., has fond memories of his first encounter with Shawn Parks when he and his father were first starting out in the rental business. “We sat around the kitchen table and me and Dad are more or less country bumpkins, but Shawn did not take advantage of us,” he remembers. “He pared down our order. He came to us and we said, ‘We need this stuff,’ and he said, ‘No, you don’t need two of these plates. Use this money to buy something else so you have more inventory to offer more options. If you do need something, I have them in Vancouver so I can have them to you in one day. You shouldn’t spend money on these now. Spend money on broadening the equipment base instead of two of this and two of that.” Parks’ fair dealing at that early stage won him a relationship that strengthened and grew as Nor-Val grew into a large, three-location rental operation. “Shawn is one of my best friends,” Clipperton says.

In 1984, Parks was a manufacturer’s representative for Makita Power Tools. “I was a pretty young guy and thought I had it all figured out,” Parks says, “so I left Makita, where I actually had a pretty good job, and decided I could do better on my own.” Ed Murphy, the provincial manager for Kango at the time, gave Parks that chance by appointing him his agent in the rental industry. “I told my wife it would take me three months to get back into the same income bracket that I left,” Parks remembers. “About three years later, I was almost there.”

Parks and Murphy went on to form P&M Sales in 1995, with a focus on servicing tools, supplying parts and selling some equipment. By 2008, P&M Sales was operating throughout western Canada from B.C. to Manitoba. At that point, Parks, who was now sole owner of P&M, merged with his longtime friend Jim Freeman of Rentquip Supply to build a national equipment dealer operating right across the country. 

For Parks, there are no finish lines. “Three years ago, when my business was doing very well in western Canada, we were profitable and my wife worked in the business and everything was going very well, we decided that this was not all we could do,” he says. “There was more we could do and at the age of 49 we are going to keep moving and we are going to keep building this business and that is our approach today. We are still looking for new opportunities and new acquisitions.”

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