A-1 Rents All
By Treena HeinFeatures Profiles
How a Saskatchewan company grew its operations to offer one of the most diverse rental fleets in Canada.
Strength in diversity – that’s long been the philosophy for success at A-1 Rent-Alls in Regina, Sask. Beyond the regular roster of contractor equipment for rent, the Wright family has a booming event rentals division and a scaffolding division with equipment for rent and erection services for scaffolding, hording, superchutes and swing stages.
A-1 also has a thriving repair section and offers a wide variety of operator training courses. If that weren’t enough, there are equipment operators on hand for hire, and freight delivery is also available.
It was back in 1963 when Roy Wright started the business with some hand tools, landscaping equipment and tables and chairs. His son Dave took over in 1978. “It was a small business at first,” says Dave. “The demand for rentals wasn’t strong at the start, but over the years, as Saskatchewan’s natural resources became more important, the population and the trades grew, and so did the demand for rentals.”
During the 1980s, Dave transitioned procedures to ensure rental items were cared for and returned on time. At a rental show one year, he looked closely at rental software and decided to go for it. “As hard as it was to learn how to operate the system, it was a really big step towards being able to organize and get the most out of the inventory,” he says. “It took a few good years to implement, and it’s safe to say it’s a on ongoing process to get it running smoothly but it’s been very worthwhile. We’re ever-evolving with the new technologies.”
Dave’s wife Debbie entered the A-1 picture in 1987 to do the accounting. One of their daughters, Desiree, started working in 1998 and now manages the event and party division. Their other daughter, Jamie, started in 2004 and manages the equipment division. “We’ve both grown into our roles and we both have had a very hands-on approach to all aspects of the business,” says Jamie.
Within the past year, Dave and Debbie have also taken on their son, Stephen, as a human resources manager. “We’ve always been proud of our level of employee satisfaction, and as we continue to grow and expand we want to maintain that satisfaction,” says Debbie. “Stephen’s prior HR experience made him a great fit for that role, and since he’s come on board we’ve rolled out multiple initiatives to maintain our spot as an employer of choice.”
Diving into events and bigger equipment
After attending a number of rental shows, it was around 1985 that Dave and Debbie started talking about expanding their event offerings. “Some smaller event equipment was making a profit, so we knew the demand was there,” says Dave. “We started with some smaller tents and it grew and grew. Eventually we had to put events in another location as we simply just didn’t have any more room. But when we decided to split the locations and really focus on growing the event division, in turn it allowed us to better focus on each division separately. I think it allowed both divisions to grow beyond what they would have if we’d kept them together.”
On the equipment side, with the Regina area population growing, there were more and more calls to A-1 for more commercial and industrial-scale equipment. “I could see the return on investment with bigger equipment would be a good way to continue to grow the fleet,” says Dave. “I’ve always had an interest in construction and had worked in the construction trade prior to taking over A-1 from my dad, so that made for a seamless transition.”
With the arrival of bigger equipment, delivery was a must as customers either didn’t have the proper vehicles to move it or liked the convenience of delivery. “Over the years we’ve grown from using a truck and trailer, to a tilt deck and most recently have added a semi to our fleet,” says Jamie. “Repair of customer equipment and small engine repair started because we were getting a lot of questions about where there was servicing and parts available in the area. And we also had a lot of people coming to us to buy our used equipment. So, it seemed like a natural fit to offer new and used equipment and repair. Most of the repair is through word-of-mouth.”
In 2014, a construction boom started in the Regina area and operator training became a requirement for the staff at A-1 and everywhere else. “We decided to offer it to our customers as well,” says Jamie. “We now offer training in fall arrest and operation of skid steers, forklift and aerial work platforms. We also have for hire operators for forklifts and telehandler jobs per hour, and offer delivery and truck drivers in Classes 1, 3 and 5.”
Before the pandemic, business was split at about 70 percent equipment division (rental, operator training etc.) 20 percent events division, with the remainder the scaffolding division.
Using time wisely
Desiree explains that prior to COVID, the event division was flourishing with weddings, tradeshows and more. The months of the widespread shutdowns were tough, but she and her family used their time wisely and moved in a positive direction with the events side of the business. They established an e-commerce website, put some new business procedures in place and refreshed the retail and rental showrooms, which had expanded over the last ten years.
“We sell all types of different party themes and have an extensive line of party gear all year round to cheer on our favourite CFL team,” says Desiree.
In 2016, the Wrights renovated the building they owned next to the party store. “We had it rented out to a boxing club and when the lease came due decided it should become the equipment store as we simply had run out of space in our old location,” says Jamie. “Now we do business side by side. We joke about this being Regina’s rental block. We also have a large yard and structure down the block where we keep all our large fleet equipment like site trailers, storage containers and big lifts.”
Ongoing challenges and future hopes
One big challenge for A-1 over the years is, as Jamie puts it, “staying in tune” with what the economy does. “We find when the economy is down, we really suffer as all competition tends to cut their rates and come after your business,” she explains. “We took some of those slower opportunities to really show our customers that we may be less competitive in our prices but our service speaks for itself. On the other hand, when we see the economy really amp up we get so busy it’s hard to keep up, but you want to be able to take care of everyone. For these circumstances, we’ve really built up our service department and hired extra people.”
Looking forward, the Wrights hope to continue to grow their fleet and gain market share in contractor business. Jamie would really like to grow traffic control rentals (signs, arrows and message boards) in the future as well. “We really pride ourselves on being a local company that strives to be the best rental option out there,” Jamie says. “One call rents all! We want to keep providing the best service in the city, and the customers and referrals will hopefully continue to follow.”
As a family, they are certainly proud of their business, but Desiree says they are most proud of the work they do with the community. “Over the years, we’ve supported many different organizations and have been recognized for this with the Philanthropist Award for community involvement as well as being a runner up in the Diversity category for the Paragon Awards,” she shares. “We’re also proud of the fun and exciting atmosphere that we provide for both customers and employees. We are thankful for all of the great customer relations that we’ve kept over the years as well as our excellent staff retention rate. Our team is second to none.”
As for working with family, Desiree notes that as with any family business, personal relationships can certainly invite complications.
“When the family is involved, items that might be strictly transactional for other businesses are subject to a family dynamic,” she says. “But it’s extremely rewarding at the same time to work together every day. We get to make decisions and execute in a way that’s unique to our ownership structure, and we get to connect with each other on a daily basis. It works for us really well. We have a great business environment with an air of personal care, which our employees and customers love to engage with. People like to engage personally with our organization, and we like to engage with them back.”
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