Canadian Rental Association
CRA participation nets a high return
By Jeff Campbell
In business, the goal is always to get out as much or more than you put in. After 35 years of involvement with the Canadian Rental Association, and many hundreds of hours volunteered as an executive at all levels, I can tell you that participation in your rental organization is an investment that pays off. My small store and my professional career would not be where they are today without the friends I made and the experiences I had inside the CRA. The benefits have been huge, and direct.
By Jeff Campbell
Years ago, shortly after St. Thomas Rent-All opened, the county approached me looking for a 12-inch wood chipper. I didn’t have them at the time. I had met Paul Van Staveren [Stayner Rental] at one of the shows and they could not rent them in the winter because they get too much snow. I ended up renting his chipper for three or four years and both of us made money on it, then I got into buying them and renting them myself. Stayner is 200 kilometers away from here – I never would have met Paul any other way.
A while back the province started getting down on propane heaters, saying you couldn’t use them indoors. When guys started coming around in the fall looking for heat, a lot of the other guys in the area were scrambling around trying to figure out what to do. But I had already done my research using the information the association provided, and was able to tell them about indirect heat. Because I’d gone to the meetings, I was in indirect heaters four or five years ahead of everybody. Then I got to develop the local market because I already had them.
When you take on executive roles, you have a chance to see more of what is behind the scenes, what is involved with training for propane or high reach stuff, for instance. Your knowledge in these areas is cemented, because you get a glimpse of why certain things are the way they are. It is like anything. You can coast along, getting by, or you can be more involved and get more out. And when you get more involved, before long people are coming to you looking for your opinion. And when you are giving your opinion, you get their opinion. It broadens your horizons well beyond little St. Thomas, or where ever you are.
Involvement at the national level was really good for raising my store’s profile. One benefit is getting to know the suppliers’ national managers – people you would rarely see any other way. They can give you the big picture and insight on the technology that you won’t get anywhere else. One example is Weber compactors. They are big in the West and big in the East, but not so big here. And now we carry them. The way we do heat in Ontario is fairly basic. By talking to people from the West and finding out how they do heat there, I have been able to bring that knowledge back and become the go-to guy for my customers. And when I don’t have the knowledge firsthand, I know who to go to and ask, and they will take my phone call.
I know at least the last four or five presidents of the national association have expanded their businesses as a result of the knowledge and connections they made through the association. You really can’t help it when you are given so many opportunities to improve. You know what products to buy, you know what is going to go. We made big strides here as a small shop and it wasn’t scary at all because you know what to do and how to do it. At the national level, you get to meet both the big multi-million dollar organizations and the little guys and find out how they buy products and do store layout, for instance.
My father started taking me to CRA meetings in the ‘70s and he always said that if you surround yourself with successful people, some of it is bound to rub off. The people you meet in the association are more dedicated to the rental business the higher you go. The amazing thing is, anyone can do it. No matter how small you are, through the association you can get to the point, as I did, where you are sitting at dinner with rental store operators from around the world at the Global Rental Alliance. The thing you realize is that no one is any different from anyone else and that, whatever your challenges, you are not alone.
Jeff Campbell owns St. Thomas Rent-All. He has been involved with the Canadian Rental Association for 35 years and recently completed his term as national chairman.