A Maritime merger lead to 10-fold growth for a family-run rental company
By Treena HeinFeatures
New ownership, new markets and a new era for KV Rentals in Quispamsis, N.B.
When a large and successful family-run company with a well-established reputation for looking after its customers, employees and its community buys a small rental store in a thriving area of the Maritimes, it’s perhaps easy to predict the outcome.
In this case, it was the Dobson Group that purchased Kennebecasis Rentals (commonly known as KV Rentals) in Quispamsis, N.B., in 2020. This has resulted in much bigger success for this rental business, with 10-fold growth over the last two years, reports Joe Armstrong, operations manager of Kennebecasis Land and Leisure-Outdoor Equipment Store, home of KV Rentals.
“It’s hard to believe how much it has changed,” says Armstrong. “Having a company like the Dobson Group behind the store means that we’re able to look after customers the way they want to be looked after and the way they should be looked after. The customers think it’s rewarding for them to be served well, but it’s even more rewarding for us.”
Armstrong married into the Dobson family and retired from 40 years in the fire service in 2019. That year, when the Dobson Group bought KV Rentals and needed someone to take the helm, his brother-in-laws asked Armstrong if he was interested, and he said yes.
KV Rentals started in 1992 as a small rental store that also sold Toro and Stihl equipment and did service repairs.
The Dobson Group already had RV businesses, auto stores and sold mini and modular homes. One of their RV stores (Leisure Time Sales) had started in 2014 to sell Kioti tractors and snowblowers and other equipment from Ariens, and offered parts and servicing as well. This operation could definitely benefit from expanded outdoor-equipment lifestyle products because demand was strong. As the Dobson Group businesses have always been built on a mindset of growth, the Land and Leisure brand fits perfectly into corporate properties owned in Fredericton and Moncton.
When KV Rentals came up for sale in 2020, it seemed a great match in terms of a total future mix of equipment types and brands. The team that provided equipment servicing at Leisure Time Sales could also service rental equipment as needed. In addition, customers waiting for parts to come in for repairs to their own equipment could rent a similar piece of equipment as desired.
It all made good sense, and Kennebecasis Land and Leisure Outdoor Equipment Store was born.
This rental business serves Quispamsis and several other small communities in the Kennebecasis Valley which is located outside Saint John, N.B., and home to about 45,000 people.
“We do have customers that come from Saint John as well,” says Armstrong. “There is one other rental store in the area that we compete with, but we get along well. If we don’t have something available on a particular day, we refer customers to them.”
Melding two businesses
Leisure Time Sales already had a small engine technician who joined Kennebecasis along with three more full-time repair technicians. Seven other staff members for rental service and equipment sales have also been added, including Armstrong.
He explains that most of the employees are cross-trained to do rentals and sales as well. All technicians have been sent away for factory training for every brand of equipment carried, and that will continue as needed, says Armstrong.
They use G2 software which is designed for the RV sales but also has a lot of rental elements, and Armstrong says it’s working very well.
KV Rentals had been a small store in a small building, and Dobson Group started construction of a new 10,000-square-foot facility a few kilometers away. It was finished in July 2021. The old building got a bit of a refresh and after the move, it was sold.
“Very exciting,” is how Armstrong describes the new building. “We have screens within the store promoting our large selection of Milwaukee tools and we’ve expanded that line multiple times. We have a large Stihl counter as well. The rentals range from tools for DIY renovators to large scale contractors.”
That new facility is four times the size of the previous one, which Armstrong says has made a large difference in customer service.
“It has allowed us to stock up on inventory within the store and invest in more rental equipment,” he explains. “We can also stock more parts to turn around repairs more quickly. Our service area is about 10 times the size of the old location, and it was hard for people to work because it was so congested.”
He adds, “We have three cash-outs at the counter where the original store had one. Even having a larger parking area has been really important. It means that customers with trailers can now pull in and turn around easily. And we have dedicated handicap parking as well now. Everything has made the customer service experience many times better than it was before.”
And customer suggestions are very welcome.
“We’ve added a lot of small- and mid-sized equipment to the rental section because there was a need in this area,” says Armstrong. “We’ve added more small excavators, skid steers, mini-backhoes, and we now have towable booms that had never been offered before.”
Contractor feedback and more
Armstrong explains that, at this point, Kennebecasis is only in the early stages of determining and meeting customer needs and are always open to more suggestions. There are a couple of ways that they gather information on that topic, and both are working well.
“We have a lot of small and medium-sized contractors, and some of them work on projects for the real estate arm of the Dobson Group, so they are very good at telling us what they need,” Armstrong says. “The contractors suggested we expand our heating equipment line for winter construction, helping them work during the cold and power outages. The contractors also guide us on what brands of equipment to purchase. They are the end users and have the experience.”
The store also tracks all questions about equipment that come in from customer calls and on the website. Equipment is purchased if there are multiple requests for it, with other factors weighed in along the way.
Parent company benefits
Having a parent company like Dobson Group to set Kennebecasis Land and Leisure Outdoor Equipment Store up in a new location and with lots more equipment has obviously been advantageous, but there are other benefits it has brought as well.
The pandemic was extremely busy, and Armstrong notes that “it was nice that we had the parent-company with their policies and procedures to guide us in operating safely. There are also many other benefits with accounting, IT and other support.”
Armstrong reflects that it’s been an eye-opening and exciting experience for him to go from the public sector to the private sector. “There are similarities but there are also many differences,” he says. “It’s been amazing to see the power of entrepreneurship and business expertise, to see the transition from a small rental store to this new building, to hear the compliments from customers and see that they are happy. I am sure we will continue to expand to meet the needs of customers and hopefully at the same rate that we’ve been going the last two years.”
Younger members of the family are already involved in the business and more will surely follow.
“We encourage them to get involved,” says Armstrong. “My nephew Gregor has been working here over the last year or so, and now that he’s headed back to university, he still fills in on weekends, but we hope to have him back next summer. We are very fortunate with all the dedicated and experienced staff we have in place and appreciate all they do for customers “
The Dobson’s, he says, are very proud of all their businesses.
“They treat employees and customers like family and that has given them continued success,” notes Armstrong. “They are also very involved in the community and give back a lot. And the support has gone both ways, especially recently with the pandemic. I think it has emphasized shopping local and this is a great community that really understands how important that is. It supports the success that we’ve had, and that success provides community benefits right back.”
He adds, I think the pandemic has also brought back to mind what the Dobson Group has always been about, that close-knit family philosophy with customers, employees, and the community.”
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