Canadian Rental Service

A model to follow

By Chris Skalkos   

Features Profiles

When Randy Turner acquired ownership of Bestway Rent-All in Midland, Ont., he assumed more than just a rental company. The young rental operator also took over the legacy his father, Wayne Turner, had left him, and is using this as a model to carve out his own niche in the rental industry.

Bestway Rent-All is an independent family-operated equipment rental company located in Midland, Ont.

When Randy Turner acquired ownership of Bestway Rent-All in Midland, Ont., he assumed more than just a rental company. The young rental operator also took over the legacy his father, Wayne Turner, had left him, and is using this as a model to carve out his own niche in the rental industry.

Randy speaks fondly of his father, who started the company in 1980 in this small community with a population of about 17,000 people in picturesque cottage country north of Barrie. Turner was working for a large telephone company and when he was temporarily laid off he went to work for a small equipment shop where the idea of opening a rental shop was hatched.

“Dad had a choice of going back to work for the telephone company, but he chose to go into rentals,” says Randy. “A lot of people doubted him and asked why he would leave a great job with a full pension, but he wanted to control his own destiny.”

Randy Turner acquired the business from his father Wayne Turner in February. The company has been operating since 1980.

The company opened its doors at its first location offering light construction and lawn and garden equipment. “Roto tillers were popular, he had one power trowel and two quick-cuts, nothing large,” says Randy, adding the building was only about 600 to 800 square feet. While his father had the only dedicated rental store in Midland he was also the sole operator and ran the business by himself for 10 years.

“I remember going to work for him on Saturdays from a young age. That was the only way I got to see him because he was working six days a week, 12 hours a day, and he did pick-ups and deliveries on Sundays, before and after work. At that point the business wasn’t big enough to hire people,” Randy recalls.

In 1986 the company moved to a larger building, and in 1988, hired its first employee. The business began to grow, servicing light construction contractors and homeowners and the company built an addition in 1995 to accommodate its expanding inventory, giving it 3,800 square feet including an outside storage compound.

Family friend and company employee Ron Edwards says the building boom after the 1990s recession helped the company, as a lot of people with disposable income were turning their cottages into year-round homes. Edwards recalls how Randy’s father used his people skills and his dedication to service to secure a share of the cottage renovation market.

“He had a good relationship with the builders and he had a good reputation for servicing equipment. Wayne bent over backwards to service his customers. He was putting in 60 hours a week or more. He knew that in the rental business the quality of equipment was important, whether he was renting to a contractor or a homeowner,” he says. “Clean equipment that looks good makes a better impression on customers. He also turned over equipment earlier than he had to. He felt that spending money on new equipment kept customers coming back. He listened to customers and stocked his store with equipment that they wanted,” says Edwards.

“Price is always important but he was a small business person who was dealing with customers on a first-name basis and this is a tight-knit community. He was close to his customers, which gave him direct access to input so he could react faster to the market changes,” he explains. The relationships he built also extended to the building box companies that have since set up rental outlets to service the same market, sending Bestway Rent-All customers for items that they do not carry.

After moving into their most recent building the company took advantage of the extra room building a small showroom to display small consumable retail items. The extra storage space inside and out also allowed them to add table and chairs to its inventory as well as larger equipment. “We now had a place for skidsteers and rollers and a truck to move it all around,” says Randy. “Even after hiring another employee offering more services meant opening up a new market for more deliveries, which didn’t reduce Dad’s workload,” he adds.

The company’s last move into a 3,800-square-foot building allowed it to design a small showroom for consumable retail items.

With Turner and Edwards running the business Randy came on board in 1996 after working at the store part time and some weekends. “I remember playing with the equipment as a kid, Dad brought home a new lawnmower when I was four years old and I tore it apart. I was always hands-on,” says Randy. He originally wanted to start working at his father’s rental store right away, but his father had other plans. “He wanted me to go out and work in the real world for a few years to gain some experience and learn about work ethics. No free rides,” he says. So that is what he did to earn his spot in the family business.

With Randy now on board and three people in the work rotation, his father started taking time off. As the business kept growing and Randy became established, succession plans emerged to pass over the business assets to him.

“It was set up so that the business is passed down to me at Dad’s comfortable pace. Statistics show that a high percentage of second generation businesses fail. Dad is determined not to let that happen,” he says, adding, “There are ways to do it in order to lessen the tax burden and the overall cost of transferring the business.” His father is now enjoying a state of semi-retirement while keeping tabs on the business.

Today Bestway Rent-All still services its traditional customer base of cottage-homeowners and light construction contractors as well as servicing the few factories in the area. It has maintained its reputation of renting quality construction and lawn and garden equipment, which has increased the scope of its inventory to include a Kubota loader, two Kubota mini-excavators, two Thomas skidsteers, a three-foot Ditch Witch trencher, a 12-inch Vermeer chipper, one double drum roller, plate tampers, jackhammers, nailers and hardwood flooring equipment.

Equipment rental is the company’s focus as it specializes in light construction equipment and lawn and garden equipment.

Other than the usual disposable items sold with rented equipment the company only sells retail items when customers ask for it.

“Retail is not our focus. Rona and Home Depot do sales and it’s not worth trying to compete with them. We focus on rentals and service. We know what we are good at so we stay with it,” he says. What the company is good at is customer service, a blueprint for the company’s success established by Randy’s father. “We don’t just rent tools we rent solutions to problems. That’s where years of experience come in. Listening to customers is important. You have to be creative to come up with a solution with the tools you have on hand. And you also need to educate customers without belittling them. Most of the time we are dealing with customers on a budget so they all have a limit to solving that problem. It can be a delicate situation,” he explains.

The company’s reputation of running the business with honesty and integrity is also vital as Randy says he would rather lose a sale than take advantage of a customer. “That means we will turn away customers if we don’t have the right equipment or we know we can’t service that customer professionally. You have to recognize your limitations. Most customers appreciate that you’re sending them down the right path so when they come back to us they know we are being honest. We may not get that rental today, but it doesn’t mean we won’t get the next one tomorrow. Customers appreciate honesty and integrity,” he says, adding that they have come to rely on the company’s expertise. “There are new tools being introduced all the time that could be better for the job and that they may not be aware of. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and keep on top of new ways to help them.”

After overcoming a five-year fight with leukemia, Randy says he looked forward to returning to work to service the customers who supported him through his illness.

In such a knowledge-based industry Randy says it is even more important for small rental operators to forge strong relationships with their equipment suppliers and he says he has come to rely on two primary companies, Rentquip and Rapid Nail to back up his equipment purchases.

“Equipment doesn’t make money when it’s broken. The ability to get timely service and spare parts quickly is key. You need reliable suppliers in this business and that’s why our buying decisions are not always based on price. We look at quality and how well the dealer backs up the warranty. And it’s also nice to get personal visits,” he says.  “Because we have been in business for so long we are still getting a steady flow of sales reps from suppliers we deal with.”

In addition to the trials of running your own business Randy also had to overcome a personal challenge as he is a cancer survivor. For five years he battled leukemia, undergoing chemotherapy treatments before finally claiming victory over the disease.
“These are things that people sometimes face outside of their work lives that we have to overcome. I received a tremendous amount of support from our customers when I was sick.  That’s something you only get in a small town,” he says, adding that it made him even more determined to come back to work.

During his growth in the industry Randy has learned what his father had learned years before. “The rental industry is about people skills. I learned this by watching Dad. Part of it comes naturally and the other part is learned. But things have changed, you can’t do business on a handshake anymore,” he says, adding that the next generation of rental operators face new challenges. “Today you need to know more about the products in this industry and see where trends are going. The offshore products have changed the industry. That side of rentals has died off. Now the focus is on specialty tools.”

While the learning curve has become more acute Randy says one of the primary ways small independent rental operators can keep updated is to attend industry trade shows. “You can learn about new products to get ideas and see the next generation of equipment. By talking to suppliers you can get feedback on what’s new. It also gives you a chance to speak with other rental operators. They like to talk with others in the rental industry and tend to be honest about their opinions. What works in other markets could also work here,” he explains. However, he maintains that the primary method of learning about what your local market will demand is to immerse yourself in it, talk to your customers and listen.

Bruce Lockhart prepares for a day at work. Equipment maintenance is vital to the company’s operation.

“There is no way you can learn this industry from a book. Hands-on learning is involved. Growth is in the plan for this company, but I feel that the industry and my customers will tell me how to grow. You can only get that by listening,” he says.

Like his father Randy is following a similar path utilizing the same work ethics. “He felt his way through it as he went. He had nothing to model himself after and no set plan and he made it a success,” he says. Like his father, Randy will continue to be hands-on as he grows the family business in the future and he considers himself for-tunate that he has somebody to model himself after.

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