Canadian Rental Service

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Back from away

With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again. Rick Moss, formerly of downtown Toronto, currently of central Newfoundland, is a case in point.


September 17, 2014
By Jim Chliboyko

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With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again. Rick Moss, formerly of downtown Toronto, currently of central Newfoundland, is a case in point.

Swedish roots 
Anna’s Swedish roots have provided a lot of inspiration for the store’s branding, including the name, the logo and the interior decor. The name “Kivik” is actually the name of a town in southern Sweden.


 

Until late 2012, Moss, 42, had been a Toronto-based executive in the IT industry for 18 years. In fact, Moss and his Swedish wife Anna Magnusson had a condo right in the centre of Toronto, on King Street. But they quit their jobs to return home to the central Newfoundland town of Grand Falls-Windsor, a town of about 13,000 people, 2,500 kilometres away, to start up their own independent rental business. Moss notes that within the space of a few months, they went from working in IT to owning a store with his wife, having a baby girl (Izabella) and getting a dog. That’s a bit of a change.

“Once we made the decision, we moved very, very quickly,” said Moss.

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Moss and Magnusson are now the owners of Kivik Equipment. And the inspiration for it all began with a couple of dudes looking at a hole in the ground during an annual summertime trip home.

Says Moss, “My father builds some commercial buildings. If I step back as to when I came up with the idea–in July/August 2012, we were looking at a hole in the ground (one his father had dug, where a building was going to be put up). I asked, ‘What are you going to use the building for?’ He had put the building up next door. He collects antique cars and he was going to use it for that. I kind of expropriated it.”

Kivik HQ is in a very new part of town. According to Google Street View’s 2013 drive-by, it’s a well-treed (albeit obviously new), light-industrial area right on the eastern edge of Grand Falls-Windsor. But if one checks out the 2009 version of Street View, the same area is a clump of roadside bushes. However close to a eureka moment that lip-of-the-pit conversation was for the Moss clan, there had been a growing realization that there was a role in town for an independent rental store.

“My family has been in business in other things for years. My father owned a body shop and towing companies, and he’s put up a few commercial buildings. We knew from his experiences and knowledge of business. There are no independents in central Newfoundland. There’s Battlefield in Gander, 100 kilometres away. United Rental is here in Grand Falls. They really own the province. They’re the major players by far. But nobody else was doing anything on a large scale. We saw an opportunity to inject some competition into the local scene.”

Moss officially got the ball rolling almost right after that empty-lot discussion, incorporating Kivik in September of 2012. As if moving several provinces away and creating a business remotely wasn’t enough of a challenge, Anna also happened to be pregnant with their first child right around this time.

“We moved back – we bought the new house in December in 2012,” said Moss. “We officially moved back in January, and opened the doors to the public April 10, 2013.”

Though it may sounds like an Inuit reference, “Kivik” is the product of brainstorming (“Anna had a bunch of names written down.”). The palindrome is actually the name of a town in southern Sweden that they liked the sound of. The colours of the logo happen to be blue and yellow, like the Swedish flag.

“Visually, the word is symmetrical, from a logo design perspective. And it looks corporate. In Newfoundland, you often get things like ‘Bob’s Rental Shop,’” said Moss.

But there was a lot of initial work to do to set up the business, including calling the big names in the equipment sector while he was still living in Toronto, before the business even had doors to open.

“The challenge is when you start cold calling these guys, coming from outside of the industry, you call up any of these guys, and you say, ‘I want to buy some scissor lifts.’ They say, ‘call Battlefield or United.’ They don’t think you’re serious, it takes twisting some arms. It takes a little bit of convincing to get people to realize you’re serious.”

“Once we did get them lined up, the vendors have been phenomenal.”

When the day finally did come to open the store, it was a relaxed opening, without ceremony.

“We did do some media — radio and newspaper — but we didn’t do a grand opening. We just opened the doors and let things naturally happen, just let it organically built from there. We were also calling on contractors.”

It started to get really busy, Moss said, when he was attending Skyjack courses in Guelph, and getting messages from store staff about business picking up. Moss says the staff, so far, consists of him and Anna, as well as a driver, a full-time counter guy and a part-time counter guy. And Moss’ dad — a typically busy retired guy — has been known to pitch in from time to time. Moss says he’s looking to increase his work force by two more bodies sooner rather than later.

The staff is all hand-picked. “It’s all people that we’ve known,” says Moss.

But there were still some adjustments that the pair had to make in the past two years, other than moving from the largest city in Canada to the fifth-largest town in Newfoundland (and having a child). A newer challenge for the couple is getting used to running their own business.

“It’s a different kind of pressure here,” says Moss. “You get to make the decision without business cases. It’s less stressful because you don’t have to yell and scream to get something done, but you do have to live with your own decisions.”

Like many rental businesses, Moss says the customer base is a diverse one, from “Joe Homeowner” to big industrial sites. The website mentions that Kivik services Labrador, as well, but it’s a one-hour journey merely to get to the ferry to Labrador — mostly their Labrador business consists of product sales. But, though Newfoundland itself is an island, that doesn’t mean the distances are insignificant, as anybody who has driven from St. John’s to Gros Morne can attest.

“We probably cover a 300- to 400-kilometer radius. We have our own roll-out trucks,” says Moss.

As for Grand Falls-Windsor, “Things have been bustling quite heavily. It’s a small town, but 100 new houses have gone up last year, and there’s constant development commercially, as well. A lot of guys are going to Alberta to work and coming back to live here.”

But the geographical isolation (Deer Lake, population 5,000, is 2.5 hours away; Gander, 11,000 souls, is an hour in the other direction) can make potential customers easier to contact, too, especially with something like Facebook, says Moss.

“We do quite a bit on Facebook, using promoted ads on Facebook. Facebook ads are quite phenomenal. Anna is working on a Facebook ad right now,” says Moss. “What’s cool about Facebook is that you target. If I’m going to advertise Red Wing Boots, I’ll do a 100-kilometre radius. If I’m doing scissor lifts, I’ll do the whole province. Other than building the little graphic, it takes no time to do.” 

In terms of their projections, after their first year and a quarter, Moss feels they are right on target.

“We’re pretty much dead on to our business plan, we’re right exactly where we anticipated to be. We’re obviously looking at opportunities. We didn’t build this to be a small, mom-and-pop rental shop. We’re looking at building an entity that we can be proud of.

Moss said he takes pride in being able “to come back and able to invest in something, and to create some jobs – so much commercial activity is going on in Newfoundland. There needs to be more growth.”

As well, there’s the satisfaction of completely uprooting their lives and doing a fairly good job of it so far.

Says Moss, “We completely changed our lives. Everything about our lives is different today than it was two years ago. Now we get to make the decisions as to what we want to do.”