Canadian Rental Service

Branding a name, building a business

By Chris Skalkos   

Features Business Intelligence

The Canadian Rental Association welcomes a new 'brand' of president.

Bobcat of Saskatoon is a Bobcat equipment dealer in tandem with Kubota of Saskatoon, a dedicated tractor dealer. The company also provides a service to other rental stores filling voids in their fleets by supplying cross-rental items.

His name is Brad Williams, but he is mostly known as Bobcat Brad. Soon, the part owner and operator of an equipment dealer in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, will be adding the title of president to his name when he assumes the position for the Canadian Rental Association (CRA) in February.

While the CRA has boasted a repertoire of highly professional and capable individuals to serve as its president over the years, Williams brings both of these traits to the boardroom with a twist. Witty and amiable with a contagious sense of humour, he is a personality that is hard to miss and this is mostly by his own design.

Branding, he says, has been the key to his success in the rental industry and this vital skill, which he has honed for almost 30 years in his career, will define his term as CRA president.

But before he became a ‘bobcat’ he was just Brad, a youngster fresh out of school and working as a shop mechanic. Not one to turn down an opportunity he accepted a sales position for a compact equipment dealer where he sold five Bobcat units on his first sales call. “From that point on I was hooked or, should I say I was suckered into this industry,” he says with a chuckle. His nickname also came about quite unexpectedly.


Williams was labeled with the moniker in 1982 during a sales call in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan when a customer casually heralded his approach exclaiming “here comes Bobcat Brad!”

“It stuck from there. After that I was sending out advertising materials using that handle. Nobody knows my last name and I kind of like that way,” he says, adding that he is not trying to be anonymous, but he views this as a sign that his branding efforts are working.

Brad Williams, part owner and
operator of Bobcat of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, will become the next president for the Canadian Rental Association (CRA) in February.

“People have a tendency to nickname you by what you mean to them and I want to be known as the guy they go to for Bobcat machines,” he says, revealing the underlying market strategy behind this. “It’s all about branding; Bobcat Brad is a brand I go by because it easily identifies me as a unique individual who sells Bobcat products.”
This branding strategy was applied to his company to help distinguish it for what it does. Bobcat of Saskatoon is clearly and simply a Bobcat equipment dealership. Similarly, the other portion of the business, Kubota of Saskatoon, run by his business partner Tyler Vogelsang, is a dedicated Kubota tractor dealer. The company used to be called Farm and Garden Industrial (FGI), but it was commonly confused with Fort Gary Industries, well known in western Canada, which went by the same acronyms. Renaming the company according to the brand name machines it sells was a way to distinguish it and specify, by its name, exactly what it does. “The names avoid confusion and help with specific marketing efforts. It’s more of a branding strategy to gain market awareness,” he says.

Bobcat of Saskatoon is primarily a supplier with a small rental division. However, Williams emphasizes that it definitely does not compete directly with other rental stores. “The business operation is designed to complement other rental businesses by temporarily filling voids in their fleets by supplying cross-rental items for rental stores that do not carry or are out of a particular piece of equipment. “This allows them to serve customers rather than saying ‘no’ because they simply lack the machines,” he says, adding that this also gives rental companies access to the newest equipment on the market. “We are on the leading edge of new products. The rental industry bases its products on demand and we specialize in putting that product on the market in time to help meet the demand,” he explains.

“We wear two hats, one for compact equipment sales and the other for compact equipment rentals,” he says. “Both have the same goal: we want to help our customers grow, the rental division complements other rental company equipment fleets to give them the opportunity to grow their business and when they do they will buy more equipment from us.”

The showroom in the 11,000 square foot building blends the two dealerships together. Kubota customers are exposed to Bobcat products and vice-versa. “Machines from these two brand names can be used together and having them side-by-side in the showroom reminds customers of that,” says Williams. “Brand name is a huge thing with us and we have two of the strongest brands in the industry.” How does this relate to the rental industry?

Going on 30 years in the business, Williams is known as ‘Bobcat Brad’ among his customers, a nickname he encourages and uses in his brand marketing strategies.

“Studies show rental customers are savvy about brand names and base their decisions on this,” explains Williams. “When customers ask for a Bobcat I know they are asking for a skidsteer loader. When customers attach a brand name to a product you know your branding efforts are successful and they are often so loyal to a certain brand that they will turn their nose up to other brands.”

Williams is speaking with 27 years of experience going from an employee to owner in his progressive career. “I’m past the point where most school teachers would have retired by now,” he jokes. But his advice to other sales representatives in the rental industry is serious.

“Sell a brand product you believe in. Get behind a good product and stay with it. It will take five years to build up your reputation, and expect to make a long-term commitment before you see a pay back,” he says, noting that too often sales representatives jump ship for greener pastures before giving it enough time.

CRA president
Williams began his career as a CRA member like most others. “I was tricked into it,” he says with a laugh, describing how he was recruited by industry veteran Barry Ghiglione from Handyman Rental Centre in Saskatoon after selling a skidsteer to him in the early 1980s.

Soon after getting involved with his local regional association serving several years as treasurer he joined the national association as the CRA representative for Saskatchewan and a director at large. Becoming vice-president meant that he is further committed to the association to serve as president and then chairman for one year each. “My sentence is two more years,” he quips.

William’s advice to young sales representatives in the industry is, “Get behind a good product and stay with it. It will take five years to build up your reputation and expect to make a long-term commitment before you see a pay back.”

He says his term as CRA president will be very easy because of the ground work laid down by previous president Doug Mitchell from the Rent-It Store in Saskatoon and the ongoing support of Mandy Maeren and Marie Nayet, at the CRA’s head office in Winnipeg.

“My first priority as president is to ensure our financial longevity. We have been successful in meeting our financial goals due to some of the budgeting changes the CRA has done,” he says. His second goal is to do the so called “president’s cross country tour” where he will attend all of the CRA regional shows and meet as many members as he can. “It’s the only way to put my finger on the pulse of each region. Canada is a big country and you can travel from one side to another and see three different economies.” he says, adding that he hopes to gain input from
association members and encourage local volunteers to join their local associations. “It can springboard them to bigger and better things at the national level.”

Williams says he is also developing some ideas to offer more membership services in addition to the ones already being provided by the CRA. A personal touch he implemented from his market branding experience was to send out window stickers to every rental store that is a CRA member to help promote the CRA brand. “This gives the
association and therefore the individual rental store more credibility. This is a professional association representing professional businesses and that’s the message we want to get out to the people who rent.”

Kubota of Saskatoon, a joint operation, is run by business partner Tyler Vogelsang.

Another goal is to offer more services to members in the party rental sector. “This part of the industry has been doing very well and growing every year. There have also been several people from this part of the rental industry who have been very proactive in their support for the CRA and we want to give them the recognition they deserve by developing more services for them such as dedicating more floor space for party rental exhibitors at trade shows.”

He says the biggest issue facing rental companies, especially in western Canada right now, is growth. “It’s good but it’s hard to manage if it happens too fast. It’s good to say my business is growing 30 percent each year and by the end of three years you have nearly doubled your business, but do you know how to manage this growth?”

Unlike the consolidation scare that swept through the industry in the 1990s, Williams says the rental industry has since stabilized and there is more optimism from startups.

“In my opinion consolidation has run its course. Now what we are seeing are more independents rebounding in the industry. You see more and more of them finding a small niche and making a go at it. The big rental companies are after the big national accounts leaving a void that the smaller companies are filling and doing quite well. I can see this in the association’s membership numbers. Although we lost member stores as they were acquired our membership numbers haven’t dropped because as some companies get bought others are opening,” he says.

Tracey MacDonald is the company’s service writer and Trent West is the company’s service manager. Bobcat of Saskatoon and Kubota of Saskatoon are housed in an 11,000 square foot building that blends the two dealerships together. Kubota customers are exposed to Bobcat products and vice-versa.

When selling the value of becoming a CRA member, Williams does not have to reach too deep. “There is a direct benefit because whatever you put into it you will get double back. I have used many of the experiences I have gained to help me grow my own business. Being together with other rental professionals is like group IQ, it’s invaluable.”

For non-members he has some important advice. “Take a membership for a test ride before judging the value of joining the association. Try us out for size. The membership dues are lower than what you find for other industry associations and it really is a great value. You will get your membership fees back in savings and through purchase discounts offered by suppliers.”

Williams says his ultimate goal is another brand name change as he strives to become the ‘King’ of what he does best. He explains that he would like to emulate the success of Joshua ‘Chop’ Towbin, the self proclaimed, “King of Cars”, in Las Vegas. Towbin and his dealership were featured in the A&E television network program King of Cars that filmed between 2004 and 2006 and aired on the national network until earlier this year. The program offered a behind-the-scenes look of how Towbin turned his business into the most successful Chrysler dealerships in North America strictly through his energetic, charismatic and comical management practices. “That’s what I want to be,” says Williams. The King of Bobcats has a nice ring to it. -end-

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