By Richard Porayko*Features Profiles
When the weather’s good, we’re
going crazy. We’re running almost beyond capacity,” says Ken Plaskett,
general manager of North Vancouver based Dynamic Equipment Rentals, in
British Columbia. He adds with a laugh, “Everyone is happy that we have
had a great summer!”
|From left, Richard
Girard, West Vancouver store manager; Sean Lehmann, North Vancouver
store manager and Ken Plaskett, general manager.
When the weather’s good, we’re going crazy. We’re running almost beyond capacity,” says Ken Plaskett, general manager of North Vancouver based Dynamic Equipment Rentals, in British Columbia. He adds with a laugh, “Everyone is happy that we have had a great summer!”
Walking into Dynamic Equipment Rentals you get a sense right away that it is a fast-paced, fun place to work. The team is young, friendly and energetic. And plentiful. Everyone busy with a job to do but no one too busy to smile and greet customers and visitors.
The 35-year-old company employs 22 staff and a popular shop Belgian Sheppard named Zambuka, at its head office in North Vancouver and at its additional location in West Vancouver. Plaskett says they are probably higher staffed than most other rental companies in the area, but as he puts it “we want to make sure all our customers are well looked after.”
The company services many sectors including homeowners, contractors, industrial, government and the film industry (70 per cent commercial and 30 per cent homeowner) primarily on the North Shore, but also throughout the Lower Mainland.
Dynamic Equipment Rentals has sold and rented equipment for the $600 million Sea-To-Sky Highway project, however, the company strategically opted to not get involved in very many large 2010 Olympic venue and infrastructure projects underway in the region.
“We know where our fit is within the industry. We’ve worked hard to identify our core customers and we focus heavily on pleasing that group. We want to offer everything we can to those customers. We are never going to promise what we can’t deliver.”
The company carries all standard rental store products from small hand tools to lawn and garden equipment, right up to 7,500 lbs. excavators, skidsteers from 1,500 to 2,500 lbs., and all sizes of compactors. Plaskett says the “ most popular products include rotary and demolition hammers, compaction equipment, cutoff saws, and generators.”
|Dynamic Equipment Rentals has two locations on Vancouver’s North Shore, in North Vancouver and West Vancouver, B.C.|
The summer job that never ended
Plaskett joined Dynamic Equipment Rentals in 1981, when it was known as Lonsdale Rentals, a family-run rental business that was started in the mid-1970s and owned by the Baillie family. Plaskett recalls, “The Baillie family was really decent to work with. Andy Baillie taught me the importance of maintaining the highest level of customer service. It was a great experience learning from people who were pretty much pioneers in the rental industry. It was a very small industry that was relatively unknown back then.”
Fresh out of high school, Plaskett started what became “the summer job that never ended,” he chuckles. In the last 27 years, he has paid his dues and he takes his job seriously. Plaskett has been through four ownership groups throughout his career, and the diversity shows, “We’ve managed to combine the best aspects of corporate, which are structure and accurate reporting, with a family-run business, which focuses on people. That makes for a successful, and enjoyable, lively workplace.”
Plaskett started with the company gassing engines and washing equipment. He quickly advanced, completing “pretty well every service school and program available to get as much training as possible.” Training and education was as much a core value under the Baillie family with Lonsdale Rentals, as it is now operating as Dynamic Equipment Rentals with David and Tess Stewart as owners since 2003. The Stewarts strongly encourage manufacturer’s training and paid education for the staff.
Tight labour market
B.C. has one of the one of the tightest labour markets in the country and finding good help is a challenge provincewide. “Finding labour has been a huge issue, whether it has been mechanics, drivers, counter people, anything. You have to screen them as best as you can and try. Some are a fit, some aren’t. It’s a challenging process at the best of times, so when the labour market thins out, it’s a more painful process,” he says.
The management of Dynamic
recognizes the value of quality staff and low turnover. Plaskett says,
“We’ve managed to find some really good people and we compensate
fairly, we offer a great place to work, and we get people that want to
stick around. We are very pleased with our staff.”
|The showroom displays a wide variety of rental and retail products for walk-in customers.|
And he is working to keep it that way. “We want everyone to be looking forward to coming to work. We try to make it fun for everyone. We treat our staff as family. The Stewart family is very much a driver of that. We want minimal turnover in the staff. We want the best people in the industry. The only way to do that is to treat them well, in all aspects, compensation and work environment. It is very positive.”
Sometimes more innovative measures are required. “With rising real estate prices, North Vancouver has become an expensive place to live and to do business. As a result some of our employees live in neighbouring municipalities. The owners and management really want to help the staff so much, we’ve given some employees assistance to move closer to work to the extent that we have actually budgeted that into the hiring process.”
“Another advantage of being a small, private company, is that we encourage our staff to look to the future and be open with ideas. And because of our size, we can actually listen to and follow up on our staff’s feedback.”
Plaskett remembers a time when the company was owned by an out-of-province corporation, “I moved up quickly from service person to driver to mechanic to counter clerk to assistant manager to store manager by 1990, then by the time we were in our second ownership I was in management. The third ownership group in 1999 was a corporation. And then things really changed. That was when we learned how corporations really worked, some positive, some negative. The reaction time of corporations can be frustrating. With private ownership you’re more able to make decisions faster.” Plaskett adds, “We try to make all of our decisions primarily on numbers, but there is always an element of gut instinct involved and you have to rely on that and your experience when there is no data available. Corporations can be reluctant to rely on gut instinct.”
A new beginning
The company remained under corporate ownership for four years and the business became static. Fast forward to when South African migrants and entrepreneurs David and Tess Stewart bought the company in May 2003 and offered something the business had not seen in quite some time; entrepreneurial spirit. Plaskett explains, “From then on we started seeing some major positive changes including huge improvements in morale, quality, levels of inventory and new product lines.”
Shortly after the Stewarts bought the company in 2003 there was a big shift in the B.C. economy, and it really took off. He says, “when that happened there was just a shortage of everything from labour to materials, and it is still going on to this day. The big shift we saw was that people were choosing to purchase more of their equipment, as they could see it was a long-term utilization period here for top-end equipment. Often it makes much better sense to own it at that point.”
“That’s when we decided to focus some of our attention on sales dealerships. Right now we carry some exclusive product lines for B.C., and one exclusive product line for all of Canada, and all of which are high end. We would never sell or rent low end equipment that’s why we represent manufacturers such as Power Barrow, Yamaha Power Equipment, Weber MT Compaction, Husqvarna and Canycom.” He also points out that other benefits of being a dealer for the equipment they rent is they always have the stock to draw from. “And our customers can try it before they buy it, which they appreciate,” he adds.
|The company carries all standard rental store products from small hand tools to lawn and garden equipment, right up to 7,500 lbs. excavators, skidsteers from 1,500 to 2,500 lbs., and all sizes of compactors.
|The 35-year-old company employs 22
staff and a shop Belgian Sheppard named Zambuka, pictured here
supporting store managers, from left, Richard Girard, Ken Plaskett and
Developing new markets
Dynamic is the exclusive B.C. distributor for Power Barrow, which is a four-wheel drive, gas-powered wheel barrow. “We introduced this product to this market based on customer demand,” he says. “A big segment of our customers’ business is high-end homes where they are taking up a significant portion of their lots. Our customers need to get large quantities of bulk materials such as soil, gravel, or rock, into back yards or front yards and they have very limited space to get through with gates, where a bobcat skidsteer wouldn’t make it, or it may just be a smaller project than is required for a skidsteer. We picked up the dealership for Power Barrow and we have been very successful in selling them.”
“We’ve also got a unit called Canycom, which is track and crawler equipment. They have track power buggies that are much narrower than traditional power buggies plus they are on rubberized tracks, which offer great traction and minimize ground damage. The biggest issues that contractors find in this area are the steep grade, the wet and the mud, so wheeled machines do not work well in these conditions.
“We just opened up a whole new portion of our business which is bulk-material handling. A lot of this stuff is employee driven from feedback directly from our customers. They were coming to us and saying, ‘This doesn’t quite work for our application, what else do you have? Here’s my problem’.” We started to do our research into what’s out there because few traditional wholesalers carry products like this so it’s up to us to source this out. When you do this you suddenly develop markets that you didn’t know existed. Now we are doing fairly well at this and getting requests nationwide for our products.”
The strong Canadian dollar has also helped with some of the products that Dynamic Equipment Rentals imports from the United States such as the Power Barrow and Weber MT Compactors. “We’re the Metro Vancouver dealer for Weber MT Compaction, which has been really advantageous for us. We order in quantities with these larger machines and we pass those savings right along to the customer. Because of the exchange rate our prices can fluctuate month to month, often to our customer’s benefit, but we feel it is fair and honest and we are always offering the best value for the dollar.”
Dynamic Equipment Rentals services and repairs all of the products the company sells, but it also services most other makes and models of equipment. “We have two dedicated service technicians and two certified mechanics as well. We’re also a warranty depot for a number of different manufacturers.”
Plaskett stresses “It’s all about the service, we want to be the one-stop rental place. We will try our best to do everything we can. And if we cannot supply the product, we will take the customer’s phone number down, and we will do our best to find the information they require and we will get back to them. Even if the equipment isn’t purchased or serviced through us, we want to be their first call next time. If we have solved a problem for them, they will call us again. We want to build a long-term relationship.”
“We have probably four or five of us that have been here for more than 10 years with the company. And another large number of employees who have been here in excess of five years. So there have been a lot of relationships built. The North Shore is a relatively small community. Most of the guys that work here grew up here, so we all know a lot of people, and when you develop those relationships you do business on a more personal level, which you feel a responsibility to treat people with respect. They are your neighbour. They are your livelihood. You want to make sure that everybody is happy.”
Based on service
Plaskett says “We have faced some challenges as new competition has come in over the years. We have had larger rental chains aggressively move into the local market offering new inventory and discounted rates. These situations reinforce our commitment to customer service that we strive for every day.”
“We welcome the competition, it actually adds exposure to the whole industry, and there is still a huge number of people that don’t know that rental exists. We are pleased with that aspect of it. There is quite a bit of co-operation between the local rental yards, big and small. Equipment gets rented back and forth. We all work together to keep everybody happy.”
“The discounting we avoid at all measures. We offer a service. We staff our stores heavier than most other rental yards in the region and we do that because the equipment is a commodity, the service is what you really have to work on. So we try to get the best people.” Plaskett explains further, “We don’t want to keep our customers waiting. A reasonably large component of our customer base are homeowners. These people may never have rented before and you may need to spend 15 or 20 minutes with a customer, if you have one person behind the counter and 10 customers waiting, that might not work so well.”
When asked about supplier support, Plaskett responds without hesitation: “We’ve found supplier support to be very good. We have a number of people we deal with from the larger rental house suppliers that I’ve known since they were 17 as well and we have literally grown up in the industry together. Now some of them own the companies, so again, it’s the long-term relationships with suppliers that have also worked out very well. All of the products we align ourselves with, both rental and sales are top end, such as Husqvarna and Yamaha. Those products offer fantastic support, and they are high end, top quality products. We’re not interested in selling cheap items that you could buy at big box stores, we want the high end products that customers are asking for.”
When I bring up the topic of offshore equipment, Plaskett adds candidly, “We’ve tried some offshore products. Some are not bad. Some haven’t worked out as well as we would have liked. We prefer to stick to a known product that has local support. We brought in two pieces of offshore equipment and we quickly realized that, even though they had brand name engines, the rest was completely substandard and we moved on very quickly.”
“One thing that we constantly focus on is the quality of our products. In the rental industry, Hilti is far and above everyone else in roto and demo hammers. Contractors ask for them by name. So that is what they are going to get. We maintain a large fleet of the Hilti hammers; we just keep adding to it. And our philosophy is that the high utilization products get turned over regularly. We replace those at specific intervals so that the customer isn’t dealing with problems. For items that don’t wear out quickly, we will hold on to the older stock and just keep growing our fleet and use the older stock as back-up equipment to avoid missing any rental.”
Dynamic Equipment Rentals continues to advertise in local newspapers and yellow pages ads, but the company is also thinking outside its sandbox, sourcing new suppliers and finding new customers. “We are hitting some trade shows. We have had display booths at the last two B.C. Landscaping and Construction Expos, and that is where we promote our unique product lines like Power Barrow, Canycom and the Weber MT compaction line. We’ve had a fantastic response,” he says, adding that “we also suggest to all employees that they attend the regional Canadian Rental Association (CRA) rental shows to keep current with new products and maintain supplier relations.”
“We also get involved in local charities and community events that are not always high profile but are important to the community. An example of our community involvement is our participation for the past three years with the B.C. Lions football team supplying the fans to cool the players’ benches at B.C. Place.”
The company’s new website was released this year and has been a valuable sales tool. “We didn’t realize how big of a sales tool it was until we started getting some phone calls from across the country. And for our new product sales, that is where it has really helped. It is not a huge expense and we feel people in Metro Vancouver are very computer savvy. It is a much greener alternative. Rather than printing off our price lists, we post our price list right online. We don’t want to hide anything. We feel we price competitively. We offer great service with very competitive pricing and that’s what we’re known for.”
“Lately we feel there has to be a rise in rental rates. There is inflation everywhere. Rental rates have not increased proportionally in this region with expenses.” With fuel prices rising so much, increased delivery expenses are out of pocket. “Delivery to site is 30 per cent of our contractor work. We have four delivery trucks and we are trying to keep delivery costs down,” he says, adding that equipment also needs to be fuelled. “We haven’t passed the increase along to the customer probably as much as we should have. We are just remaining competitive in the market.”
When asked about the economic outlook for the region he says, “Personally I think things are levelling off. We’ve discussed this at length about what our future plans are and we are moving forward cautiously, but cautiously optimistic. It’s not cooling but it is definitely not growing like it was, and it is also not dropping off. There is a mixed report of what the economic outlook is, so at this point we are going to be very cautious, but we are not going to stop being entrepreneurial. We have to be very careful. We don’t have the advantage of having 200 stores spread out over a variety of economic markets so if our local economy softens we are directly affected. We have to work within our means so we budget carefully and never get overextended. Always plan and prepare for the worst and it never happens.”
Plaskett adds, “We do get involved with enough sectors of business where one or more of those sectors is usually busy. We may see some ups and downs but we always survive. We plan for it and adjust as necessary and react quickly.”
He continues, “Our outlook is just growth. We want to add more and more inventory. We’re not necessarily looking for huge expansion, but we are always looking for smart expansion. As opportunities for growth or new ventures come up we look at them, we are doing everything logically and calculated. The general rental operation is our core business, which we maintain first and foremost, we are not going to do anything to jeopardize that. But we will always look ahead.”
*Rich Porayko is a professional writer and photographer with Construction Creative, a marketing and com-munications company located in Coquitlam, B.C.
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