By Colleen Cross & Patrick Flannery
The grizzled veterans of the rental industry are good at talking to each other. They tell each other what a great industry we have and how rewarding it has been to build their businesses.
By Colleen Cross & Patrick Flannery
The grizzled veterans of the rental industry are good at talking to each other. They tell each other what a great industry we have and how rewarding it has been to build their businesses. They reminisce fondly about the wild times they had at various trade shows and conferences. They scoff at the modern obsession with electronic communication and bemoan the inability of today’s kids to take their eyes off their screens. Then they look around the room and wonder why all they see is grey hair. A young person today can easily hear a lot of reasons why the rental industry was a great thing for their parents and grandparents. But can anyone say what it might offer them?
The following stories do that. Here are the experiences and achievements of 10 extraordinary people under 40 years old who have made great careers and lives for themselves in this industry. They are people who love machinery and fixing things and have found a life where they can make a living doing what they love. They are people driven to lead and excel who have found opportunities to prosper and grow a business empire. They are people who love people and have found a chance to serve others and solve their problems. They are even people with their sights set on other goals who have found the rental industry a valuable way to be part of the community and its business environment. These are 10 different people who have found what they want in the rental industry. With any luck, their stories will inspire others to see if they can find something they want here, too.
Jeff Leaman, president, Scugog Equipment Rentals, Ontario
Jeff Leaman embodies Scugog Equipment Rentals’ motto: “We make it happen.”
Leaman began working at the pressure washing station at the company at its original Port Perry location as a 19-year-old student and some eight years later became the owner.
“The existing owner of the business at the time, Brent Johnston, sort of showed me through the ropes,” says Leaman. “We were a growing business at the time and we were just in the process of opening a second location.”
After graduating from Centennial College’s business marketing program, Leaman worked at Scugog full time.
Johnston was looking at retiring around 2007, so the two came up with a plan, and in April 2007, Leaman purchased the business from him through a gradual buyout.
Scugog Equipment Rentals now boasts three locations: the flagship shop in Port Perry is 27 years old, the second store in Uxbridge is 12 years old, and the latest location, serving Stouffville, is just two years old but steadily growing.
“Uxbridge and Port Perry are very similar,” Leaman says. “Both very rural communities. Stouffville is a little bit closer to the city, so you get more contractor activity during the week and not as many homeowners doing their own projects.”
“Jeff has built a reputation in all three towns as a fair and honest businessman,” says nominator Berni Balko, vice-president, Scugog Equipment Rentals, and Leaman’s business partner. “What makes Jeff exemplary is that he carries this same reputation with his employees. His employees revere him and it shows in their work every day.”
Leaman attributes Scugog’s steady growth and success to customer service.
“Our level of service, I believe, is we focus on making that second to none. And making sure we treat our customers the way that we would want to be treated ourselves,” he says.
Working with two major lines of tools and equipment – Hilti and Husqvarna – also has played a significant role in the company’s growth.
“Jeff displays a unique, fresh, open-minded leadership like I’ve never seen before,” says Balko. “He has a knack of knowing where the industry can grow and how to get there. He has brought new brand name product lines into the business, and along with these name brands, many new customers.”
Under his leadership, they began dealing in Hilti products a year and a half ago. “With Hilti, it had been something we’d pondered,” says Leaman. “We just weren’t at the right stage. It’s quite a commitment to get involved with their tools . . . and they’ve got a new sales manager who was in here and we were able to put a program together that worked well for us.”
Just this spring, they teamed up with Husqvarna to offer lawn and garden equipment, chainsaws and other tools.
“We opened that up out of our Port Perry location and it’s helped to bring some new customers into that location as well,” he notes.
Although the business keeps him busy seven days a week, Leaman, who has been married to Jessica for a year, counts golf and general mechanical “tinkering” among his hobbies.
By all accounts, though, he enjoys the work. As Balko says, “Jeff finds the business very exciting as it is always changing and providing the opportunity of growth.
“As each year passes,” she says, “I cannot wait to see where Jeff will take Scugog Equipment Rentals.”
James Morden, president, Rentshop, Alliston, Ont.
At the age of 36, the owner of a smallish shop in an out-of-the-way part of central Ontario, James Morden is one of the most widely known people in the Canadian rental industry today. It is not an accident. Morden has made it his business to develop as many connections in the industry as he can, with a view to gaining as much influence and visibility for himself and his company as possible. Is it a case of inflated ego? Nope. Morden is just using the tools at his disposal to further the fortunes of Rentshop and his own long-term goals – and to deliver a lot of benefit to the association and the industry as a whole through his hard work and volunteerism.
Morden has already risen through the chairs of the Ontario CRA and stepped down as chairman when the 2013 board came in. He is the national director for Ontario and chairs the national CRA’s social media committee. He has been active on a variety of American Rental Association committees and won awards for his participation there. In Canada, Morden has won Ontario Rental Professional of the Year for 2005, national Rental Person of the Year for 2010 and the Region 10 Award for Rentshop from the ARA. In Alliston, Morden is involved in just about every corporate and citizenship group he can find. For 20 years, in a tradition started by his father, Rentshop has sponsored an award for the local high school graduates with the highest marks in welding.
Where is all this taking him? Morden has a degree in political science from Laurier University and plans someday to run for public office. “I am interested in politics, and what better way to get involved in the business community than to run this shop?” he says. He hopes one day to be elected president of the national CRA and after that, who knows?
The go-to guy
Chad Graves, mechanical technician, The Rent-it Store, Saskatoon, Sask.
“Chad is one of our ‘go-to guys,’ “ says co-worker and friend Ken Johnson in the Saskatoon, Sask., shop, who nominated Graves. “Every rental yard has one or should have one.”
In Johnson’s words, 34-year-old Chad Graves started “as quite a number of us have in a entry-level position loading equipment, doing light service work and deliveries, and has worked his way into a mechanic position.”
Graves says the bulk of his training has been in conjunction with the company’s distributors, going to service schools “and all that fun stuff.”
With the company for 14 years, Graves counts among his duties fixing Sea-Doos, motorcycles and other machines, making deliveries, going on service calls, repairing things on site – whatever needs doing.
What makes him so effective?
“I’d say just willing to do anything really – learn anything,” says Graves. He adds that it’s important to “get along well with everybody – customers, staff.”
He also cites hard work and keeping an open mind as key attributes.
In his spare time, Graves enjoys “the usual stuff: golf, balls, hockey.”
However, with a five-month-old baby girl Colbie, he and fiancée Tanya may be a little short on spare time for a while.
It’s clear a positive attitude has played an important role in his success.
“It’s always pleasant to approach him as quite a number of our customers have found out,” says Johnson.
In fact, the always-game Graves had trouble narrowing down his favourite part of the job.
“I’d say, actually just fixing everything. You name it.”
The fast learner
Dustin Hubert, operations manager, L.M. Temperature Control Inc, Mississauga, Ont.
As Dustin Hubert puts it, his co-workers ganged up on him.
The four-year veteran of the rental business was nominated by co-workers Diane Gouge, Luis Salazar, Mario Muscat, Dan Williams, Wendy Ferreira, Jocelyne Salazar and Sandra Coelho of L.M. Temperature Control Inc.
Twenty-nine-year-old Hubert rose from inside sales rep with virtually no experience in rental to national equipment co-ordinator, and recently, operations manager, managing technicians and day-to-day operations at the Mississauga, Ont., rental house.
“We are thrilled to nominate Dustin Hubert for the Top 40 Under 40 as he exemplifies our definition of great customer service,” say his colleagues in their nomination letter. “He is always available for customers and takes calls at all hours of the day or night to make sure projects run smoothly and all our customers are happy.”
They also credit Hubert for taking courses and for teaching himself the business in a relatively short time.
Hubert has managed key accounts, including large construction projects with companies such as PCL, EllisDon and Carillion. He was instrumental in LMTC’s successful project co-ordination for the G8 and G20 summits held in Ontario in June 2010.
“[Our customer] handed us this kind of stack of requirements,” says Hubert. “All these different tents, locations, generator requirements: a laundry list of stuff that they were going to hopefully be bidding on to supply in addition to some of the work that they had already been awarded so Luis and I put together this plan and equipment list and locations and manpower, and presented that to our customer and they ended up winning the job so that in turn won us the job.”
He has continued to manage important, complicated projects requiring significant planning and co-ordination, among them the newly built Niagara Health System Complex.
“It was a LEED building,” says Hubert, “so they had some very specific requirements as far as what type of indoor environment that they needed so we had to provide a season-long plan, whether it be cooling, heating, humidifier, dehumidifier, to maintain these conditions throughout the lifetime of that project [three years].”
Hubert, who is described by colleagues as resourceful and “on the leading edge of technology,” implemented a bar code system at LMTC using hand-held devices for better inventory control and cost management.
Hubert explains: “We may have things go in and out several times over the course of a project, so, being able to stay on top of that efficiently and accurately was our main goal, so we invested in some hardware, we had some custom-made software made and we basically have an entire bar code system in place now on all of our assets where we can easily track, locate and account for on any given kind of job or time frame.”
A “ ‘green’ thinker,” he is also an active member of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Green Building Council.
Hubert, who enjoys tinkering with vehicles and boating, shares a home in Stoney Creek with his fiancée, Erika. The two plan to marry in fall 2014.
Trevor Lisoy, owner, Larry’s Rentall Inc., St. Catharines, Ont.
Trevor Lisoy is proving there is no need to worry about the next generation in his family business.
Larry Lisoy, owner of Larry’s Rentall, nominated his son Trevor, 39, for the Top 10 Under 40.
Larry says Trevor, who has been with the company 19 years, has shown “dedicated interest in developing better operating procedures and disciplines to elevate our company to the next level.”
“Basically,” explains Trevor, it’s been expanding into different horizons. We’ve gone from high rental concentration to an all-around sales and service event . . . . We do a lot of warranty work for BE and Ariens and Gravely, Echo and MTD, so people can bring their equipment, get it fixed here. If they buy it here, then they can get it serviced here. We service and take care of the warranty on every brand that we sell, which is something that you can’t get from a box store.”
In addition to negotiating new lines, Trevor’s has incorporated, and used his considerable computer skills to help set up, a new point-of-sale system.
“We used to have Solutions by Computer before we went to Point of Rental and with Point of Rental the changeover was actually almost seamless. Even with the data and the contract history, I put in all the hardware and got the network set up and then they just came in and did the software side of it.”
Larry also credits Trevor’s efforts with bolstering the company image – even with helping bring the company two image awards.
“His creative ability has been outstanding in developing advertising for ads doing all the layout to go to print, script for radio ads and flyers from layout to finished product,” Larry says.
He adds that the younger Lisoy has maintained a high standard of quality in the showroom, shop and equipment to serve their customers’ needs.
“I do a lot of my work more in the back shop than I do in the front showroom making sure that the equipment standards are maintained . . . . We try and maintain a high degree of quality equipment and I think our customers kind of appreciate that from us.”
That sense of commitment carries into Trevor’s private life. Trevor and wife Michelle have a seven-year-old daughter, Marissa, whose soccer team Trevor coached last year. He also makes time to serve as a minor hockey referee for Novice to Juvenile divisions.
Larry is also quick to point out Trevor’s “overall knowledge of the rental business from practical repair experience to financial reports.
The 24/7 guy
Shawn O’Brien, service manager, Star Rentals, Surrey, B.C.
Shawn O’Brien likes to build and maintain relationships with co-workers and customers.
He and his employer at Star Rentals, Rob Potter, go back about eight years to when Potter hired him first as a “weekend yard guy” then as a driver at United Rentals.
Potter obviously still thinks highly of his employee’s talents and reliability.
“Shawn is an outstanding employee who makes himself available 24/7 for our customers. He takes care of all of our parts ordering plus shares in counter duty. He also takes care of our outside service truck going from site to site maintaining equipment for Star Rentals and customers’ equipment.”
O’Brien, now service manager, still works as a mechanic.
“Today I’ve got my coveralls on,” he tells Canadian Rental Service.
He is not formally trained but received on-the-job training under “a couple of good guys” who are still at United: Bryan Touzel and Ted Schultz.
The hardworking 35-year-old is also responsible for parts ordering, warranties, work orders and shop supplies.
“I try and locate aftermarket parts if I can,” he says, adding that he shops around for the best price on parts for, as an example, lift products.
“Other manufacturers, you know, they make products that are basically replicas of a Genie part. So I can pop that in and still get the same result, but being a little cheaper,” he explains, using the lift company as an example.
Some products he comes across in magazine ads; others he finds by word of mouth, which is where the connections come in: “You know, we all share around where we buy, help each other out, right?”
Although O’Brien is always available for service calls or emergencies, such as a break-in at the company a couple of years back, he helps out the CRA by driving a shuttle bus of attendees to and from the Lower Mainland trade show.
His favourite part of job? “Probably customer satisfaction, just making sure everybody’s happy at the end of the day,” he says, adding that he enjoys keeping in touch with longtime customers.
O’Brien and wife Erin, who have been married for seven years, have a six-year-old son named Taylor. He enjoys spending time with his family, and – being a handy guy – working on side projects at home.
“I’ve got some family members who all have equipment as well, so when it’s broken down they bring it over,” he says.
Angie Venekamp, manager, Rental Network Ltd., Squamish, B.C.
If you want something to get done, give it to someone who is busy.
Whoever coined that truism must have known someone like Angie Venekamp.
Venekamp, 35, has spent her entire career in the rental industry, so it seems a natural progression for her to be heavily involved in the Canadian Rental Association.
She has been in the business for 20 years. The last 13 of those have been spent with the Rental Network.
Before that, she was with Sabre Rentals in Whistler. She got her start literally from the bottom up, sweeping floors and washing windows while still in high school.
Helping people has always come naturally to Venekamp, and she has a knack for reading people.
“I like the challenge in satisfying the customers,” she says.
“Growing up with the equipment, you learn the most about the equipment. I’m working in every aspect of it, so, right from starting with the windows and dusting shelves to working in the shop, servicing the equipment. You get to know what tools do what, and the best part is when a customer comes in and they don’t really know what they need but they know what they want to achieve, I like being able to help them.”
Venekamp’s strong customer service and leadership skills have not gone unnoticed.
“I’ve won the B.C. regional award at the local level, I’ve gotten the Canadian Rental Person of the year in 2011 as well, Region Ten person of the year for 2011 as well, that was a good year,” she says, when asked for a rundown.
One secret of Venekamp’s success is that she is quick to be involved in outside activities that enhance her business and her work with the association.
“I did the Global Rental Alliance Leadership Program a little over a year ago,” she says. “Learning the tricks that they have over in Australia and bringing them back over here and implementing them was very valuable for me.”
She also has participated in leadership conferences in Chicago.
“They’re very much an information overload for a couple of days,” she notes. “You leave there feeling energized, you know, ready to take the association to the next level.”
Venekamp, who is in her second term as British Columbia director of the Canadian Rental Association and a member of the national board, says getting involved in the association has multiple benefits.
“I get to meet people from all over the country and make those connections, and you never know when you might need to call on one of them. And being a person that is out there in the association and in front, everybody seems to know who I am so they think of me as well when they need something.”
Venekamp does not rule out running for president someday, but for now she has plenty on her plate.
She and husband Dale, who have been married for 12 years, have two boys: Tyler, 12, and Colby, 10.
Outside of the rental business, Venekamp keep equally busy working with the local soccer, baseball and slow-pitch associations.
“I volunteer a lot,” she says. “I definitely deal with other organizations. I like to be a busy person.”
Michael Wood, marketing director/partner, Ottawa Special Events
Michael Wood and his partner (and nominator), Peter Gilroy, started Ottawa Special Events three years ago, but the company’s genesis can be traced back to one savvy $8 acquisition: Ottawaspecialevents.com.
“I am a bit of a nerd so I put it into Google,” says Wood, 37. “I get a call from Pride here in Ottawa, and they said, ‘Do you rent generators?’ I was living across the street from Home Depot, and I said, ‘I think so, let me call you right back.” So I ran across to Home Depot, and I said, ‘Do you rent generators?’ He said, ‘Yup.’ I said, ‘How much?’ He said $50. I called Pride back and said I can get them for you for $100 a pop.”
So began a thriving business that has grown to 15 employees in 13,000 square feet. Having been involved in music – Wood as a guitarist who once toured with his own band, Circuit, supporting bands like Kansas and Motley Crue, and Gilroy as his producer – the pair realized there was a need for a central rental service.
“We wanted to form a company that combined the event/party rental world and audiovisual,” says Gilroy in his nomination. “A true, one-stop shop for all event rentals that would include tables, chairs, linens, stages, stanchions, pipe and drape as well as PA systems, projectors, screens and all other audio-visual products.”
“Our whole deal is service, service, service,” says Wood.
Gilroy credits his partner’s marketing and sales skills with helping to net the 2012 NHL all-star game, the 2012 Juno Awards, Google, Starbucks, NORAD, U.S. Homeland Security and countless other clients.
A Nepean Chamber of Commerce best new business and a finalist in the Ottawa Business Achievement Awards, Ottawa Special Events has become the most reviewed rental company in the Ottawa market on Google and the highest scoring, with a 29/30 Zagat score.
Success has not gone to the entrepreneur’s head. A voting member of the Grammys, Wood skipped the prestigious event last year to go to the ARA Rental Mart.
Closer to home, Wood keeps it real by sponsoring charity events, issuing discounts to such organizations as Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, and writing donation cheques back to clients with worthy causes.
“Michael also leads by example at our shop,” says Gilroy. “If our staff is out working 12- to 18-hour days, he is the first to be by their side helping with setups and teardowns. The staff have often commented that they work as hard they do because they see ownership work as hard as they do.”
The hard worker
Lawrence Gingrich, president and co-owner with wife Marlene of Broadline Rentals (formerly AC Schenk Equipment Rental),
Mount Forest, Ont.
Lawrence Gingrich had always wanted to own his own business. In November 2005, almost eight years ago, he realized that dream by buying AC Schenk Equipment Rental in Mount Forest, Ont.
Gingrich, now 27, learned about the opportunity to buy AC Schenk through Maple Lane Farm Service, a Gale farm equipment dealer that was involved with Schenk. The Schenks got out of rental, and the rest, as Gingrich says, is history.
He and wife Marlene – partners in life and business – now run the shop as Broadline Rentals.
The Gingriches have, in Lawrence’s words, “broadened out” the lines already offered by the Schenks.
“We have got a full line form A-Z, I guess . . . . They had a couple small lifts. We just bought bigger scissors lifts. They didn’t have any boom lifts so we got the 45- and 65-foot boom lifts. They kind of started the lines but then we just went and just carried it further and just bought bigger equipment.”
Their product lines cut a wide swath across rental markets. On the construction side, offerings include compaction equipment, dump trucks, boom lifts, skid steers, mini excavators and air compressors. For the lawn and garden crowd, they have aerators, dethatchers, rollers and sweepers. And, not to miss an opportunity, they also rent a few party items such as tents, tables, chairs, barbecues and bouncy castles.
This year, they began serving the agriculture market with such items as North spreaders, dump trailers, post pounders, rock pickers and discs.
Gingrich attributes the company’s success to hard work and integrity.
“It takes a lot of hard work,” he says. “I grew up on a farm . . . so I am not a stranger to work. If a 16-hour work day is what is required, then I will put in a 16-hour work day . . . . That determination to succeed, I think, is what has carried us.”
He and Marlene also have a full schedule at home with Rodney, 3-1/2, Janelle, 2, and Darla, 1, but when he gets a chance, Lawrence enjoys a day of salmon fishing with friends.
Clearly, they value life in a small, close-knit town.
“I am involved in the community,” says Lawrence. “We try to provide great service and great equipment and we do honest business.
“You get a customer that leaves, and he is happy and if he tells his neighbour . . . go to Broadline, I rented an excavator there and I got great service there, I mean that is key to us.”
Michelle Nicol, CERP, senior account manager, events, Absolute Tent & Event Services, Toronto, Ont.
In trying to pinpoint her strengths, Michelle Nicol unearths some first-rate advice for anyone looking to have a successful and fulfilling career.
“I have always strived for more. I have never been happy just sitting and doing something the same old way,” she says. “I want to find something better or I want to learn more about something. If you have a drive and a dedication to learning, then I think that you are invaluable.”
It’s clear that Paul Kenyon, managing director and owner of Absolute Tent & Event Services, who nominated Nicol for the Top 10, agrees.
“Michelle is a dynamic self-starter, responsible for overseeing Absolute’s special event clients and installations,” he says, adding that she has the aptitude to co-ordinate all aspects of an event, from initial planning, to CAD design drawings, to final installation on the job site, whether it be an intimate gathering, a large trade show or a gala with up to 5,000 attendees.
Nicol, 27, who joined the Absolute team in 2009 as an administrative assistant, now runs the events department and holds a senior account management position.
Another of her strengths is her extensive education. After graduating from Seneca College in 2006 with high honours in both the Event Management – Event and Exhibit Design program and the Visual Merchandising Arts program, she worked with Chair-Man Mills for three years before moving to Absolute, where she’s been for the last four years.
Kenyon describes Nicol as “an expert in the event rental industry” who enjoys being heavily involved in the industry, serving on event committees and participating in local charities. She sat on the International Special Events Society Toronto Board as the VP of programs in 2011-12 and currently serves as a director-at-large.
Her event designs and tented events have been featured in INTents Magazine and she was featured in an ISES Toronto Member Spotlight for her work and industry contributions.
Most impressive of all, given her young age, is that she is one of the few event professionals in Canada to carry the prestigious American Rental Associates CERP (Certified Event Rental Professional) program designation.
“I always really like events more on the logistic side so I think what I like most about the rental aspect of it is that I can deal with so many different companies,” says Nicol. “Pretty much everybody brings something a little bit different and can give you a little bit of insight into their world. So every day is different. You meet lots of great people and it’s a great opportunity.”
With all she has on the go, does she find time for fun? When things slow down at work, Nicol says she likes to travel, go camping and explore new restaurants with friends in the city. Also, at the moment, a new puppy is occupying a lot of her time.
It’s a safe bet that however she chooses to spend her time, she will be an achiever.
“Michelle is passionate about events and has a gift for thinking outside the box and drawing inspiration from the challenge of working on a variety of projects,” says Kenyon, who can’t say enough about his valued employee.