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Canada’s top 10 under 40

Rental store owners can be a bit like pagent moms when it comes to their favourite young staff. One of the things we hear the most at industry events is “Hey, are you looking for someone for the Top 10 Under 40 this year?”


July 11, 2019
By CANADIAN RENTAL SERVICE

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And why not. Canada’s energetic young leaders are inspiring and innovative and make us all feel hopeful about the future of the rental business. Here is the 2019 crop.

Technology titan
by Andrew Snook

There are two things Jason Cunningham has always loved: the world of retail, and tools. So when he had the opportunity to join Home Depot overseeing 177 rental centres, Cunningham jumped at the opportunity.

“I’m a big tool guy, love tools. My grandfather was a master carpenter, and my father was a carpenter, so I was always around tools,” he says, adding that even when he was growing up his jobs would often involve building barbecues, bikes and working on small engines. “After I graduated university, I got a job working for a retailer where I was in the tool business basically buying, and I’ve always loved it.”

After working for multiple retailers in merchandising as a buyer for close to 14 years, the opportunity came up to run Home Depot’s rental division. Cunningham was interested in the role, so he did some research to learn more about what it entailed.

“It brought me back to my tool days,” he says. “Going into the rental area and seeing all the great tools that they had, I thought it was an amazing opportunity. I jumped at the chance and joined Home Depot three years ago to run their rental division and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Cunningham says his favourite thing about his role at Home Depot is dealing with the vendors.

“Everybody that I’ve dealt with on the rental side of the business has been extraordinary,” he says. “They’ve welcomed me into the business with open arms, and they’ve helped me understand what renting is versus the core merchandising capabilities of other retailers. And everybody is straightforward about equipment on what you need to buy, what you need to stock, and what the customers want.”

Cunningham really enjoys the friendly atmosphere that comes with being in the rental industry.

“When we come together at CRA meetings or at events, everybody is welcoming and always wants to chat about the business. That’s one of the reasons that I love the rental industry: the tight-knit community,” he says.

When it comes to the equipment side of the business, Cunningham is fascinated by the latest battery technologies displacing gas in much of the equipment.

“Multiple vendors have brought up battery technologies on certain pieces of equipment where you would never think a battery could generate as much power as an engine would. To make those pieces of equipment just as efficient is definitely a change in the direction of where they want to go. The new tools that are going to come out in the next three to five years that are going to be powered by those batteries is going to unbelievable. You’re talking from small tampers to large excavators that are running off battery power. It’s just the way of the future.”

Cunningham has enjoyed witnessing a great deal of change over his time in the industry, not just on the technologies for the equipment but on the technologies for the operational side as well.

“There’s technology on the operation side that is making it way easier for customers to shop at rental centres,” he says. “And also digital media – YouTube, social media, those types of things. Customers are becoming more comfortable with doing bigger projects and that’s going to increase in growth in the next five to seven years.”

 


DRUMMING UP BUSINESS
by Jack Kohane

Dancing to a different drummer makes Joel Deslauriers a beat above the rest in live production equipment rentals. “I love the live concert side of the business and putting on a fantastic show for people to enjoy, whether it’s for a corporate event, music festival or private party,” says the production manager for Ottawa Special Events, a leading supplier of products for indoor and outdoor events in the nation’s capital.

Once a powerhouse drummer in a local band, equally adept as a folk or heavy metal percussionist, Deslauriers knows what it takes to put on a memorable show. “Striving for the best quality of production truly enhances the experience for the guest. Being a festival/concert attendee myself, I appreciate a great lighting show and superb sounding speakers. Allowing all your senses to be triggered, changes the experience for the better.”

Changing his career plans from banging drums to drumming up business for Ottawa Special Events came at a crucial time in Deslaurier’s life. He was working multiple jobs to support his growing family, as well as attending Ottawa’s Algonquin College’s Music Industry Arts program in 2014. That’s where he met Michael Wood, a professor and co-owner of Ottawa Special Events. Wood hired him on the spot. Deslauriers brought his musical and audio-visual background, and quickly learned more about live event production, first as a general labourer, moving to warehouse manager and now, at 24, managing $1 million in accounts every year for Ottawa Special Events.

“Joel has built a reputation for himself as one of the top production managers in Ottawa,” lauds Wood, pointing out that he manages all of the production requirements for Capital Pride, Canada Day Barrhaven, Sens Soiree (The Ottawa Senators Foundation). Deslauriers also helps raise the pulse of Glowfair, the city’s premier arts and cultural diversity spectacle that closes down much of downtown Bank Street for two days each year. “Joel never fails to wow clients with his three-dimensional renderings of his shows,” Wood gushes.

Deslauriers believes pre-planning is the key to event success. He uses notation software, 3D Design software, and a Macbook to stay organized. “I can pull out the CAD drawings for Glowfair in 2015, reference them to look at different things we have proposed in the past, quickly edit them, and send them out to whoever needs them. Luckily, I have a great team to lean on when I do have too many projects on the go.”

 


From the bottom up
by Andrew Snook

Wess Ettorre has been involved in the equipment rental industry since he was 16 years old, when he worked part-time for extra money at Stephenson’s Rental.

“I was working on Saturdays, putting equipment away, loading equipment,” Ettore recalls.

He worked there until he finished high school and moved to London, Ont., to attend Western University where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in business. While there he continued to immerse himself in the industry, working at a small mom-and-pop shop to pay his bills. At no point during his time in post-secondary school was Ettore deterred from building his career in the equipment rental sector.

“Even when I was there, I knew what I wanted to do,” Ettorre says, referring to his passion for equipment rental industry. “I couldn’t wait to get back into the industry.”

After finishing school he returned to Stephenson’s Rental and worked there until joining Strongco in Burlington, Ont. for one year. From there he went to work with Volvo Rents for five years before joining Skylift Equipment in Oakville, Ont.

Ettorre took the experience and knowledge he gained in the aerial work platform and construction equipment rental markets, and used them start his own equipment rental business. In 2008, he founded GTA Equipment Rentals.

The company started with one Bobcat 763 that Ettorre rented out to customers.

“I bought it on a credit card with 18-per-cent interest,” he recalls.

Fortunately his friends and former customers spread word of the quality of his work and customer service, so his business got busy relatively quickly. Ettorre added new inventory as the demand came for certain types of equipment.

“Guys that I was dealing with in the past kept calling me saying, ‘Wess, I need an excavator, I need a Bobcat,’” he says.

Presently, GTA Equipment currently owns about 70 pieces of equipment, and the company continues to track the needs of its customers closely. Ettorre says that conversations about purchasing new equipment are far different these days compared to when he first started out.

“A conversation used to be two hours, now it’s about 15 minutes,” he says. “It’s been quite the journey.”

The company currently employs five people in total, including his brother, Achille, who came on board full-time two years ago to run the administrative and financial aspects of the business.

Ettorre enjoys attending association events organized by the Canadian Rental Association and the American Rental Association, as well as travelling to Europe to see some of the latest technologies firsthand.

“We’re always looking for new equipment,” he says, adding that finding the technology is only half the challenge. Convincing customers to embrace new types of equipment is the other half, but being a rental company helps. “For a lot of people with new equipment, the best way to get it into people’s hands is to rent it.”

In the future, Ettorre would like to eventually expand to a second location, but says he’ll take that kind of growth based on levels of increasing demand.

“We’re taking it organically slow and steady, focusing on building relationships,” he says. “It’s easier to keep your existing customers happy, than trying to have 1,000 customers – service the hell out of them.”

Although Ettorre currently has future goals that include expansion, his original reason for starting up the business was far different.

“I started this whole thing because I thought it would give me more leisure time,” he says while laughing. “I appreciate everything that has happened. It’s a great feeling.”

 


The tech watcher
By Treena Hein

For Joey Kennedy, assistant manager at Nor-Val Equipment Rentals in Vernon, B.C., it’s all about inspiring by doing. “I would hope I’m a good example for my staff,” he says. “I demonstrate a good work ethic and a good attitude towards the public, which makes [staff] want to work harder and make customers happy. That’s the main goal at the end.”

Kennedy, 35, has worked in rentals since he left high school. He started at United Rentals in Surrey, B.C., in 2005, where his brother, Shawn, helped get him hired as a driver. After about two years, a health challenge led him and his young family to Salmon Arm, B.C., where Kennedy worked at Cardinal Rentals as a driver and in customer service for about eight years. At that point, he ​had a feeling that Cardinal might be having difficulty, and, sure enough, it was bought out not too longer afterwards. So before then Kennedy explored his options. “I knew the owner at Nor-Val, Jim [Clipperton], because we’d rent items from Nor-Val sometimes, and I reached out to him because I heard he was looking for workers,” he says. “It was a good move.”

It was a good move – and a bit of a daring one. At the age of 30, Kennedy went from driving and serving customers to being the manager of Nor-Val’s Armstrong store, albeit a small one with two ​full-time employees.

Four years later, about two years ago, the opportunity came to move to the Vernon store as assistant manager, a position which involves helping to manage 15 employees in a much busier operation. Kennedy also oversees the computer and phone systems for all four Nor-Val stores (the latest was added in west Kelowna, B.C., last fall), and is responsible for supervising all his store’s deliveries (the trucks carry GPS beacons). “GPS is probably most useful for being able to tell customers exactly when a delivery will arrive if they need to know,” Kennedy says. “I watch the GPS like a hawk and I’m always making sure we’re maintaining our schedules.”

Kennedy says he’s learned “tons” moving from Armstrong to the larger Vernon, particularly the skills needed to manage staff. “You have to figure out who wants to do what,” he notes, “and play to their strengths.”

Of the entire firm, Kennedy says Nor-Val plans to go after more commercial business but still look after the homeowner too. “We don’t want to exclude any group of renters,” he says. “And I think we’re following the right path. We’ve bought a lot of every piece of equipment, from small hammer drills to 125-foot lifts and we are always ​running short of everything.”

Kennedy doesn’t plan on leaving the rental business anytime soon, as he really likes the variety of things he gets to do. Every day is different.

 


Mr. Positive
By Treena Hein

Thirty-four year-old Kalan Mason started in the rental business with Westminster Equipment Rentals in Penticton, B.C., in 2006 as a yard hand. By 2008, he’d moved to Westside Rentals in Kelowna, B.C., (an affiliated company), where he was quickly moved into the maintenance bay. “I was always mechanically-inclined, and the boss noticed that I was solving problems in the maintenance bay and offered me a mechanic position full-time,” Mason says. “I like it because there’s always something different that you’re working on. You have to learn all the time.” At the same time, Mason was always willing to fill in whenever and wherever needed – at the counter, with equipment delivery, employee training and more.

In November 2017, Westminster Rentals was amalgamated with Westside into West Equipment Rentals and Mason got a big surprise. “I got one call seeing if I was interested in working for somebody else and then the calls kept coming from small engine shops and the other rental businesses in the Valley here,” he explains. “I began to feel like a bit of a hot commodity. But I believed we have a good thing going here and I like the people I work with, so I stayed.”

Co-worker Andrew Naaykens notes that at that point “throughout the trials and tribulations of a stressful year of new people, systems and processes, Kalan’s skills were continually shining through.” Mason says he approached every situation with a good attitude and tried to make the best of it.

His employers saw his value and in early 2019, Mason was made co-branch manager of the Kelowna store and, in addition, company maintenance manager for all three stores: Kelowna, Oliver, B.C., and Penticton. He now puts in busy days co-managing the store, dispatching personnel when needed to deal with a complicated issues, implementing long-term maintenance schedules and servicing equipment out on long-term rental.

In terms of future goals, he says, “I want to operate my own branch and just keep growing with the company. We’re growing because we are killing the competition with service, expedient repairs and expedient delivery, and a personal experience when you come in the door.”

When asked what advice he’d give to someone entering the rental industry – someone who wants to work his or her way up the way he has – Mason advises a strong work ethic, thinking outside the box and a positive attitude. “You can’t let things get you down,” he says. “You have to keep going. I have a ‘never give up’ attitude and I don’t like when things beat me, so I don’t let them.”

 


All in the family
by Andrew Snook

The rental equipment industry was bred into second-generation owner André Moureau from a very young age.

“I’ve been here since I was a kid, seven or eight years old. My kid (Benjamin, 7) is doing the exact same thing now,” he says. “I started like everybody else, at the bottom of the ladder.”

André started his career at Location Moureau as an employee and learned everything he could about the business from his father, who started up the business in 1975, which started with humble beginnings as small repair centre for power tools.

The company currently employs six people: André, four employees, and his sister, Valerie, who joined the business a few years ago as a co-owner. André bought the business from his father in 2001.

“We run it together full-time,” he says. “We complete each other. She’s the brains.”

Valerie runs the administrative side of the operations as well as other components of the business, while helping out with whatever needs to be done, including making deliveries and cleaning up the shop when needed.

The brother and sister one-two punch has done well over the years, growing and improving the family business. In 2018, Location Moureau was presented the Rental House of the Year Award in Quebec. The company services a large area on the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula.

When it comes to his favourite aspects of running the business, it’s definitely the problem-solving aspect that André enjoys the most.

“It’s just giving a chance to people to do the right thing with the right tool. Sometimes they come here with an idea but it’s not quite on point. It’s helping them with being productive,” he says. “When you work with the right tool, you work safer. Sometimes it’s a little bit expensive but if it goes well, you come back and do something else.”

When André and Valerie took over the family business, they spent time working on smooth succession planning.

“We hear about next generations taking control [sometimes] and it’s a damn mess,” he says. “Lack of preparation, lack of an idea… it’s like being in the same car and not going the same place.”

André feels very lucky to be able to work closely with his family.

“Dad is still around working on special projects,” he says. “My mom used to work here a long time in administration. We’re a pretty close family, we don’t fight each other.”

 


INFINITE WISDOM
By: Jack Kohane

He was barely into his teens when Colin Simmoneau found his life’s calling. “I love the event equipment rental business because it’s unlike any other,” says the savvy 21-year-old operations manager of Edmonton-based Infinite Event Services. “Everything in this business is constantly evolving. One day I’m out guiding a crew on tent installation, the next day I’ll be setting up staging and running sound for a festival in a park. I’ve even been a barista when we needed one in a pinch.” He fast-tracked his knack of coffeemaking by watching YouTube videos. A quick study, he never shies away from learning something new, evidenced by his resume which includes being an audio-visual technician, a stage lighting tech (a certified operator of the Stageline SL50 and SL100 mobile stages), a dynamic DJ, and a truck driver. “It’s great to be able to learn something new about every piece of equipment we send out,” he enthuses.

Company founder, Sheldon Fingler, sings Simonneau’s praises, proud of the fact that he recognized his protege’s potential even as young as 14 when Colin worked weekends at Infinite Event Services. At 15, he was taken on full-time for a summer job, where he got a taste for the business. Upon graduation from high school, Simmoneau was snapped up. “His leadership and work ethic were immediately noticed,” lauds Fingler. “From setting up concert stages to wedding decor installs and everything in between, his willingness to complete any task given and his ability to figure things out with little guidance made it easy to give him more responsibilities, from sales to scheduling and employee management.”

Fingler, who started Infinite Event Services from his basement 15 years ago and now occupies three warehouses and 19 storage containers, notes Simmoneau’s assets. “Colin brings unwavering commitment to us. He always works to get the job done no matter what it takes. When it comes to employees that means so much to me. I never have to worry about letting a customer down.”

Certainly wise beyond his years, Simmoneau attributes his joining the Royal Canadian Army Cadets earlier on (rising to the rank of sergeant), for teaching him a lot about leadership and respect. And gruelling boot camp workups for giving him the grit and determination to accomplish a goal. “Everyone has specific things that they’re good at and I learned how to implement that in a team to delegate tasks to individuals. With leadership, it goes back to treating people how you would want to be treated, but at times knowing when to motivate to get stuff done. Cadets shows you that you can achieve much more as a team. Doing something where everyone benefits gives a greater feeling of accomplishment when that goal is completed.”

Besides pursuing his passion fishing for rainbow trout and northern pike, Simmoneau intends to cast his lot with Infinite Event Services for the long term, possibly buying into the company when the opportunity is right. “By then I’ll have a strong team behind me ready to keep the company growing,” he says.

 


Dynamo Jr.
by Andrew Snook

For Pierre-Shawn Turcotte, being in the rental business is a long-time family affair. His father, Jean-Marc Turcotte, was a founder and former president of the regional association, the ALQ, and one of the founders of Quebexpo.

“He was very much a top leader,” says Pierre-Shawn. “We we’ve been here for more than 25 years.”

Jean-Marc started up Location Turbo in Montreal in 1980, the year Pierre-Shawn was born, so to say he was immersed in the business his entire life is not an overstatement.

“I grew up in the industry,” he says. “It was like my little brother growing up.”

Pierre-Shawn started helping out around the business when he was 10 years old and worked his weekends and his summers from the age of 12 until he finished high school. After deciding post-secondary school wasn’t for him, Pierre-Shawn went to work with another company at his father’s request.

“If I wasn’t going to school I had to go work elsewhere, to see how it is to work for someone else,” he recalls.

Pierre-Shawn ended up getting his first job out of high school with Lou-Quip, a Groupe Lou-Tec company. He worked there for two years before returning to the family business at the age of 21.

“I did everything that is imaginable from mopping the floors to deliveries, working the counter and working in the office,” he says.

In 2011, Pierre-Shawn started buying shares from his father, who was planning out his retirement and succession plans. By the age of 34, Pierre-Shawn was starting to oversee the operations of the business. Today he is the sole owner of Location Turbo.

“During all that time in the industry, I was my dad’s shadow,” Pierre-Shawn recalls.

Since his father’s passing, Pierre-Shawn has certainly followed in his footsteps, positioning himself as a leader in the industry. Pierre-Shawn has been working tirelessly with the local association and is the current president of the ALQ. He regularly meets with rental centres across the province.

“I know most of them personally,” he says.

In addition to his work with the ALQ, Pierre-Shawn put together publications to help keep industry members informed for 12 years and is also a national director on the Canadian Rental Association’s board of directors.

“I’m pretty much touching everything in the industry,” he says, adding that his own business has been keeping him plenty busy as well. “Turbo has been in business 38 years this year.”

The company does the majority of its business in Montreal. Between 60 and 65 per cent of the company’s business is with homeowners, with contractors making up about 15 to 20 per cent of the business, and the remaining business coming from propane refills.

Although the company specializes in all kinds of rental tools, it has also expanded to include a party goods rental division.

“We’ve been growing so much in the past five years we needed an extra 4,000 square feet of space,” Pierre-Shawn says. “We do about 45,000 transactions per year. We’re on Le-Plateau-Mont-Royal, which is one of the most densely populated areas in Montreal. We have 15 employees – 12 full-time and three part-time – and two delivery trucks we manage to do everything with, which is quite surprising.”

Pierre-Shawn says his favourite part of being in the business is witnessing the evolution of the industry.

“It’s really amazing, the new tools we have now, the technologies coming in,” he says. “What’s fun is the industry can be together. We communicate. It’s a nice big family. The sharing between us… it’s a beautiful competition. Independently, there’s a lot of support on that side, seeing how we can make someone else’s life easier.”

Pierre-Shawn says its very fulfilling to be able to share his knowledge of tools to help out a customer in need.

“A client comes wanting a tool, leaves with another tool and comes back with a thank you. It’s amazing,” he says, adding that he brings his nine-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter to the shop with him now, continuing the family tradition.

“They come and work in the shops,” he says. “They go to school with the Turbo cap on.”

 


The organizer
By: Jack Kohane

Bringing people together is mission critical to Kayle Turpin. As branch manager for Robertson Rent-All in Ottawa, he believes there’s nothing more important than making everyone feel that they’re part of something special. “That’s the fun thing about this job. It’s not only that I get to learn about equipment, new ways of completing projects and newly introduced regulations. It’s that I get to learn about customers and fellow employees as well.”

Case in point: recently, Turpin teed up a team bonding event by hitting the greens with his work colleagues. When he found out that many of his staff enjoy playing golf, he saw an opportunity to bolster the company’s team spirit. “By doing social events like this, we are able to strengthen our team and create a more inclusive work environment,” says Turpin, who at 26 has nearly a decade under his workbelt with Robertson Rent-All, a family-owned and operated rental specialist founded in 1992 (and the 2012 ROOTY winner as Canadian Operator of the Year). “This affects many areas that are crucial to a company’s success: team efficiency, employee retention, employee acquisition and overall business morale,” he continues. “The best part about learning new things about employees is being able to use this information to better their experience at the workplace.”

Co-owner D.J. Robertson (with brother, Cameron, the sons of company founders Don and Netta Robertson) likes the new ideas, dedication and work ethic Turpin exhibits every day. “He works every day, never complains about anything and has a genuine interest in growing our business. His organizational skills are outstanding and is a major reason why we are able to scale our business year-over-year. He is a great person to work with and gets along with everyone.”

Turpin especially enjoys sharing what he learns with those around him. “When I was young, I was taught that it’s very important to use your experience and knowledge to help others. Working with the Robertson family has helped me stay true to those words.”

Given the wide range of equipment that today’s top-notch rental service offers, it’s a calling tailor-made for Turpin. “I learn new methods for completing projects every day. By seeing how customers go about their projects and hearing about how it went every step along the way, I can then share these methods and tips with future customers. Being able to help others is probably the thing that I value most about working at Robertson Rent-All.”

 


Surging upstream
By Treena Hein

“A savvy head for business.”

“Constantly puts herself and her many skills to the benefit of all.”

“A social media giant.”

These are the ways that Alexis Earl is described by her colleague, Rachael Caron.

These words ring true when you understand that the 26 year-old manages both locations of First Stop Tool & Equipment Rentals in Kemptville and Winchester Ont., and is part-owner as well.

Earl got her start in the rental industry by helping her father Neill at his main Kemptville location when she was about seven. It was in 2012 when Earl was 19 that her Dad opened the Winchester location and her industry involvement took a giant leap forward. “I had started showing interest in his business and so he offered management of that location to me,” she explains. “He created a sink-or-swim situation and I swam hard. I was still growing up and I learn a lot about different aspects of the business. Most of all, I came to realize the value of the company and its potential, and that made me put my ‘all’ into it.”

About a year later, obviously very impressed, her Dad made her manager of both locations and part owner of the business. Earl says working together has been “great,” and that she and her Dad always find the solution to every problem – and grow from it too.

Along the way, Earl has taken some financial management courses and learned small engine repair. She’s also found a lot of useful information in business success books. “I have the confidence to succeed in what is still a male-dominated industry,” she says. “I actually like that, because I’ve gained so much confidence interacting with contractors over the years that I’ve built amazing business relationships with them and strive to do so everyday. I’ve managed to impress them with what I know and it feels great doing that.”

In terms of HR, she likes the challenge of influencing staff members and motivating them to succeed at work and in their private lives. She’s also reaped the benefits of recruiting employees with “the right personalities to represent the company.” Earl also enjoys creating policies and procedures for the two branches and honing her time-management skills. But her favourite thing of all is to help clients succeed. She says their business tagline is, “We’ve got great advice for your projects with equipment that won’t let you down.”

It’s all working out well. The three other competitors from the surrounding area of Kemptville have all closed over the years. Earl has just been named a director-at-large at the Ontario Canadian Rental Association and won the North Grenville Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. She will fully take over the business in four years, at the age of 30.

As the business grows, Earl wants to enlarge its already-significant social media presence. “I post pictures of our staff working on equipment and of our equipment in action in order to educate our audience and clients. I’ll also do photoshoots of willing clients and especially contractors when I can and post those pictures and stories,” she says. “It’s win-win, as the contractors get exposure too. It’s all about helping each other as much as we can.”