Canadian Rental Service

Counter Intuitive

By Treena Hein   

Features Business Intelligence Profiles canada profiles rental

A look at how to use counter design and organization to provide superior customer service.

When A&B Tools refreshed its counter in 2021 it opted for easy-to-clean stainless steel with a cool stamped metal front. Your counter says something about who you are as a business. all Photos: snowbird rentals

The outside of a rental outlet is obviously critically important to present the business as efficient, successful, professional and welcoming.

But inside the store, the counter area is just as important to keep a rental business thriving. Counters, along with the staff behind them, set the tone for the in-person customer experience in terms of good service and repeat business.

Of course, no two rental store counters are completely alike. The building size and location, the range of what a rental company offers (in terms of what’s for rent and for purchase) and many other factors determine size, shape and many other aspects. However, all counters are well-lit, have terminals for processing payment and usually utilize the space on counters, beside and behind them to the maximum to promote sales, advertise community events and more.

Pretty much all rental store counters have been alike in Canada since the spring of 2020 in that they’ve all had plexiglass installed, hand sanitizer within reach and perhaps dividers between terminals as well. Similar to many other rental outlets across the nation, A&B Tool Rentals in Surrey, B.C., suspended plexiglass from the ceiling, according to Elio Cardareli, who has managed the store for 11 years. “We’re going to leave ours up for the foreseeable future, pandemic or not,” he says. “It doesn’t interfere with anything and it prevents normal colds and flus from spreading, so why not?”


To see how this and some other successful Canadian rental stores have designed, updated or arranged their counters, we’ve contacted some select businesses from coast to coast. Various counter aspects, including location, are focussed on improved customer service, but other interesting factors come into play as well.

Sleek industrial look with prominent branding
A counter refresh at A&B Tools was finished in 2021 to enable better customer service and easy COVID cleaning.

The store has only been serving customers at the counter inside the store since summer 2021, but it’s been so busy that wait times were significant with only two terminals. Their customers are split pretty evenly between contractors and homeowners.

Cardareli had the counter extended to add a third terminal, but also decided to refresh it at the same time.

“We chose a piece of solid stainless steel for the counter surface,” he says, “which is modern, very durable and easy to clean. With COVID, we’re cleaning it three times a day. We also refurbished the front and ends of the counter assembly with a checker plate aluminum. We think it looks pretty good.”

Various products are displayed on shelves behind the counter.

Higher height and modern look
Like other event rental businesses in Canada, things have been slow for Infinite Event Services of Edmonton since the start of the pandemic. In mid-2020, owner Sheldon Fingler created a virtual studio to meet with clients online and offer studio services. However, he also purchased a new building in February 2020, just six weeks before the first huge COVID shutdown.

“We had a big renovation planned for the entire building and we haven’t finished that, but we did build a new reception counter with a higher height,” Fingler says. “It’s served as a physical distancing barrier, letting people know where to stand and preventing them from going around, which is what many did before. The height is also more comfortable for people to sign paperwork.”

The counter is uncluttered and displays a sample folder of what’s available, but Fingler mostly uses online meetings to show clients possibilities of what they could rent for their event. Seating is provided, and figurines and more on the side shelf give the counter area a warm and welcoming vibe.

Plain metal does the trick
First Stop Rentals in Kemptville, Ont., moved into a new, much-larger building (on its original site) during the pandemic, and has since added some shipping containers for storing more new equipment to keep up with all the demand. For his new counter, president Neill Earl looked at ready-made options from Stihl and Echo because he sells both products. Those counters were nice but pricey, so instead he and his staff made an Arborite counter that serves well for now.

Sales counter success
Like many other rental businesses, The Tool Shed Sales and Rental in Dartmouth, N.S., also offers products for sale, but its product range is very large. The store carries a full range of products for contractors, from tools and safety items to PPE and fasteners – everything except large-scale building materials, explains president, Jason Macphee.

The counter area is surrounded by commonly purchased items like buckets of nails and products on sale. Prominent signs behind the counter indicate what’s for rent and what’s for purchase.

Store manager Troy Rhynold, who runs the store alone with two employees doing deliveries, placed a monitor behind the counter years ago to remind patrons they’re on camera. It’s worked well, with only one theft over three-and-a-half years.

Rhynold also posts business cards on a board behind the counter to help customers connect with each other. He says his customers appreciate it and he updates it about twice a year.

Stools are in place just front of the counter for customers to have a rest while they fill out rental paperwork.

The counter is L-shaped with the terminal to the side. This saves space.

There’s also a computer on the counter that’s really not used much and Rhynold may remove it in future to display more merchandise. Because in-person customer flow is quite low, Rhynold has no plexiglass in place.

Additional counter, better service
Matt Gates manages one of the A&B Tool locations in Vancouver. Because the store opens onto busy Venables Street, the parking lot is at the back of the store and most customers have to come all the way to the front counter (with three cash terminals) for service.

In March 2021, Gates decided to improve that situation by putting a returns counter at the back of the store with a payment terminal. “It’s a much quicker turnaround for customers with returns,” he says. “The counter is a prototype for the moment. Before we did something more permanent, we wanted to see how it would suit the customers, if we could staff it properly. But it’s working really well. We may add a phone there, but there’s a lot of shop noise, so I’m not sure. We built it ourselves out of plywood and painted it, but we’ll be putting in something more permanent now.”  

Print this page


Stories continue below