Engineered for success
Patrick FlanneryFeatures Profiles
When he is not building power plants for some of Quebec’s largest company buildings, Paul Ravary finds time to run one of Quebec’s largest independent rental operators in Laval, Que., just north of Montreal.
When he is not building power plants for some of Quebec’s largest company buildings, Paul Ravary finds time to run one of Quebec’s largest independent rental operators in Laval, Que., just north of Montreal. Now in its 35th year in business, Location Ravary is still growing and its energized owner shows no sign of slowing down.
|Ravary has about 100 scissor lifts and 16 boom lifts, as well as a wide variety of compact construction equipment and homeowner items. Specialized equipment for large construction contractors is where Ravary sees his best chances for further growth. Photo by Carroll McCormick|
Paul Ravary opened Location Ravary in 1977, only four years after graduating with his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Montreal. He started with one man at the counter to watch the day-to-day operation while he worked as a consulting engineer designing boilers and power plants. He started slowly with small lawn care equipment and gradually grew. In the late ’80s, Location Ravary started carrying loaders, building up to six or seven of them in two years. He came in evenings and weekends to clean, repair and maintain the equipment. At first, the shop would close over the lunch hour because he had only one employee. Now, Location Ravary has 17 employees, including mechanics, welders, painters, secretaries and salesmen.
Ravary is first and foremost an engineer, holding professional engineer designations in Quebec and Ontario. He designs power plants for large buildings and factories and has continued to do so throughout his career. He started Location Ravary with two partners, but quickly took over sole ownership. Ravary is mechanically inclined by nature, and his love of tinkering with machinery is what drew him to the rental industry in the first place. “In university I bought an old Corvette Stingray 66 and dismantled it all in pieces and rebuilit it,” Ravary remembers. “So I was involved in mechanics and interested in all types of equipment. I was not sure if I was going to start a fix-it yourself business for car repairs or a tool rental centre, so I started examining the competition and taking pictures of everybody. I went to see a former very active member of the CRA, Cameron Paquette from Pyramid Rental, who helped me out saying ‘Buy this, buy that,’ and I had no idea at all.”
Ravary has been in the same 30,000-square-foot spot since 1977 on the Boulevard des Laurentides in Laval, Que. In 2005 he outgrew that location and bought a 70,000-square-foot industrial unit nearby. “It gave me a lot more space to put my equipment and to really start repairing larger equipment,” he says. “We used to paint equipment outside in a home built tent close to a residential neighborhood. It was kind of ridiculous.” Now he has a paint shop and six garage doors with service pits. Ravary can bring a 125-foot boom lift in the building and work on it indoors. “It is good because we can make all the noise we want and we can sandblast equipment without always having to hide the work,” he says.
Ravary has been able to grow his rental operation into one of the largest independent rental companies in Quebec while, with the other hand, growing a consulting engineering business in thermodynamics plus at one time a mechanical general contractor business to a 180-employee operation. He was managing boiler and power-plant contracts for companies licensed to provide gas power in the province, eventually working with nearly every major corporation in Quebec, including the likes of Alcan, Domtar, CIP, Forex, Uniboard, Tafisa, the McGill and Montreal University, The Olympic Stadium and others.
|Ravary is rebuilding this 125-foot boom lift he picked up at auction. Because of his mechanical background, he is adept at buying used equipment at a bargain and turning it into prime rental machinery. Photo by Carroll McCormick
With his time divided between engineering and the rental store, Ravary depends heavily on his employees. One of his key people is Martin Fournier, a mechanic who has been with Ravary for 25 years. “All the companies try to steal him from me, but he likes working with me because I understand equipment and machinery. I can dismantle a motor myself and rebuild it and he knows that and appreciates that because I am not only a salesperson running the company,” Ravary says.
Ravary’s career in the rental industry has been unusual in that he has never worked regular shifts at a rental counter. He is a back-room man, repairing and maintaining equipment but leaving front-end customer service to his employees. He is perhaps also unusual in his ability to maintain a full-time career as an engineering consultant and build a successful rental operation practically in his spare time.
Location Ravary is located in Laval, Que., just north of Montreal. From there, Ravary is able to serve the largest industrial areas around Montreal and about half of the city itself. “On Saturday mornings we used to have a line of 20 people waiting to get in,” Ravary says. “That is a lot of activity for one rental centre. At one point I had five competitors that were pretty close but I have ended up being alone now.” Location Ravary is situated on one of the busiest streets in the area, the Boulevard des Laurentides.
Ravary can point to a very tangible reason for his company’s success: his mechanical prowess as an engineer. His aptitude at repairing and maintaining machinery has helped him to keep equipment longer, spend less on parts and service calls and deliver machinery in top operating condition to his customers, which has helped grow his market. Ravary has also been able to leverage his mechanical knowledge into effective purchasing at auctions. By being able to tell just what condition a particular piece of equipment is in and knowing what it will take to fix it, Ravary can have a better understanding of his capital costs, and likely ROI, before he ever bids.
Better yet, he can customize equipment he buys to meet the needs of specific customers. “That was my strength,” Ravary says. “That is how I ended up being able to buy so many booms and eventually buying some new stuff. Then you have a mixture of equipment that you have rebuilt and new equipment and the mixture is good because it attracts construction contractors and small builders. Since I was quite involved in all kinds of industry I knew plumbing, electricity and everything so when I saw a good welder I would buy it. Being strong on equipment myself, I could have my hands on. This is how I grew my business, by having all kinds of specialized equipment.”
During Ravary’s tenure at the legendary SNC Lavalin, he was the first to have a computer, which he used to calculate the winches drums for the new three-inch-diameter cables for the Olympic Stadium roof in the early ’80s. Since, he has kept up with the rapid advances in the field. “I told the big boss at Lavalin, ‘Buy computers for your employees and it will come back to you because they will become experts.’ I became an expert at computers back in 1982. I built my own software on the DOS platform with D-base and the clipper complier so my counter had everything: writing a contract, inventory, making reservations. I was the first to have that. It took me a thousand hours to do that.” Later, Ravary hired his nephew to convert his program to Windows, and today he still builds websites for Location Ravary and the ALQ.
The benefits of Ravary’s engineering background do not stop there. In the early days, when he wanted to make a catalogue, Ravary used his drafting abilities to draw a number of sketches of the tools and equipment in his shop. He used those sketches in his catalogue, and also in Yellow Pages advertisements.
As business has grown to the point where Ravary is competing more directly with the larger rental franchises, Ravary has added a sales force to make sure Location Ravary has a point of contact right out in the field with his main customers. “Back in 2005 I started hiring salesmen that would go from one site to another and this is when the business got into larger contractors than before,” Ravary remembers. “A lot of my competitors do not have a salesman but today what you see is large companies all have salesmen and they are on the construction site every day of the week and a contractor will see three different rental companies every day. So the market has become one where if you do not go there, you will not get the customer.”
Going to where the business is a big part of Ravary’s strategy. “We are no longer local where the counter is,” he says. “We deliver 40 kilometres away or 200 kilometres away. We do not stay local. Locally, we would never have expanded because there are not enough contractors locally. You need to go and see the plumbers, the guys who build the structure, the guy that does the electricity. You need to see all the specialized contractors on the job site, and if one of those guys takes your equipment then he will ask for another one if he is satisfied. This is the way the ball rolls.”
Ravary is now the Quebec national director for the Canadian Rental Association and is on the CRA website committee and the trade show committee. He is also a past president and is now chairman of the board for the Quebec Rental Association. He finds his involvement in the provincial and national associations keeps him in contact with important people in the industry and abreast of all the latest information.
Overall, Ravary would like to see Quebec rental operators holding a stronger line on prices. “I have been talking for the last year-and-a-half about price cutting,” Ravary says. “We should all stop cutting our prices. Not increasing our prices, because that becomes a kind of collusion, but stop cutting your price, stop giving large discounts. Once the price is cut, it never comes back. I spoke to a fellow CRA director from Calgary and he told me that the price I charge for a boom for a month is the price he rents his for a week. The prices in Quebec are much too low.”
In with all his other activities, Ravary finds time to be a father. He has a 17-year-old daughter and twin 14-year-old boy and girl. Ravary says one of the twins is showing signs of wanting to follow in his father’s footstep. “At 13 years old he was welding stuff and playing with electronics and computers. He is even worse than me. He has more facility than maybe I had at that time, but he has told me since he was 10 or 11 years old that when he grows up he wants to open his own rental centre.”
“Myself, I really had the energy to develop the company,” Ravary says. “I didn’t want to have a company half-developed. I wanted to grow it to my satisfaction and I still want it to grow. I am far from being stopped where I am. If you sell the company, you can retire, but that is not what I am looking for. I have more energy than that.”
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