Excavators to lobster pots
By Dan WoolleyFeatures Profiles
Commuters in the small communities around Halifax can turn to one rental store brand for everything from excavators to lobster pots thanks to Alan Soulsby and the team at Bay Equipment Rentals.
Grown from a startup in 1984, Bay Equipment Rentals has become a community fixture serving almost two-thirds of the population of Nova Scotia thanks to Soulsby’s commitment to his family, his friends in business and his customers who keep coming back.
Not knowing what he wanted to do when he graduated with a bachelor of commerce degree from St. Mary’s University in 1984, Soulsby ultimately moved into a successful career in the tool and equipment rental business in Halifax. In 1984, Soulsby started on the front service desk at MacFarland’s Rent-It in Halifax as a stop-gap, “until I decided what I would like to do as a career,” Soulsby remembers. Some 10 years later he was the store manager. When MacFarland’s Rent-It was sold in 1994, he decided to start his own rental business in Tantallon, a suburb, just southwest of Halifax.
“I started out with a business partner in 1994. We both worked for competing companies, but we both had the same idea in our small market area. So, we decided to go into business together and we built it up until he retired in 2011,” Soulsby says.
In 1992 he and his wife, Darlene, moved to Tantallon. “I became involved in the local business group, as well as the local hockey teams, and as my children were growing up they also became involved in sports and the community.” So Soulsby met more and more local people, “which helped [his] local business grow,” he says.
As to what Bay Equipment Rentals sells and rents, Soulsby’s enterprise has grown over the years to offer some 37 different categories of construction, auto shop, home, lawn and garden tools and equipment, plus another 20 categories of party and barbecue supplies, including a lobster cooker with large pots, wedding and convention supplies and furnishings. “We go from china dishes and party supplies to five-ton excavators and generators,” Soulsby explains. He adds, “We also sell what we rent: pumps, concrete tools, generators and much more.”
Tantallon being a bedroom community in Halifax, Soulsby’s target customers are mostly homeowners, do-it-yourselfers, handymen and small, independent contractors. Soulsby observes, “Someone who wants to put in an above-ground pool can rent a tamper and laser level here. Or for a homeowner who wants a load of topsoil or gravel, we have the little Kubota backhoes they can rent to move the material around their yard.”
Soulsby is very proud that Bay Equipment Rentals is an authorised dealer and service center for Stihl and Husqvarna power tools. “We are a full line Stihl dealer. We have done very well with our Stihl Line. We also have the full Husqvarna line.”
Bay Equipment Rentals has been a full-time Stihl dealer since 1999, Soulsby notes. “It has worked very well for our mix of customers. We are able to service the industrial markets and the backyarder who cuts a little bit of wood as well. “Adding the Husqvarna line in 2012 has given us the ability to supply a line of lawnmowers, tractors and snow blowers, as well as fill the needs of Husky chainsaw owners.”
His back shop staff also repair and service customer’s lawn and garden equipment.
In 2002, Soulsby opened a second location in Lower Sackville – another bedroom community adjacent to and west of the city of Halifax on Sackville Drive. “My Sackville store was a former rental location of a larger chain which decided to amalgamate a few stores.”
In 2009, he relocated the Tantallon store five minutes away to Upper Tantallon on Sonny’s Road in a new building with a back shop and yard space. Then, in 2012, he opened a third location on Cole Harbour Road in Cole Harbour – a suburb just east of the city – having taken on a rental partner who had been in the business for 20 years. Almost all his customers are either itinerant tradesmen who are working in the suburbs or residents who drop in to rent or buy a tool or piece of equipment they need for a home project on their way back from work in the city.
Asked what he believes differentiates Bay Equipment Rentals from other rental stores, Soulsby states, “I have good locations with good people offering one-on-one service to our customers. We have service and repair shops in all three stores. They all have Stihl Master Service Technicians and very knowledgeable counter staff. Many of my staff members have been with Bay Rentals for over 10 years, which is a great asset for the company and a welcome sign for returning and new customers.”
“A lot of it comes down to being positive in one-on-one dealing with our customers,” Soulsby says.
Renting good quality, construction-rated equipment, along with recognized brand names helps maintain the high quality at Bay Rentals, according to Soulsby. “I work well with all the other rental stores in the area. If we need equipment we don’t carry, we can often rent or borrow it and supply our customer. In the same manner we often will supply other rental companies.” In this, Soulsby shares a philosophy with a lot of other Atlantic Canada rental stores, who tend to operate cooperatively even as they are notionally in competition.
Soulsby emphasizes he is also a hands-on businessman. “I am out loading trucks with my staff and helping train customers to use the equipment when my staff is busy. The customers see that and appreciate it. In the busy spring and summer months I work the counter like one of the regular guys, or I do deliveries and service calls. Hours are long in these busy months, so we often have Pizza Friday or bring in coffee in the morning for the guys. We also have a few staff functions during the year. The last one was Kartbahn racing. It’s a great way to get the stress tension out and keep everyone on a level playing field.”
He has 21 employees which he supplements with university and high school students during the busier spring and summer months. “We get to know the regular customers and we get known as members of the community. The people we serve here are our neighbors.”
Soulsby also makes it a policy that Bay Equipment Rentals supports and participates in community events, commenting, “That has a lot to do with our success. You tend to know everybody in the community. I also try to keep advertising in the local and community papers and events that happen throughout our community.”
He and his partner are always ready to look at a new product line or type of equipment to increase their rental business. “Space is becoming an issue at all locations as we add more and more items all the time,” he says. “The load is shared with my partner among the three stores, however, I do make it to all three stores on a regular basis to stay in touch with the concerns of the customers and staff.”
Although Bay Equipment Rentals is situated at three locations in the Halifax area, Soulsby notes it also serves a much wider area from Chester on the South Shore to Mount Uniacke on the eastern edge of the Annapolis Valley, to Porter’s Lake on the Eastern Shore: an area encompassing the Halifax Region and the counties of Hants and Lunenburg, roughly two-thirds of the population of mainland Nova Scotia.
Soulsby views his rental business career as “a great learning experience and fun business to be involved with. I could not have accomplished any of this without my wife and my daughters, Robyn and Lauren.”
“I have also met many great people over the years: customers, business associates and suppliers,” Soulsby says, reflecting. “Many of them have become good friends. This would not be possible without being involved in the wonderful world of the equipment rental business. I thank everyone who has helped me and Bay Equipment Rentals.”
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