By Roger KnoxFeatures Profiles
Let’s say you are a homeowner in Saskatoon. You’re building your dream home, or doing a renovation, maybe some landscaping. You can’t get anybody to help you because the construction industry in Saskatoon is booming and nobody is available.
You decide, then, to become a do-it-yourselfer.
You go to The Rent-It Store, in business locally since 1962. You walk around the 27,000 square foot facility in the 600-block of 45th Street East, which houses a fully-stocked retail showroom, warehouse and service centre.
You’ve got questions – lots of questions – so you perhaps want to speak to one of the store’s 23 full-time employees. Or maybe you’d prefer to go to the top and speak to one of the owners.
No problem. All five of The Rent-It Store’s owners can be found behind the counters with their sleeves rolled up, ready to help.
“My former boss said the business is always about friendships and getting to know people and helping them with their projects,” said Gene Elash, one of The Rent-It Store’s owners.
“A lot of our business is about customer service. We have five owners that work on the counter. Our focus is on the customer and, of course, helping our company grow.
“And for the customers, if they need to talk to an owner, well, there is usually one available at the counter to talk to. We can make a decision real fast. We don’t have to put in a request to buy equipment or whatever, we can get it done real quick.”
Really, there isn’t a lot you, the experienced or rookie do-it-yourselfer, can’t find at The Rent-It Store.
The company carries retail supplies from top manufacturers such Stihl, Hilti, Bosh, Wacker Neuson, Husqvarna, Kraft, Ox, Weber and Toro.
If you need equipment rentals, you can get aerial lifts, lawn and garden equipment, scaffolds, generators, excavators, pumps, heaters, compressors, forklifts and skid steers.
And The Rent-It Store sells and services the full line of models from the popular brand of outdoor power tools, Stihl.
“The majority of our customers are contractors and we deal with the other rental companies in the city so we do a lot of re-renting with them,” said Elash. “Because it’s so busy in the city with all of the construction, a lot of customers can’t get people to do their work so they have to do it themselves. We have a lot of it do-it-yourselfers, and a huge assortment of customers we deal with everyday.”
Opening 53 years ago on Broadway Avenue, The Rent-It Store’s move to a location on 29th Street and then to a larger location on 43rd Street E. in 1986. It would be there for 17 years until a fire damaged the building and forced The Rent-It Store to move to another temporary location on 43rd Street for six months. After the repairs to the building were completed, a decision was taken to build a new 18,000-square-foot facility on 45th Street East, where the company is today.
Nearly two years ago, another 9,000 square feet was added on to better serve its customers with tool and equipment rentals, sales and a service department. Around that same time, The Rent-It Store decided to sell off part of its longstanding business: the event rental section. “The tool side was growing so quickly with all of the construction going on in Saskatoon, it was either expand the event side – which we didn’t have the manpower for – or focus more on the tool side, which was a much bigger part of our business,” said Elash, who has watched the company expand for the past 28 years.
Attending trade school in his native Saskatoon, an acquaintance gave Elash a tip that The Rent-It Store was hiring. “I went in and they threw me in a truck,” laughed Elash. “I jumped at the chance and was hired out of school. I love my job. That’s why I’ve stayed all of these years.” Elash was hired by the late Doug Mitchell, who was business partners with Doron Broadfoot, one of The Rent-It Store’s five owners. Elash and Broadfoot are joined by Doron’s son, Mike; Ken Johnson; and Andy Travers. “I only really worked under Doug for a few years, working in different branches and I ended up at the branch we’re in now,” said Elash.
Doron Broadfoot is the company president with more than 40 years experience in the rental industry. His father, Lyle, was one of the original owners back in 1962.
Johnson has been with the company for 30 years and ran the special events division, renting tables, chairs, glassware, linens, cutlery, plates and tents for many years before switching to the construction side.
Mike Broadfoot started with the company in 2010 and Travers joined in 2011.
All of that experience and still the owners share ideas among themselves constantly.
“We actually have an early Wednesday morning meeting every week to address issues or talk about new equipment opportunities,” said Elash. “We rely on the many years of experience that we collectively have in the group to try and help our customers to the best of our ability.”
In an effort to stay competitive – because, as Elash said, “you want to do better than everybody else” – The Rent-It Store does not rely on an outside sales force. Rather, one of those 16 full-time employees is dedicated strictly to social media. You can find The Rent-It-Store on Facebook and, though he doesn’t tweet himself, Elash points out the company regularly uses Twitter (@tooltorent) and YouTube, where you can watch videos on how to remove tall grass and weeds from your property with the Billy Goat Outback Brushcutter. Or learn how to properly use equipment like forklifts, excavators and wood chippers. “We do a lot of advertising due to social media. It’s like a silent sales person,” he said. “We’ve got a person on staff and that’s all she does is social media. She does newsletters, updates Facebook and Twitter, and has customers making videos for us when they’re doing their jobs and posting it. It’s going to be a good marketer for us.”
Elash became a believer of social media for his company after attending an American Rental Association (ARA) conference seminar on the topic in New Orleans.
“Everything I’ve seen and everything that we’ve done, I totally believe in social media,” said Elash. “It’s totally helped our business and has been a good addition for us.”
The store, of course, has a website – therentitstore.com – that provides its history, a full list of rental equipment items, and a complete, comprehensive rental agreement policy and helpful hints for people to look at prior to coming to the store.
Getting to go to places like New Orleans is one of the benefits of the job that Elash loves. The Canadian Rental Association falls under the umbrella of the ARA, and Elash is the president of the Saskatchewan local of the CRA. “It’s a huge community,” he said of the rental business. “Everybody shares secrets and ideas, and if you have have any problems, there’s a lot of people you can call. I’ve been fortunate to travel through work, and I’ve seen a lot of suppliers’ manufacturing facilities.”
As president in Saskatchewan, Elash is available for members to call him if they have any questions regarding anything to do with the rental association. He has also been involved for the last five years in Saskatoon on the organizing committee for the Prairie Trade Show.
The Rent-It Store’s commitment to the industry is on full display when the Prairie show comes to town. Last March, Elash toured a busload of show attendees through his store, showing off the impressive warehouse and showroom and giving people some inside insight into how they have found such success in a market that has only recently been blessed with some economic strength. Touring local rental stores as part of the festivities surrounding the Prairie show is an innovation that Elash and the rest of the organizing committee came up with as an alternative to sitting in a hotel seminar room before the show. Response from attendees was enthusiastic, especially when the bus pulled up at the end of the tour to a local micro-distiller offering samples.
Elash and Broadfoot are well-known in the Saskatchewan CRA for giving tirelessly of their time and talents at all association activities.
Elash says he simply enjoys going to work everyday and, in 28 years, he’s come to love his job and has met an awful lot of great people, many he considers friends. He has no plans to remove himself from behind the counter. Unless, of course, it’s on one of those rare occasions he finds himself returning to his The Rent-It Store roots. “Every once in a while, you have to get into a vehicle and make a delivery,” he laughs. “But not very often.”
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