Fun and family
By Roger KnoxFeatures Profiles
Ralph Warner is all about having fun at the workplace. The owner of
Kamloops, B.C.-based Warner Rentals, a nearly 40-year-old expanding
equipment rental company, greets a writer with a huge smile, firm
handshake and a lime green T-shirt that reads “Keep Calm and Rent On.”
Ralph Warner is all about having fun at the workplace. The owner of Kamloops, B.C.-based Warner Rentals, a nearly 40-year-old expanding equipment rental company, greets a writer with a huge smile, firm handshake and a lime green T-shirt that reads “Keep Calm and Rent On.” Warner, 47, laughs and cracks jokes with employees, everyone from his regional sales manager and Kamloops branch manager to the counter clerks at his new store an hour east just off the Trans-Canada Highway in Salmon Arm.
|With a company history going back to 1975 and minimal staff turnover, Warner Rentals is more like an extended family than a workplace. Front (from left), Kamloops branch manager Brent Thompson, Kipper, and regional sales manager Nathan Mutcher. Back row (from left): Salmon Arm branch manager Julia Dick, employee Leslie-Ann McArthur, company owner Ralph Warner, and Salmon Arm employees Mikaela Bischke and Ingo Jung. Not pictured, Kristin McCallum and Rob Dubois.
He plays with the company’s unofficial mascot, an eight-year-old dog rescued by his regional sales manager from the SPCA, dutifully throwing or kicking the slobber-covered, chewed-up, green ball dropped at his feet by the half-German shepherd, half-….well, nobody knows for sure what the other half is.
Warner is having way more fun now than he did as a 12-year-old in Kamloops when he started with the family business that had been founded in 1975 by his dad, Mac.
“Dad started the company in our neighbourhood starting with lawn mowers and rototillers and graduated from that, “ said Warner. “I’m the baby of the family. The business matured and my siblings had gone through college and started their careers, so I was stuck at home to work in the family business.
“I was told that I was working for the company and that was my rent. I wasn’t too impressed then.”
Warner’s impressions have, obviously, changed.
Warner started doing everything for the company: washing equipment, making deliveries, doing basic maintenance and minor repairs. That morphed into counter work, answering phones and taking care of customers before buying the business from his dad in 1990. He is the only one of his siblings presently involved with the company, and Mac is long retired.
While Ralph has spent his life in the rental business, Mac held different occupations. He was a schoolteacher and a police officer. He went to work for R. Angus, a CAT dealer in Alberta, then joined Douglas Rentals in Kamloops, which is how the family ended up in the B.C. Interior. Douglas Rentals was owned by Tommy Douglas, the father of health care in Canada; and Mac Warner was the service manager who then branched out on his own, starting at his house.
Warner Rentals left the neighbourhood for a small commercial building in 1977, then moved into its present Athabasca Street East address in Kamloops’ Mt. Paul industrial park in 1980.
Today, Warner Rentals has the largest independently owned fleet or rental equipment in the Kamloops area, and that fleet is constantly expanding.
Click under the “Equipment Rentals” tab on the company website – www.warnerrentals.bc.ca – and it’s almost an A to Z of everything available for rent, from air compressors to welding
One thing son has kept that dad started is a business philosophy built on outstanding customer service. While Ralph admits he and his father are different people when it comes to running the business, the common denominator between the two is their devotion to the
It’s what has helped Warner Rentals stay in business nearly 40 years, and it’s helping them grow the company.
“We’ve got a tremendous loyal following in Kamloops, and we have great clients,” said Warner. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say our customers love us. We won them over with customer service and our commitment to make sure they get their jobs done as fast as possible.”
Case in point: company regional sales manager Nathan Mutcher, based in Kamloops, receives a call at home at 11 p.m. from a railway company needing a generator in Revelstoke, nearly three hours away on the Trans-Canada. Mutcher leaves his wife and two young kids, heads to the shop to pick up the equipment needed and heads out eastbound on the highway.
As Mutcher approaches Salmon Arm, his cell phone rings. The rail guys tell him their generator is working again and he can return home. Mutcher turns around. As he nears the community of Chase, halfway between Kamloops and Salmon Arm, his cell rings again. Guess who? The generator’s down and can you come help us? Mutcher starts to head toward Revelstoke. On the outskirts of the mountain town, the rail guys phone one more time. Their generator is working. Mutcher knows the piece of equipment is causing grief so he continues and meets up with the rail crew, delivering a working generator.
He returns home to Kamloops, and goes into work the next morning without saying a word to anyone about what happened the night before. The only way Warner found out was when he saw the bill.
“We try to provide a service that’s second to none,” said Mutcher, 34, who started with Warner Rentals in 2003. “Every little issue, every little concern is priority one in our books.”
Mutcher’s good friend and former youth soccer foe, Brent Thompson, is the branch manager in Kamloops. He joined the Warner team in 2006, coming, as Mutcher did, from another local rental company.
“It’s all about building relationships with the customers that come in,” said Thompson, 32. “We try to make the customers as successful as possible. If they have problems or need something, we’re there within an hour. That’s very popular with the local contractors.”
Thompson heads to the town of Princeton, two hours south of Kamloops, once every couple of months to help train employees. Princeton is the first expansion for the company, happening in January of this year. That occurred after Warner received a call about bringing in some equipment for the Copper Mountain Mine, which had been relying on a local outlet. Warner got a call asking if he was interested in opening up a shop in Princeton.
“I went down and after about 15 to 20 minutes, we pretty much had a deal in place,” said Warner.
As he was heading to Princeton, he got a call on his cell from Catherine Bischke in Salmon Arm, then owner of Cardinal Rentals, asking if he’d be interested in buying her company.
First things first.
Warner completed the Princeton transaction, then set about to purchase Cardinal Rentals. He opened Warner Rentals in Salmon Arm’s west end on June 2 and held an open house with suppliers and to welcome new customers in mid-July.
Warner offered jobs to Bischke’s staff. All but two accepted.
Princeton’s focus is on mining, which has helped put Warner Rentals on the map more with an industrial base, and that move has been positive for company growth.
In Salmon Arm, the new shop focuses more on light construction and equipment for homeowners, along with a retail and resell section.
Besides customers, great suppliers have helped out Warner’s expansions as well.
|Warner serves the usual mix of contractors and homeowners with familiar brands like Bobcat, Hilti and Haulotte.
“A lot of them are anxious to do business with us because they see us a company with future expansion plans,” said Warner, who admitted he’s looking at more growth but declined to say where. “We’re setting up shop with brands like Hilti. We do a tremendous amount of work with Bobcat, John Deere, and Haulotte.”
The latter happens to be one of the biggest manlifts manufacturer in the world, and manlifts have also become a huge part of the company’s equipment rental stable.
“We’ve been able to service our customers more from the ground up, supplying them with manlifts which enable people to reach high, hard-to-get-to places that you can’t get to with scaffolding,” said Mutcher. “Scaffolding is way too labour intensive so people rely on a manlift. It’s a safer, more affordable route to go.”
Added Thompson: “And they do the job more efficient and faster.”
Warner says there are three things that make his company a success. The great suppliers. The awesome customers. And his people. There are 27 full-time employees working for Warner Rentals in the three communities, and the owner says he can count on one hand the number of employees who have left in the 24 years he’s been running the shop.
“In this day and age, I have almost no employee turnover. I couldn’t do the expansions this past year if it wasn’t for the fact I have a deep roster of wonderful people,” said Warner.
The feelings about the company and the owner are reciprocated.
“It’s a family-oriented business, that’s what I love about the company,” said Thompson. “If there’s an emergency and we need to get to it, Ralph lets us go. It’s a we-have-your-back attitude.”
Giving back to the community is also a Warner Rentals mantra.
Warner just signed a sponsorship deal with Salmon Arm’s Junior A hockey team, the SilverBacks. In Princeton, Warner Rentals sponsors the town’s swimming team and is looking to help start up a defunct softball league for kids.
Every Christmas, in its hometown of Kamloops, Warner Rentals provides equipment and volunteers to help light up the B.C. Wildlife Park – one of Kamloops’ and the region’s most popular and biggest attractions – for its Wild Nights celebration, where close to 600,000 Christmas lights are lit up.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company donated equipment and taught parents how to operate it so that 30 new school playgrounds could be built.
Warner, married to Tina with two kids, Emily, 13, and Nathan, 10, started a charity golf tournament in 2013 and raised $12,000 for the Chris Rose Foundation, which is a school for autistic children and the only one of its kind in Canada west of Toronto. This is an item near and dear to Warner’s heart. His son (named after Mutcher, who swallowed a large lump in his throat when asked about it and said “it’s obviously a great honour”) is autistic.
This year’s event at Sun Rivers Golf Course in September hopes to raise $20,000 to buy three pediatric beds for the children’s ward at Royal Inland Hospital.
“Kamloops has always supported us and we’ve worked hard to be a very good corporate citizen,” said Warner, adding that his role at the golf tournament in 2013 was to make sure golfers had, er, “flavoured beverages” with a gas-powered blender that he took from hole-to-hole.
It was about making sure the golfers had fun.
And Warner always makes sure his employees have fun at work.
|Guess what? Service is the secret. Warner provides great customer service with long-serving staff.
In Salmon Arm, on this particular day, he laughs with branch manager Julia Dick, mechanic Ingo Jung and front counter personnel Mikaela Bischke and Leslie-Ann McArthur. He takes time to play with Mutcher’s eight-year-old dog, Kipper (named after former Calgary Flames goalie Mikka Kiprusoff), who
certainly does not lack attention.
“She’s in a lot of our work and promotional photos,” laughed Mutcher. “She’s even at work when I’m not there. People look forward to seeing her more on job sites than they do me.”
Fun and family. Both important to Warner, both critical to the company’s overall success. Fun to create a great work environment for employees and for customers. Family, like his
employees, and his own brood.
“My wife Tina is amazing,” said Warner. “She looks after Nathan. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this.”
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