Great folks, great business
Patrick FlanneryFeatures Profiles
Dale and Sara Pardy are about as nice a young couple as you could hope to meet.
Dale and Sara Pardy are about as nice a young couple as you could hope to meet. This may sound like faint praise for a pair of entrepreneurs who are ostensibly dedicated to maximizing profit in the cutthroat world of small business, but it is not. Because the Pardys, and their rental operations, Butler Scaffolding and Rentool, illustrate one of the best aspects of the Canadian rental industry, especially in the Atlantic provinces. It really is about people and how you get along with people and create relationships with people. And so, perhaps more than in any other business sector out there, it really is possible for nice people to finish first.
|Running a rental shop and raising a young family caused some sleepless nights at first, but Dale and Sara Pardy are getting the hang of it now.
The Pardys’ involvement in the rental industry has been rooted in their communities and old friendships from the start. Butler Scaffolding was started in 1982 by Garnet and Karna Butler, two legends in the Atlantic rental industry. Garnet rose through all the chairs in the Atlantic local of the Canadian Rental Association and went on to become president of the national association in 1998. Karna also served in all chairs of the Atlantic local and as national director for the region. Garnet and Dale were from the same tiny town of Burin, N.L., population 2,470. Garnet moved away before Dale was born, but the Burin connection loomed large when their two paths crossed again. Sara had a much longer association with the Butlers. They lived, and Karna lives today, on the same street she grew up on in Hammonds Plains, N.S., just outside Halifax.
Dale studied aquaculture and scuba diving at school in Prince Edward Island and planned to become a fish farmer but found the industry poorly regulated and full of opportunists looking to make a quick buck without regard for safety and the environment. Discouraged, he moved to Halifax and started driving truck for his fellow Burinite, Garnet Butler.
Pardy says he could not have been more fortunate than to fall in with a mentor and boss like Butler. After he drove truck for a few years, Butler brought him in to oversee tool rentals and the yard when the previous manager was injured. That move turned into a permanent promotion when the manager, Butler’s son-in-law, went on permanent compensation. “Garnet came to me and said, ‘Look, we are going to have to post for a manager,’” Pardy remembers. “And I asked him why he had to post for a manager when he had one in the yard.”
A chance to buy in
Pardy managed the shop for about two years, then Butler came to him with another proposal. He asked Pardy to keep managing the shop, but to take on increasing responsibility as he went into semi-retirement, coming in less regularly or part-time. In return, Pardy would be paid a two-per cent share in the business per year. Pardy agreed, and after four years had accumulated an eight-per cent stake in Butler Scaffolding.
Then Garnet Butler was diagnosed with cancer.
|Dale Pardy makes it his business to know as many of his customers by name as is possible. His “personable” approach creates loyalty and repeat business.
“We had to kind of speed the process up,” Pardy explains. “We had planned on working for 10 years, which would have given me 20 per cent of the company. Then I could go to the bank and say, ‘Look, I already own 20 per cent, what is the chance of getting a loan to pay out the rest?’” Instead, Pardy and Butler sped up the buy-out process, with Pardy taking full control of the company in 2007. Garnet Butler passed away on Oct. 6, 2007.
“There were a lot of sleepless nights in that first year,” Pardy reports. It was one of those situations where all the changes seem to happen at once. The Pardys had a newly arrived son, Timothy, born the fall before, and had taken over Butler in January, the slowest time of the year. “From January to April you are trying to make ends meet, but the bills still have to be paid, which had to come out of our pocket,” Pardy explains. “Once April and May started to roll around we started to get busier and things started coming into place a bit better, but if I had it back I would have waited. I didn’t have that luxury, but if we could have bought in April it would have been way easier on the nerves and easier on the head.”
Pardy credits Garnet and Karna for teaching him everything he knows about the rental business and for being very generous with their time and knowledge even after he took over. “They are great people,” he says. “They taught me everything. They did not hold anything back. There were times I had little problems or glitches and I could go there any time. Garnet would stop in and see if I needed any help and Karna was always there to help. They were great mentors.”
Sara chimes in, “Karna still is. If we called her today and asked her anything, Karna would be right here to help us with anything we needed.”
Looking for a rising tide
Pardy has split the company into two divisions: Butler Scaffolding, which carries only scaffolding and related products, and Rentool, which is the small equipment and tool rental side. The company employs six people and serves a roughly triangular area from Truro, N.S., to Bridgewater to the west and Sheet Harbour to the east. Butler’s clientele is mostly homeowners and small contractors, mixed about evenly between urban and rural. “We do not have any of the big earth movers or the big boom lifts and such,” Pardy says. “We have smaller tools and equipment for the jobber.” Pardy estimates his business breaks down to about 60 per cent scaffolding and 40 per cent tools and machinery. Two of Pardy’s employees date from his time as manager under Garnet, and he has added two more.
|Scaffolding makes up about 60 per cent of Pardy’s business.
Reliant as he is on the local home renovation and building market, Pardy is looking forward to some sustained growth because of a large military shipbuilding contract the federal government recently awarded to the Halifax shipyards. “I think the market is going to go through the roof on the housing,” he says, “so then demand is going to be higher for lumber, steel and everything, so everything is going to go up. So this year, before they get the ship building going, I think everybody is trying to get their little projects done.” Pardy is not ready to pop any champagne corks yet, though. “They say [the military] contract is for 30 years, so yeah, the hope is there,” he says. “Some people are skeptical, some are not. Some people are jumping right on the bandwagon and some are holding their money back in case this thing falls through and it is not the big boom everybody is talking about. We are hoping.”
Keeping it simple
One way the Pardys have kept costs under control is to manage the level of complexity they have to deal with in their business. Their tool operation consists of “generally anything that two guys can carry,” Dale says. “Nothing you need a crane to lift or a flatbed.” That means no aerial lift platforms, despite the apparent synergy with Butler’s scaffolding business. The Pardys have also shied away from direct involvement in setting up the scaffolding they rent. “We sub it out,” Dale explains.
|He concentrates on just supplying the material along with instructions and lets others handle the setup and training.
“We used to do it all the time, but a few years ago the liability insurance went through the roof so now it is not worth our time with the clients. With the small homeowners and jobbers, a lot of them do not fall under the same rules and regulations. We have instructions we send along.”
Keeping it simple allows Pardy’s employees to be generalists, able to help with anything he needs them to do in the business. “Elya is our truck driver, unless he’s sick, then we will put somebody else in that role, including myself,” Pardy explains. “John is our counter guy. He is mostly in the office, but if someone is off for some reason he can go in the back to fix tools or service customers. Everybody has their hands on the equipment. I do a lot of it myself. We do not have a trained mechanic – anything that requires a lot of work we send out. Simple stuff, replacing hoses or valves or something that is easy, we do in-house, but anything major we send out.”
A tradition of involvement
The Pardys learned from the Butlers that involvement in their CRA local and its trade shows pays dividends. They have continued that tradition by giving generously of their time to the association, and putting themselves and Butler Scaffolding front and centre at Atlantic local events. “Before I bought the business I did attend some of the meetings and some of the rental shows with Garnet,” Dale remembers. “So I got a bit of a feel for it. He seemed to feel it was a great benefit and now that we are into it, we agree 100 per cent.” Both Dale and Sara took executive positions in the Atlantic local in the fall of 2011, Dale as vice-president and Sara as treasurer. “We were both a little nervous because we felt we were so new in the rental business, but both Garnet and Karna were big, big believers in the rental association and what it can do for you. Just the networking with the other rental houses, for instance. I have gotten a few real good pointers from our new national director, Dave Fraser, just through general conversation, having a beer.” Dale says he finds the CRA fuel discounts and the self-protected insurance program very helpful, as well.
|The Pardys’ son, Tim “the Tool Man”, creates a sensation when they take him to trade shows. They also have a 13-year-old daughter, Emily.
Dale is eager to grow the Atlantic local and help it to become more self-sufficient. “We know Mandy [Wellnitz] and Pascale [Lambert] are busy up there,” he says. “They are two women who are pretty well running the whole thing for the country, so their hands are kind of full. We are going to try to take the onus on ourselves instead of just passing the buck.” The Atlantic local held a golf tournament on P.E.I. for the first time this summer. Dale felt the event went very well, but that the association needs to do a better job of getting the word out to members.
Sara adds, “The problem is, we have such a large area and to get people to travel from Newfoundland to P.E.I., well, it was mostly executives that were there. The other people were mostly suppliers. It was great, we had about 30 people in total, but we are really going to work at that and build it and show it up in a newsletter to try to get more attendance. We want people to know how much fun we had and to try to get more people involved.”
“I think this golf thing might catch on,” Dale says. “They had a blast and we had a little vote on it afterwards and everyone was in favour of doing it again next year. They were happy with the location, but we will probably try different venues to see if we can attract new people.”
Asked what the secret to success in Halifax is, Dale replies with one word: “personable.” He says business there is done on an individual relationship level to a greater extent than in other places he has been. “I’d say half or better of my customers come in here and I try to get to know them a little bit,” he says. “Sara is amazed sometimes that I know them by name. I try to be personable with them and it seems like they are more loyal if they come in and you say, ‘How are you doing, Jim?’ instead of, ‘What’s your telephone number, I’ll bring you up.’”
“Personable” service is an easy concept that almost everyone understands, but only a very few can execute. Dale and Sara Pardy, with their sincere friendliness and open interest in others, practise it without even having to think about it.
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