Homecoming Antigonish: A native son returns to Antigonish Rent-All
Antigonish Rent-All welcomes back the Runnalls.
By Sukanya Ray Ghosh
In Nova Scotia’s Antigonish County, residents have been familiar with Antigonish Rent-All for around 70 years now. Over the years, the rental shop has been located in three different locations at different points in time.
It has also been through different ownerships until its current owners and husband-wife duo Chris and Karen Runnalls purchased it three years ago.
“I bought Antigonish Rent-All three years ago. The shop had previously bounced around to different buildings throughout Antigonish County. We are now located in the same building where it has been for the last 25 years,” explains Chris.
The company’s business currently consists of 50 percent rental equipment and 50 percent retail offerings.
“We have a lot of things on offer, even marine supplies. We felt that people would be interested in boats. We have all types of commercial fishing supplies, lawn and garden equipment and construction equipment, obviously for sale and rent. Our target customers are all the people who are interested in these products,” notes Chris.
Included in its rental equipment inventory are excavators, skid steers, compactors, earthmovers, pressure washers, flooring equipment, concrete equipment and even concrete anchors, among other things.
To keep up with the current market demands, trends and technological advancements, Antigonish Rent-All regularly updates and upgrades its rental equipment categories.
“In order to keep our rental equipment current, we’ll rent the equipment out for a certain period of time. We make sure that we’re satisfied with the numbers that we’ve got as return on our investment on that piece of equipment. And then, we sell it off. That way, we are able to give our customers a deal on a piece of rental equipment because they are buying something brand new but in good, working condition. And we’re also able to replace the old equipment and keep our rental equipment up to date in good working fashion, I guess. Almost everything that we rent, we sell eventually. It does not work that way on the retail side of the business, of course,” explains Chris.
Although Chris Runnalls officially became the owner of Antigonish Rent-All only three years ago, his ties to the shop and to Antigonish County go way back.
“I grew up in Antigonish. I was born and raised here. When I was 16, I actually worked here at the shop, at Antigonish Rent-All. If I recall correctly, I worked here for about a year,” says Chris.
Fast forward 20 years and Chris had moved to Alberta and had been working in the oil fields out there for a while.
“We always kind of looked for an excuse to come home. We were thinking about how we were going to get back to Antigonish and move back here. This was before the major Fort McMurray fire took place. When the fire broke out, we were involved in it. So, while our house was being repaired, I moved my family back to Antigonish, back to our home,” recalls Chris.
During this period, Chris had to commute back and forth between Alberta and Antigonish for about a year and a half.
“As I was going back and forth, we were always on the lookout for an opportunity for me to move back or to find a job here so that I didn’t have to commute anymore. So, I just came into the shop one day and approached the previous owner, asking him if he would be interested in selling Antigonish Rent-All to me,” says Chris.
The previous owner was definitely interested, and that set the ball rolling for the Runnalls. Chris immediately went to the bank to get his finances in order to ensure that everything would work out smoothly.
“It was more or less an opportunity for us to move my family back here and raise my kids here,” adds Chris.
This was a new chapter in Chris’s life, a new challenge. This opportunity allows him to work with his wife, Karen, he notes.
“I see my kids every day, as opposed to commuting back and forth. Karen and I bought the shop together. It’s a joint venture for the two of us and we both do everything together, make all the decisions.”
The road to success
While purchasing the shop worked out very well for the Runnalls, it all happened quite spontaneously. And even though Chris did not have a particular vision for the shop when he was coming in, he does have one now.
“I walked in here with the idea that it’s an opportunity for me to come home. And it was also an opportunity for me to grow this business, be part of the community and have a shop that is number one. I want it to be the shop that employees want to be a part of and customers want to be a part of. We want people to be happy to work here. We also want customers to come in and actually feel like they’re getting value for their dollar,” says Chris.
A major factor in the success of any business is excellent customer service. That is exactly what Chris says is Antigonish Rent-All’s greatest strength.
“I think, the secret to our success is the customer service that we offer. Offering great customer service is kind of a dying thing right now, which is terrible to say, but it is happening. I want our customers to come in here and feel that they are in a positive environment. They should get what they’re paying for, and feel satisfied. I want them to get good value for their money. The point is, when they’re satisfied they’re going to come back again and again. I want Antigonish Rent-All to have recurring customers and that is something we strive for here,” he says.
Antigonish Rent-All’s mission statement is “Everything you need to do the job.” This is the mantra that is followed by the rental store when working with customers.
“Our mission statement is ‘everything you need to do to do the job.’ So, we offer a quality equipment or tool to help customers do their job. Additionally, we also have the required knowledge and experience that allows us to teach the customer how to run that product or that tool. They can go home with the understanding of how the product works and get the job done. We are ‘can do’ people. We can pretty much help the customers out with anything that is associated with our equipment,” says Chris.
The market and its demands
Having worked at Antigonish Rent-All before, Chris came in with knowledge of how the business works. The shop is also staffed with people that have strong knowledge about the rental market.
One thing that Chris and the Antigonish team agree on is that the rental market has changed and it has been impacted by the entry of big corporations.
“The large corporate companies make it very difficult for the little Mom and Pop shops like us to stay ahead of the competition. The reason is that they have access to a lot more equipment than us,” says Chris. “In addition to that, the internet made things very difficult as well. Now-a-days, customers are able to go on the internet and compare prices to the big cities or the big corporate companies. They then come in and expect the same thing from the small-town mom and pop shops like Antigonish Rent-All.”
To face this competition better, Antigonish Rent-All supports the local radio stations and the local newspapers.
Chris notes, “We pay for advertisement on both of those mediums. Our radio ads and newspaper ads allow customers to see what we’re selling or what promotions we’re offering. Social media has also played a huge part over the last few years. Facebook Marketplace and all other social media platforms have really helped. I think that is what helps in bringing more people in. We also have t-shirts and other promotional merchandise. We recently ordered face masks with our logo on them.”
While the Runnalls are leaving no stone unturned to keep driving the business forward, the new challenges presented by COVID-19 have been keeping Chris up at night lately.
“The products and parts are becoming extremely hard to get. We have a full service shop downstairs that helps service all the rental requirements, plus we have a small engine shop downstairs. To fix something like a lawnmower may sound like an easy task, but you need to have the parts to do it. And 99 percent of those parts come from China,” says Chris.
He notes that this could progressively become more and more of an issue as time goes on until COVID-19 is finally gone. Without parts and products, Antigonish Rent-All is having a hard time selling and servicing products.
COVID-19 has also changed the way that the rental shop functions. There are cleaning policies in place. Antigonish Rent-All also put a limit of two people in the store at a time as a safety measure even though the shop is capable of accommodating more numbers safely. Since it is a requirement in Nova Scotia for everyone to wear masks, the store mandates it, too. For customers that feel uncomfortable wearing masks, the Antigonish Rent-All team members move the conversation to the parking lot. They take the equipment out to the parking lot for the showing.
“We are also providing everybody with masks and cleaning products. We have a new rule in our service shop – employees allowed only, no customers. We also take constant input from employees, asking them if they’re comfortable at work and whether they would like to suggest other safety practices that can be implemented,” adds Chris.
Antigonish Rent-All is constantly growing and developing. The rental store is always on the lookout for different retailers and vendors to come in. On the rental side, the focus is on increasing the inventory.
“I constantly take feedback from contractors and homeowners on what products they believe I should add. Then our team puts a case together to determine whether or not it’s worthwhile to have that product around. If it is, we get it. Since I took over, we’ve added quite a lot of equipment and have also replaced quite a lot. We’re constantly renewing our rental line here, trying to compete with some of the bigger outfits. We’re definitely growing. I don’t just want to stay on the same level; I want to keep going and further expand our prospects,” concludes Chris.