By Mike DaveyFeatures Profiles
We’ve all got a soft spot for someone who defies the odds and follows a dream.
We’ve all got a soft spot for someone who defies the odds and follows a dream. In the case of Wayne Beckett, owner of Wayne’s Rental Centre in Moosomin, Sask., the dream was to start up a rental store in his hometown.
|Wayne Beckett, incoming CRA president, hard at work.
In 1986, Wayne Beckett was testing farm equipment for the provincial government of Saskatchewan, with the purpose of giving farmers an unbiased third-party evaluation of particular pieces of equipment. It was a good fit for Beckett, who has a farming background and a diploma in agriculture.
However, there were some indications at the time that the government was planning to phase out his job, so he started looking for other opportunities.
“I was willing to move back to my hometown, and maybe do some farming, but that didn’t look too promising,” says Beckett. “One day my wife and I drove by a rental store in Melfort, Sask., and thought, ‘Why not?’”
Beckett quickly made contact with the owner of a rental store in Humboldt, where he was living at the time. The owner was Sandy Schwartz and the store was Rock Ridge Rentals. Experienced members of the rental industry from Saskatchewan will probably recognize the names. The first regional trade shows, which have since become wildly popular, were actually held in the basement of Schwartz’s store.
|Charlene Swanton, office manager at Wayne’s Rental Centre.
“Sandy was quite knowledgeable about the business and the association,” points out Beckett. “I spent a lot of time talking to her before going into business.”
At that time, a rental store in a community the size of Moosomin (population 2,500) was almost unheard of. Let’s be honest: it’s not exactly common now, either.
“Most people, whether they said it out loud or not, thought we were nuts,” says Beckett. Other stores have come and gone in similar towns, but the big difference was that those operators always had something to fall back on. When business slowed and times got tough, they could go back to being an electrician or what-have-you. I didn’t have that. For us, it was succeed, or starve.”
In those early days, the business consisted of Wayne Beckett, about enough inventory to fill a half-ton pickup, and his wife Tammy doing the books. More than 20 years later, the business has not only survived, but thrived. Wayne’s Rental Centre currently has six full-time and two part-time employees, and nearly $2 million worth of fleet.
|Peter Nabholz, facility manager.
“We have two potash mines in our area that are currently going through a $6-billion expansion, as well as active oil and gas industries and we’re on the corridor of Trans-Canada pipeline’s main line,” observes Beckett. “Those three industries have turned out to be our biggest customers. I didn’t realize back then what a huge role they would play in our growth, especially the potash mines over the past several years.”
That’s not to say that it’s been smooth sailing from the first day the doors opened. The recession that began in the late 1980s presented challenges, but Beckett views it as a learning experience.
“We’re enjoying the benefits of quite a boom in Saskatchewan right now, but I understand that a lot of operators haven’t been so fortunate,” he says. “I’ve been through recessions, and they’re tough, but we have to learn from them. I knew that I couldn’t control recessions, but I learned that I can control how my business reacts, and how to weather them. It’s an education for sure, and a good education costs money!”
Many of our readers already know that Beckett is the incoming president of the Canadian Rental Association (CRA), and will serve in that role throughout 2011. His association with the CRA goes back almost to the day he started in the rental business, back in March of 1987.
“We joined the association shortly after we started the business, in part because of talking with Sandy Schwarz, and partly because we knew there was a lot about the rental industry that we just didn’t know,” says Beckett. “Once I got into the business, I realized it was something I really enjoyed, so I wanted to do it well. We met some really great people at our first meeting. My wife and I both enjoy getting together with fellow rental professionals and suppliers for learning and social events.”
Meeting and learning from other rental operators has proved to be a definite benefit of association membership for Beckett. In fact, he can pinpoint how something that was said at his very first meeting had a positive impact on his business.
| Randy Fyke, shop foreman.
“One issue that came up at that first meeting was the provincial sales tax on repairs to equipment,” notes Beckett. “A fellow member pointed out that you don’t have to pay that if the equipment is being rented, which I hadn’t known. I applied for a rebate, and got back a $3,500 cheque from the government. That one comment from another member of the rental industry paid for 10 straight years of membership dues.”
Beckett says that he has always been a firm proponent of learning from other rental operators at every opportunity. In fact, when travelling for business or pleasure, he makes a point of stopping at most of the rental stores along the way.
“It drives my family nuts, but it’s worth it. Either I learn something, or they learn something, or both,” he says. “Even if I just drive through their yards after hours, I usually see something of interest to me.”
As the incoming president, Beckett knows that he has some big shoes to fill.
“There have been some really great leaders ahead of me that got the association running well. There will be issues that we have to deal with, but I’m confident that we will be able to deal with them, in part because the association is so strong,” he says. “Our association books are in the black, so it gives us the opportunity to do more for our members. It was only five or six years ago that we didn’t have that luxury.”
Although the CRA is running well, Beckett believes that it could be even stronger with a wider membership.
“I’m just a real advocate of the association. It astounds me that more people don’t become involved,” he says. “I know being on the board isn’t for everybody, but why aren’t they members? Frankly, they don’t know what they’re missing. The benefits are enormous, and they’re increasing all the time.
Whether you’re active in the association or not, membership seems like a no-brainer. I’m looking forward to the challenges and hope to visit with many of you at the upcoming trade shows across the country and in Las Vegas.”
Although Wayne’s Rental Service is successful, there have been some setbacks along the way, including a fire in 2001 that burned the business to the ground.
“That was a tough day. Nothing seemed to be working to stop the fire from spreading. When something like that happens, it’s pretty easy to just fold up your tent and say, ‘Forget it.’ But I’ve always made a point of saying to our insurance broker: ‘You know insurance. I know the rental business. You sell what I really need, so the day after a disaster, we can still be friends.’ Well, we did have a disaster, and during the fire our insurance broker patted me on the back and told us we’d be OK in the morning. We rebuilt with hard work and a lot of help from our friends inside and outside of the rental business.”
One of those friends is Wayne Weight, an agent and representative for a number of the lines carried at Wayne’s Rental Centre. The staff at Wayne’s Rental Centre often refers to Weight as “Santa Claus,” as he frequently stops by in the night, leaving the new orders on the doorstep.
“I’ve known Wayne for about 16 years,” says Weight. “He runs a really good operation and he’s a great person to deal with. He knows how to get the best out of his staff: by going golfing. I know it sounds like a joke, but it’s true. He picks people who are committed to being the best they can even when the boss isn’t watching.”
Geoff Allen works for Terex-AWP. He’s been calling on Wayne’s Rental Centre for about four years, and agrees that customer service is one area where the company really shines.
“Wayne’s operation is tight and sleek,” says Allen. “It’s set up for the renter to come in and grab the stuff he needs. Everything’s ready to go.”
Wayne and Tammy Beckett are the parents of twin 16-year-old boys, and a 12-year-old daughter. Although Wayne makes it clear that he would never force his children into the business, he also makes it clear that it wouldn’t displease him if they wanted to carry on the family business.
“The boys, Kody and Kyler, have been involved with the business since the day they could walk,” says Beckett. “They both work here every day after school, and they work here all summer too. They can see the benefits the rental business brings.”
Of course, handing over a business to a new generation involves some serious succession planning, and here, as with other aspects of his business, Beckett has turned to his fellow rental professionals and association members for advice.
“We’re all in the rental business to do the best we can and get better,” says Beckett. “We all want to improve, make as much money as we can, make as many friends as we can, take as much time off as we need, and give back as much as we can. I believe the very best way to do that is to learn from your peers.”
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