By Treena HeinFeatures Profiles
Applying concepts from manufacturing has transformed Location de Beauce.
No one is sure how many rental companies in Canada incorporate the Lean management framework, but Location de Beauce in St. George, Que., has gone full in, and continues to reap many benefits.
Adherence to Lean efficiency principles has one of the key reasons president Martin Rancourt – whom his staff members call the best boss they could have – has doubled profits since he bought the business only six years ago. His success is also due to the strong respect and care he shows his employees, his two decades of business experience and the way he continually learns from other firms.
Location de Beauce has served the population of St. George (about 35,000) and the surrounding areas (another 15,000) since 1975. During that period, Rancourt was growing up, getting a business degree at Laval University and heading out to make his mark on the world.
“When I graduated in 1992, the business climate wasn’t great, but I started my own business-to-business marketing firm with no money and no experience,” he explains. “A few years later, I bought a firetruck manufacturing business called Maxi Metal with a partner and he mainly ran it.”
Rancourt enjoyed both businesses, but when he reached the age of 50, he sold them both. He’d always had a dream to retire around that age and was keen to make it a reality. “But it wasn’t a good idea for me,” he says. “My accountant found me Location de Beauce and I decided to buy it with a partner. Three years ago I bought my partner out.”
The move into rentals made a lot of sense for him. First, he could apply what he’d learned with both previous businesses. But second – and most important – he would enjoy the challenge of taking Location de Beauce to its full potential.
Room for improvement
The first change Rancourt made was to create a comfortable break room for the employees. “We created a really nice area to store their personal items and put in comfortable chairs and a table, with a microwave and refrigerator,” he says. “I believe employees are the base of everything you want to do and should be treated very well. The second thing I did was introduce Lean.”
He and his partner had used Lean at their firetruck plant, but Rancourt hadn’t been sure how to apply it to a service business. After he visited the R&D centre of Hilti Tool in Texas, however, he had the confidence to proceed.
Lean is all about introducing efficiencies and innovation with the least addition of new resources. It’s an ongoing process but special events and rewarding innovation are also part of the Lean system. After doing some training of his new employees on Lean concepts, Rancourt held a “Kaizen blitz” (a Lean brainstorming session) and one idea that came out of it – to add a separate return counter – was a no-brainer to implement right away.
Meanwhile, Rancourt communicated his vision for the business of not seeking to offer the cheapest prices but offering the best in terms of excellent service and products of top quality and efficiency. He switched some equipment brands and expanded the range of equipment. And he also told staff he wanted every piece of equipment going out for rental to look like new.
“It’s a big part of our secret,” says Rancourt. “It provides a really different customer experience to have such clean and new-looking equipment. We knew word of mouth would spread, and it did. It became the talk of the town. We have two full-time dedicated cleaners and sometimes two others join them. We use only a few cleaning products but they are the right ones. One of our employees helped a lot with finding the right products. He had worked in car cleaning before.”
To make sure painting was done well, an employee suggested a building addition containing a dedicated paint shop. Rancourt proceeded right away. Another employee suggested a whole tool storage reorganization and Rancourt supported that fully. The entire building was also extensively cleaned and every inch of it remains extremely clean and organized to this day.
“A lot of rental store owners come here to see our model,” says Rancourt. “Most of the time it’s because an equipment sales rep says to them, ‘You have to go and see it.’ Sales reps come here and say it’s the most beautiful store in the country. I am very proud and our entire team is very proud of what they have done.”
At the same time, especially early on, Rancourt was visiting other rental stores. “I am always doing this and I did it again in early March,” he says. “It’s the best way to improve, to get ideas and see what not to do. My best experience was in the first year visiting Hilti. There were so many great ideas and I took a lot of pictures. I had also visited a lot of businesses over the 20 years in marketing all over North America and I learned again and again what the successful ones did and what not to do from those that struggled.”
Rancourt currently has 25 employees, almost all full-time. About 70 per cent of the business is contractors, 20 per cent industrial/institutional and the rest is DIY. They both rent and sell the full range of equipment from construction and elevation to heating, landscaping and hand tools. Location de Beauce also provides repair services to some customers for their equipment.
Expansion in 2022
With all the changes he’s made and so much business growth since he took over, Rancourt knew around 2021 that only a little more growth would be possible at the St. George location. He was keen for a new challenge, and that year he found a building about 90 kilometers away, just outside Quebec City.
“There are competitors inside the city but not outside,” he explains. “We opened in summer 2022 after about a year of planning and transforming the building. We are renting with the option to buy. We’ve applied all the same concepts that we have here and the businesses are identical except that the number of individual pieces of equipment of each type is fewer right now. I am there at least once a week and one of our people here, Luc Roy, goes almost every day to make sure the experience is the same, to be sure it’s going exactly as we want.”
That employee is very well suited to this position. Over the last few years, Rancourt has taken the time to have every one of his employees go through aptitude testing with an outside agency. He’s taken the results to move them (as needed and as best he can) to positions that meet their needs, interests and natural skills.
“It’s the president’s job to bring your employee assets to as high a level as possible,” says Rancourt. “There was a lot of opportunity to move people. One of our team, Luc Morin, had worked here about 11 years when I bought it. After the testing, he’s now officially our Lean Six Sigma Guardian. We’ve also sent him for management training.”
Another employee, Christopher Busque, had been at Location de Beauce for about 17 years when Rancourt became owner. He’d started there cleaning and serving customers and for the last 10 years he’d managed the store. But when his testing came back, Rancourt noted his very strong sales aptitude.
“Christopher has a very good view of the whole business and having him out seeing customers suits him much better and we’re so much better as a business,” Rancourt says. “I got him a truck and he’s out visiting customers every day, making sure all is well and dealing with any problems right away. He talks to contractors constantly about the advantages of renting instead of buying.”
Busque adds, “Also, our customers contact me with questions all the time. We like to know who is satisfied and who is not, and if not, why. This has all been due to Martin’s support.
“We have the best president we could have. When the business is not well, he says it’s about him and if it’s going well, he says it’s about us.”
Rancourt is not done with expansion, but he says adding a new store someday (and the growth of the Quebec City store) will depend on the economy and other factors.
Meanwhile, he is focussed on maintaining outstanding customer experience every day. “I enjoy the rental sector because it’s straightforward,” he says. “In my past, with marketing, it’s a lot about concept and there is always the concern of sounding phoney. Rental is down-to-Earth: here is the product, here is our service to you. It’s basic and always honest. You deal with people and give them every reason to choose you next time and the time after that.”
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