Canadian Rental Service

New energy

Patrick Flannery   

Features Profiles editors pick

These dynamic entrepreneurs come at the rental business from a different angle.

NLC Equipment is importing, renting and selling their own brand of Spartan mini track loaders. The line had its debut at the Landscape Ontario show in January. From left, Victor Miceski, Jon Politano and Mike Ricottone.

A lot of people get into the rental industry because their families were in it. Still others took a summer job at a rental yard in high school and found out they like the business. Another common route is to come out of the construction or machinery supplier worlds. Victor Miceski, co-owner of NLC Equipment in Hamilton, Ont., got into the rental business because of a conversation with the guy putting his pool in.

Three years ago Miceski, then 36, had just sold his previous business (a medical courier company) and was doing what many people did during COVID – upgrading his backyard. The pool contractor came in to do the work with his fleet of excavators, dumpers and tampers and Miceski asked him if he owed the machinery. He was surprised to find out it was all rented. He did some poking around to find out what the price of the equipment was new and, over the course of several conversations, learned what his contractor was paying to rent it. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation and Miceski went back to his contractor with an offer: why don’t you rent the equipment from me? It was a win-win…Miceski was recouping part of the cost of the pool project and the contractor was renting the equipment at lower rates, increasing his margin. He liked the deal so much he committed to keeping the rentals for the rest of the year. Miceski went down to the Toro dealer and bought everything the contractor needed for the job.  

That went well and the contractor rented Miceski’s fleet for the following season. Word-of-mouth and community connections (Miceski grew up and has lived his whole life in Stoney Creek, Ont. His father worked at Dofasco.) led to more rental inquiries and buying more equipment. Then the warranties started to expire and Miceski was faced with having to service the machines himself. Uh oh.

Enter Jon Politano. Politano also grew up in Stoney Creek and Miceski’s uncle and his father were in business together as an electrical supplier. Politano himself is a master electrician who has been in the trade since he was 16. He learned automation and control systems working at various Hamilton factories before going out on his own with JPI Electrical. The close connection to Miceski made it relatively easy to agree to his proposal that the two of them go into business together with Miceski focused on development and him handling service.  

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Fast-forwarding to today, NLC Equipment operates out of a 6,000-square-foot shop in Hamilton with another 4,800-square-foot warehouse nearby for storing fleet. Their main focus is the landscaping market: XCMG excavators up to five tons, mini-track loaders and power dumpers, wood chippers, plus just about anything else the customer asks for. They’ve delivered as far as London, Ont. NLC also has a mechanic on hand and an electrical apprentice, Mike Ricottone.

But these two entrepreneurs are expanding how and what they rent in some very interesting ways. They have become a dealer for a Chinese track loader manufacturer and created the Spartan brand to compete with the likes of Dingo and Bobcat. Getting into this business was a matter of importing some of the base machines, trying them out with customers and going back to the manufacturer with feedback and suggestions. Politano’s input was critical here and by working together with their OEM they have been able to offer a product they feel is competitive with anything on the market at a substantially lower price. He was able to make sure Spartans are not reliant on proprietary parts from China but could be repaired with off-the-shelf parts available locally. Spartan’s big debut was at the Landscape Ontario show in January where NLC splashed out for a sizeable booth to show off its newest offering.

NLC Equipment has an even more interesting niche, however, that stands a chance to generate some significant long-term growth for the company. It started when Politano got a call to service a tower crane generator. Arriving on site, he found that someone had completely stripped out the generator. “It was completely cleaned out,” Politano remembers. “Every wire was gone.” Since the existing unit was not salvageable, Politano set about finding another generator through his long-standing contacts in the industrial electrical world. His expertise allowed him to understand what the customer needed, configure the generator correctly and install it properly. They were thrilled. You can guess what happened next. “OK, can we have another one?”

“When it comes to tower cranes,” Politano explains, rentals can be tricky “The standard rental for a generator is an eight-hour workday. If you start going over eight hours you get into hourly charges and other kinds of overages so you can end up paying double for the month what you expected.” To address this, tower crane operators typically want to turn the crane’s generator off overnight. “But you can’t turn the tower crane off because they are so high in the air. It’s minus 20 down here but it’s minus 40 140 feet up in the wind. When you turn the panels off on a tower crane, everything freezes. Then when the drives start back up they create heat and condensation in the panel. Electronics don’t like moisture. So now you have to pay someone like me to climb 14 stories and that’s not a cheap service call.”

What Politano did was come up with a way to leave the generator running and only burning between 10 and 20 percent of the fuel it would normally use. A sort of “sleep mode.” He also came up with a way to avoid the wet stacking problem that usually plagues generators running with no load. That trick is a secret Politano is keeping to himself.  

So NLC Equipment will soon have a line of 200 kilowatt tower crane generators to sell or rent that come with Politano and Ricottone’s expert service and special features that allow the customer to save thousands on fuel and rental costs. Given their proximity to Toronto, the tower crane capital of the world, this seems like a good niche to be in.

There’s innovation in the back and innovation up front at NLC. While Politano redesigns track loaders and builds top-secret tower crane generators, Miceski positions the company for growth with an energetic marketing strategy. Mickeski and Politano would agree their present location is not glamourous. They purposely moved to larger, more utilitarian confines after getting tired of paying more for a showroom location where the landlord didn’t like the noise and mess of a working rental store. But you’d never guess NLC wasn’t in a slick new building from looking at their public presentation. They have a sharp logo, prominently displayed on attractive pull-up banners at their trade show booth. The logo and colours appear everywhere on the equipment and company materials…and on the staff. That’s right, NLC Equipment has a line of merchandise clothing. Hats, hoodies, t-shirts – Miceski says they are a great awareness booster.  

“The guys love the gear,” Miceski explains. “A guy drops a scissor lift off for repair. If you give him a sweater the next time there’s three guys with him to drop off one machine. ‘Hey, you have any more?’ The next thing you know the whole job site is wearing our free advertising.”

Miceski is also using social media to drive business, saying Instagram appears to be the most effective. When they boosted a post about their booth at Landscape Ontario, they immediately got three messages asking where they were and if they were available to meet. The company is doing some radio advertising as well.

Miceski’s marketing savvy comes from something he saw in his previous business doing medical deliveries. “When I bought my transportation company, the company had no branding, no nothing,” he remembers. “I was speaking to some of the bigger hospitals and they said, ‘Hey, you could get bigger contracts if you maybe clean up your act.’ So I took that in and bought some new vehicles and put our branding and number on everything. And I started getting cold calls. We had always been everywhere but no one knew they were our vans. So I upgraded and bought some new Transits and Freightliner straight trucks and branded them up all the exact same. It looked a lot more professional when I went to bid on contracts. I noticed there was a lot more positive feedback. Same with the driver, everyone got new shirts, jackets, hats. It just grew and grew – when I started we had 18 employees and by the time we sold we had 47.”

As newbies in the rental industry, Politano and Miceski are finding out what makes this business different from any other. Politano comments that, while all businesses are about service, this one is one where you can really make it pay. “I’ve always been dealing with customers,” he says, “but the customers in the rental business are appreciative. You show up with something they need so they can complete their job and get paid and they are happier. They are on time and you are taking care of them. It’s not always like that in the electrical business. Everybody wants the lights on but as soon as the lights come on and the bill comes in they are like, ‘Well, hold on, we didn’t really think it was going to be that much.’ But here it’s, ‘Here’s the equipment,’ and at the end of the day ‘Here’s the payment.’”

Miceski says the nature of the rental industry gives smaller players with a passion for great service a chance to shine. “Tradesmen have been using the same equipment probably their whole career,” he says. “He’s used a John Deere or Bobcat every day. If you are bringing him the same machine but your service is better, well, they know the prices. There’s a lot of people out there looking to use the big names but their service is lacking because of their size, because our corporation said rent from them because we have a contract. Jobs get held up. It happens all the time. And we’re just trying to get into those. Let us prove ourselves.”

With an energetic approach to marketing, a drive for growth and their eagerness to go into new markets with new approaches, NLC Equipment looks poised to enjoy great success in the southern Ontario rental industry. 


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