Reliable Rentals in Moncton, N.B., has stuck to an effective, low-risk business plan since inception.
By Patrick Flannery
Reliable Rentals in Moncton, N.B., has stuck to an effective, low-risk business plan since inception. The result? After 27 years in business, the store is still going strong and independently owned.
|Gillcash says he can get his equipment to his customers faster because he uses his own fleet of trucks. Some of his competitors subcontract delivery, which can lead to delays.|
The last thing you want in business is an adventure. The ups and down of the market, the demands and foibles of the customers and the uncertain performance of the equipment provides more than enough excitement for the average rental operator.
To the extent possible, you and your customers want a business where you know what you are getting from one day to the next with as few surprises as possible. In short, you want to be reliable. Danny Gillcash understands this principle so well he named his store after it. For 27 years now Reliable Rentals and Sales in Moncton, N.B. has delivered on its name, and remains a rock-solid presence in a region where many independents have been swallowed up by the big national operators.
Gillcash’s brother, Charles, approached him about running a rental store for him in 1985. He was a construction contractor in Moncton and still owns some quarries in the area. Gillcash was working for the school board at the time as a painter, and got into the business with little knowledge of it. “We joined the rental association as soon as we opened,” he remembers. “Went to our first show in Ottawa that September. I went for years and never missed a show.
After Ottawa it was Calgary then we went to Vancouver and we went to them in Florida.” Gillcash learned the business from the people he spoke to at the shows, and from his employees who have combined, he estimates, 90 years experience between the five of them. His mechanic, Brad Crawford, was an early hire who is still with the company today, 26 years later. Gillcash still does most of his buying at the shows, though he doesn’t get to as many of them as he used to. He and his wife, Judy, like to spend as much time in Florida as possible.
Reliable Rentals is in the same location on Collishaw street where it started 27 years ago, with the same 5,000 square-feet of store space and the same number of employees. It caters to the same customer base of small contractors, landscapers and homeowners in a radius about 45 minutes drive around from the store. Aside from a five-year experiment with party rentals in the early ’90s, it has always carried a similar mix of sod cutters, aerators, mini excavators for the landscapers and pumps, dehumidifiers and fans for homeowners who get flooded in the spring and fall. Reliable is a favourite of the local swimming pool installers, who come to Gillcash for excavators, laser levels and compactors. Gillcash estimates his business is about 75 per cent contractors and 25 per cent homeowners. Advertising and promotions consists of a Yellow Pages ad and word-of-mouth, though Gillcash says he does get out in the summer to visit construction sites and plug his services. Reliable charges one day for a weekend rental and has never asked for a damage waiver. He says he gets a pretty good line-up on Monday mornings when the homeowners return their weekend rentals and the contractors come in to pick up their equipment for the week. All in all, it seems little has changed at Reliable since 1985 except the technology in the equipment and the computers.
|Brad Crawford has been with the company since shortly after its founding. Gillcash credits him with teaching him a lot about the rental business. Crawford is Reliable’s mechanic, and he works the counter when Gillcash is not around.|
This has helped his business in at least one important way. Reliable has owned its building free and clear for years. Gillcash says the low overhead and low debt levels he is able to maintain make him more competitive and give him more flexibility to optimize his fleet. Gillcash says competition with the local United, Cat Rentals and Hertz branches is “very friendly,” with all three frequently helping each other out. The big shops are not very interested in the small, short-term rental Reliable specializes in, and Gillcash turns over anything he cannot handle from inventory to them rather than re-rent from them. He and Charles have listened to offers to sell, but are not interested. Gillcash says he has been doing more with lifts recently – he just bought six new Skyjacks – and figures he will be able to get them out to customers faster than the competitors by using his own trucks instead of a contracted trucking company. Gillcash prides himself on keeping new machinery on hand and tries to flip product every few years.
Connection to the community is important for Gillcash and Reliable. In January, he let the Boy Scouts use his shop as a depot for a bottle drive that netted over $2,000 for the troop. He is always sponsoring golf tournaments and door prizes for Christmas parties. “I like to volunteer,” Gillcash says. He says he always tries to buy local, though it can be hard to find locally supplied equipment outside of fasteners.
Connection to the rental community seems equally important. He started working his way up the chairs of the Canadian Rental Association Atlantic local in the early ‘90s, culminating in three years as the Atlantic national director from 1999 to 2002. The American Rental Association gave him its Region 10 award in 2002.
Gillcash has gotten to that comfortable place in his life and career (he has a son and a daughter and three grandchildren) where he has a bit more time for the things he likes to do. The big one for him is collecting snow machines. He has 18, ranging in age from 1950 up, and says it is probably the largest collection in Atlantic Canada. He has a 1964 Arctic Cat, a 1971 Caribou, and a 1977 Sno-Bug, among others. As with everything, Gillcash embraces the social side of his hobby. “We have meetings,” he says of the local snow machine club. “We call it the Golden Oldies. And we have what we call hot dog runs – we meet at someone’s house and go for the day and have a barbeque. I’m probably the youngest guy there and I have fun.” Aside from the hot dog runs, Gillcash usually plays with his snow machines during the winter at his cottage on the Richabucto River about an hour outside of Moncton. The river freezes solid and makes a perfect trail. In the summer, Gillcash enjoys his 2004 Corvette (he is a member of the local Corvette club, of course) and a 1946 GMC pickup that he takes to car shows.
Gillcash sees some good opportunity ahead in Moncton. “Going to be busy, I think,” he says. “I can see there are three or four schools being built and a piece on the Moncton hospital. I’ve noticed on the government tender site there is a lot of paving work and road building work going up. No, I would say Moncton is going to be busy.” Some might see an outlook like this as an excuse to embark on a risky bout of expansion and market growth. Reliable’s plans for the future? “I would say just steady as she goes, yeah,” Gillcash says.