By Jack Kohane
Chris Clark has been an entrepreneur for as long as he can remember. He started his own lawn care company in 2000, calling it Peaks and Valleys Landscaping.
By Jack Kohane
Today, he’s also the president of Calgary-based TheRentalGuys.ca, among Canada’s first and exclusively online equipment rental companies. He founded the company in September 2013 and credits his lengthy experience in landscaping as a solid foundation for his rental start-up.
“Over the last 17 years Peaks and Valleys has evolved into a full-service maintenance and construction company, serving commercial and industrial customers all over Calgary,” says Clark, 33, who still helms the business. “Being in landscaping, we were regular customers of the local rental retailers, renting a wide range of tools and equipment five days a week. After all those years I felt I understood the ins and outs of what makes the rental market tick.”
But it took one bad experience, a petty squabble over a $75 tool rental in the summer of 2013, that sparked Clark into starting up another new enterprise – his own online rental company. “I was frustrated with the inconvenience and time that was involved in the traditional rental process,” he recalls. As a contractor with a tight schedule, he viewed the drive to and from the rental store as a major inconvenience and huge cost not only in time, but money. Looking at the direction that today’s retail is headed – increasingly to online sales – Clark had a gut feeling that there could be a better way to streamline, modernize and simplify the entire rental process. “For me, providing convenience and the best rental rates were key items in creating a successful rental company,” he asserts.
His vision: an online ordering solution that utilizes customized front-end websites and back-end software designed to help improve customer experience.
The first step, as Clark discovered, was figuring out how to complete an entire rental transaction online in a fast and efficient way. “There were no out-of-the-box solutions for this at the time,” he says. Off-the-shelf software was the only option at the outset, but generic technology proved too restrictive to what the customer could do online. Clark notes, “The biggest obstacle at start up was that nobody was doing what we wanted to do in terms of being able to complete an entire rental transaction online (i.e. showing live equipment availability and allowing real-time guaranteed bookings). The solution was to develop an all-new system in order for the online experience to be more user-friendly and versatile.”
Then there was the challenge of snagging top suppliers. As Clark explains, they didn’t understand and had never seen a concept like this before. “Their biggest hurdle was trying to understand the lack of a retail store environment in our business model. No showrooms, no counter space. It was a learning curve for them and we had to educate them about how we would interact with our customers.” Among the first suppliers to come on board were Bobcat, Kubota and Skyjack. Today, TheRentalGuys.ca offers skid steers, excavators, scissor lifts, generators, shipping containers, lawn-and-garden equipment and small tools.
One by one, things then fell into place. The first breakthrough came in the form of 24/7 online booking for customers. Clark saw that contractors and homeowners particularly appreciated the convenience of this feature because it allowed them to complete their booking outside of regular business hours. The next step was having customers pay for their rental at the time of booking. This would alleviate a lot of administrative tasks. “It also has the effect of getting rid of any receivables, thus improving cash flow,” Clark points out.
Next was inventory control. Again, looking at this problem from the outside in, Clark realized that not only would he need to know what equipment was available when, but this would also be very valuable information for his customers. This would help alleviate phone calls from customers wanting to know if something was available on a specific date, so he added online availability calendars. At this point, from the customer’s point of view, everything was working to plan. But Clark and his team didn’t stop there: they added a host of back-end software tools to help with planning deliveries and pickups as well as keeping a close eye on sales and equipment utilization. A full redesign of TheRentalGuys.ca website completed this solution.
Even as they put all this effort into the online platform, TheRentalGuys.ca’s first rental sale was done over the phone in July 2014 before the website was complete. “What I found once this new venture was up and running was truly exciting. Our customers were impressed from the get-go,” states Clark. Four years later, he and his staff of five at the 8,000-square-foot Calgary head office (in addition there’s 35,000 square feet of yard space) have continued to update and improve the software and website, based on customer needs and feedback.
“Most people thought we were crazy when we said we would change the equipment rental industry,” says Clark. “But our customers certainly don’t think so. They rave to us about how finally someone has figured out how to make renting simple.” Much of that client excitement stems from TheRentalGuys.ca offering free delivery and pickup seven days a week. “Our goal is to provide the most convenient and stress-free rental experience for our customers,” affirms Clark. A transaction takes, on average, about 90 seconds to complete, including product selection, availability, costs, delivery and billing details. In response, the customer is sent a full rental contract and paid invoice copy by email, within seconds. Rental costs are another feature that’s attracted TheRentalGuys.ca’s best customers (small to medium contractors as well as homeowners and DIYers). There are no weekend discounts or volume specials. “All of our customers pay the same low rate seven days a week,” adds Clark.
Others are also taking notice – independent rental operators have inquired about joining TheRentalGuys.ca team. “They see our success and they want to be a part of it,” says Clark. “They are coming to us. They see big potential for our rental system in their area of the country.” That led to the launch of franchise.therentalguys.ca, igniting a new beacon of opportunity in the franchise world. The first franchise location opened in Mississauga, Ont., in April 2017; the second in Guelph, Ont., in June 2017; and Edmonton opened the third franchise in July 2017.
For an initial investment cost of between $125,000 to $175,000, franchisees gain access to the rich marketing strategies and sophisticated software resources offered by the TheRentalGuys.ca system as well as the huge benefit of being part of TheRentalGuys.ca buying group. This investment also includes everything needed to get their location up and running.
Clark notes that the cost to invest may vary for each franchise location depending on size, local population and individual start-up requirements in determining the specific cost of investment on a case-by-case basis. “Previous business experience is essential, but it does not need to be rental industry specific,” he explains. “We select our franchisees through numerous phone interviews and one in-person interview. They need to be willing to bring innovation to a very traditional industry.”
All franchisees attend an initial Discovery Day in Calgary. Once they are selected to come on board, they attend two weeks of training in Calgary. TheRentalGuys.ca provides continuing and ongoing training and mentorship to all employees and franchisees.
With a business acumen fostered over almost two decades of successful entrepreneurship, Clark has no hesitation in predicting that TheRentalGuys.ca will boast six new locations by the fall of 2018. “Just the start of the momentum we’re building,” he affirms, adding that he targets Ontario and British Columbia as the hottest areas of growth for his franchise model. TheRentalGuys.ca concept is a manageable investment model that has already yielded tangible results. Clark describes his company’s brand to potential franchisees as one offering hard assets (owning a fleet of rental equipment), a repeat customer base, ongoing customer service support, strong group buying power, exclusivity in prime territories in all major urban centres across Canada, and of course, access to that all-powerful online tool that’s catapulted TheRentalGuys.ca to be among the leaders in online rental sales.
The lineup to become a franchisee of TheRentalGuys.ca grows daily. Clark isn’t surprised. “Many want to be their own boss,” he says. “I’ve never worked for anyone else. I do things by knowing the market, my customer’s needs and being ahead of the curve.”