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Profile: Smooth expansion

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. But what do you do when life hands your community a massive economic hit? If you’re the management team at Rental House, you open a new store.


May 20, 2010
By Mike Davey

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When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. But what do you do when life hands your community a massive economic hit? If you’re the management team at Rental House, you open a new store.

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Allan Rumleski, manager of Rental House, chats with a customer.


 

Rental House is a full-service equipment and tool rental company located in Timmins, Ont. The history of the company started with a situation that can be accurately described as making lemonade out of lemons, or at least making the best of a negative situation. 

J.P. Legault is the owner of Rental House. He is also the owner of another business that got its start in Timmins – Panels and Pipes. Primarily a sheet metal fabrication and mechanical insulating company, Panels and Pipes grew and expanded to include asbestos removal, custom panel fabrication, plumbing, heating and scaffolding. Often enough, completing a job meant buying tools or equipment that would then go unused for weeks or months. In other words, life was handing Legault lemons.

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A few of the staff at Rental House. From left are Christelle Roy, Rachel Sivret, and Vanessa Magnuson. Seated is Lynne Groulx.


 

He made them into lemonade by opening Rental House to rent out the gently used equipment and help recoup the investment; a venture that has certainly turned out well. There’s already another Rental House in Fort McMurray, Alta. (where Panels and Pipes has a subsidiary operation), and another store set to  open in Timmins by early May.

Allan Rumleski is the manager of Rental House, a position he has occupied since October 2009. His career has covered many different aspects of the rental business: he has worked at a number of different rental stores and as a territory rep for Hilti. He says that the new store, which will be located in downtown Timmins, will provide much easier access for customers.

“The first store is about 15,000 square feet, and it’s right on the outskirts of Timmins,” says Rumleski. “The new store is smaller, but it’s right in downtown Timmins. It’s a central location that will help to increase our visibility.”

Visibility and high volumes of foot traffic aren’t always at the top of the list when it comes to finding a desirable location for a rental store. For those who make their living renting large equipment and heavy tools, it’s actually less than ideal. However, Rumleski points out the contractor market is already well served by the flagship store on Laforest Road. The second store is going after a different segment.

“We’re trying to attract the homeowners,” says Rumleski. “The bottom line is that the average homeowner doesn’t want to go out and buy big expensive tools. But we’re thinking they may want to rent them instead.”

Tentative plans are under consideration to expand even further in northern Ontario. The next few years may see Rental House locations popping up in Sudbury, North Bay and other locations.

There’s no question  Rumleski is excited about opening the second store in the Timmins area. It’s also good economic news in a community that could sure use some. Xstrata Copper, a major employer in the community, has announced that the company will permanently close the copper and zinc metallurgical plants at the Kidd Metallurgical Site in Timmins. This translates to about 670 lost jobs. 

Tom Laughren is the Mayor of Timmins. He says that Legault and Rumleski are very proactive in their support of the community.

“I think it’s great news that they’re opening another store,” says Laughren. “It bodes well for the people of Timmins. I was in construction before becoming mayor, and I’ve known J.P. since he was a fairly young guy. He’s a savvy businessman, and he has confidence in his people. He’s a very big supporter of the community in a lot of different ways. The hospital, fund-raising, kids’ hockey – you name it, he’s been involved.”

According to  Rumleski, one of the biggest challenges faced by any rental operator in Canada today is the economic recession. Although the recession may be officially over, not all of its effects have finished running their course.

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Rental House is expanding with another location in downtown Timmins. This should help to attract more business from homeowners.


 

“I would have to say that’s everybody’s biggest fear,” says Rumleski. “Where is the economy going to be a year down the road? This time last year, we were in a severe recession, and Canada has pulled out of it much faster than we thought we would. The economy basically dictates how your business is going to do.”

In any business there are things you can control, and things you cannot. The broad direction of the economy is definitely one of the latter. This leads some people to believe that the best way to go is to concentrate solely on the things that you can control. On the surface, this makes sense, but it misses a key point. Although there are things you cannot control, you do have the power to plan for them and mitigate their effects.

There are a number of different ways to go about this. One way is to be sure to forge strong partnerships with your customers and suppliers. Rental House, for example, has a major partnership with Terex.

“All of our heavy equipment is Terex,” says Rumleski. “Skid steers, loaders, excavators, lifts, you name it. We’ve got a good thing going.”

This is a sentiment echoed by the people at the other end of that partnership. Gerry LaRose is the local representative for Terex. He notes that Rental House is very up to date in the way business is conducted.

“It’s a smooth operation,” says LaRose. “You can see that customer satisfaction is the number 1 goal. They carry a full line, and it’s getting bigger and bigger all the time. They’re big on safety and training as well.”

Rumleski says that one way to make training attractive to employees is to offer incentives. “We’ve sometimes paid for courses taken by our employees,” says Rumleski. “If they get their Class D, they do it on their own dime, but we pay them back and they’ve increased value, both for the operation and for themselves. There are always incentives for staff who are willing to improve their skill set.”

Rumleski is also frank in his support for the Canadian Rental Association (CRA) and its goals. “I made sure that we were members of the CRA,” he says. “Being able to network with everybody in the rental business is a great asset, and it makes it a lot simpler when you’re doing research on anything.”

Although the CRA is a great place to meet and network with fellow rental professionals, it’s important to network with customers and potential customers as well. The main customer base of Rental House is composed of professional contractors, as it is in many of the rental stores across Canada.

“We throw barbecues during the summer for our customers, usually every Friday,” says Rumleski. “It’s a pretty big event and it’s fairly well attended. The contractors get to talk to each other and to us, and it’s a great way to get everybody together.”

Russ Buckerfield is the president of Rapid Nail, one of Rental House’s longtime suppliers. For him, it’s the staff at Rental House, especially the way they interact with customers, that makes the difference.
“Rental House is well known for having professional, knowledgeable staff that are fully capable of directing their customers to the correct tool for their application,” says Buckerfield. “We’re proud to be suppliers to them, and I’d like to offer my personal congratulations on their new location.”

For Rumleski, customer service is the foundation upon which the entire business rests.

“Our goal is to see that the customer is completely satisfied with any product rented from us, and has their questions or concerns dealt with promptly,” he says “What I try to instil is this: If you don’t have an answer, you make sure that you get the answer. Then get back to them within the hour. I always tell the guys, feel free to call me if you don’t know. The customer is never left hanging. When I see a customer smiling when they leave, I know that we’ve done our job.”

For more information on Rental House, visit www.panelsandpipes.com .


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