Teen to Titan
by Treena Hein
Not many start their rental business career at 16, but Tristan Hodgson did – in the wash bay. Now, Hodgson, 25, is the fleet manager at WesternOne, responsible for both aerial and heat/power/fuel equipment rentals as well as the company’s truck fleet. He is one of about 320 employees at the 15-location firm based in Calgary.
Hodgson never left WesternOne. After he finished high school, he began a business degree while still continuing to work in newly created positions as WesternOne’s sales co-ordinator and safety co-ordinator. During the three years following, he continued to prove himself by implementing things like a new accredited safety training program. In 2014, he started as aerial fleet manager and moved into his current role at the start of 2017.
You could definitely say Hodgson has grown along with WesternOne, which purchased the rental business where he was working when he was 18 and a number of others since. “Constantly improving the different fleet processes to help the branches and service teams operate more smoothly and efficiently is overall what I am most proud of,” he says. “Where the company was and where it is today.”
Stirling McArthur, vice-president of the firm’s heat and power division, describes Hodgson as having demonstrated strong leadership. “This has involved considerable data analysis in determining the optimal life cycle of our fleet, building a refurbishment program and optimizing the utilization of our fleet company-wide,” he notes. “As our company grew through acquisitions, Tristan displayed tact and diplomacy to build buy-in between our various branches with respect to fleet management. As a result, he is now the go-to person for a number of our branch and service managers. Tristan is a key member of our team and although he demonstrates smarts and abilities beyond his years, he continues to be eager to learn and grow. He has even greater potential and continues to be a driver of our business.”
Hodgson says he enjoys his work at WesternOne both because of the people and the opportunity to grow. “I work with all the departments, and there are opportunities to use my entrepreneurship skillset, whether that’s creating new business processes or taking on new lines of business,” he explains. “We’re always moving, not set in our ways. There’s always something we are building on.” Outside of work, Hodgson is very active in sports, from hockey, golf and softball to wakeboarding and snowboarding. “I just have to make sure I don’t injure myself,” he laughs.
A Duck to Water
by Treena Hein
Laura Snell, 27, has always been a part of her mom, Nancy’s, event rental business in Clinton, Ont. “As anyone can tell you about a family business,” she says, “you are always involved and willing to help.” Laura officially started in 2011 in a student position while completing her university degree. She diligently worked the summers, weekends and holidays over the next three years. Nancy says her daughter showed more serious interest during her third year at university (adding a minor in business to her degree), and “the rest in history.”
Since her graduation six years ago, Laura’s role at NJS Design has evolved into warehouse manager. “I still complete the same tasks as I did on my first day, but also more leadership roles including scheduling, streamlining the warehouse, researching new products, customer deliveries and always customer relations,” she says. “I love challenges and showing clients new items, even more if I have been able to repurpose them. If we can rent items that are on the shelf, usually we are making profit. What I most enjoy is bringing together the clients’ visions and showing them just how much we can do for their special event!”
Nancy says Laura is a natural at sourcing new products, designing and repurposing items and leading the warehouse team members, whose ages span a wide range. Laura has also taken on design of the annual NJS decor and linen open house as her personal project, which this year saw 300 people through in four days and includes an evening industry party.
Laura considers her strengths to be a refusal to give up and a dedication to values such as honesty and integrity, treating customers as human beings and building great relationships with others in the industry. “I am always working with our team to achieve goals both short- and long-term and also proud of what we have accomplished as a team, not as individuals,” she adds. “In the end, we are only as strong as our employees make us.” Indeed, on the same weekend as her family farm wedding not long ago, the NJS team pulled off a whopping 30 other very successful events. In her spare time, Laura enjoys farming with her husband and horseback riding.
BORN TO THE BIZ
by Jack Kohane
Ask Peter Van Staveren where he gets his passion for business and he’ll tell you it began at a young age. “Growing up in the rental industry I’ve always seen it as my second home,” says the management trainee, who works along with his mom, Edine, and dad, Paul, at Stayner Rental in Stayner, Ont., 90 minutes north of Toronto. “As a child I’d spend Saturdays at the shop and learn the different areas of this business. My love for this business has continued to grow as I get older.”
Stayner Rental, which opened its doors in 1990, operates from a modern, multi-complex facility combining 30,000 square feet under one roof. The main building is 14,000 square feet and features a 60- by 40-foot showroom. Two 8,000-square-foot buildings on the property are used for storage and are separate from the main building. One building houses seasonal equipment and lawn and garden machines, while the other building stores larger machinery and scaffolding. Stayner Rental now comprises scissor lifts and knuckle booms, 26 skid steers, 30 excavators and is doing a booming trade in re-rents.
“We are very much a family business, but without dedicated employees and loyal customers our business wouldn’t be where it is today,” affirms Peter, 29. “Mom keeps the books in line, and Dad and I challenge each other on what’s the next best move for the company. It may be trying to develop market through buying used equipment or strengthening our current product line with buying new equipment. Every year seems to have the “flavour of the year” – last year was telehandlers, this year looks to be compact track loaders.”
Success for Peter is in seeing the bottom line bloom, while enjoying going to work every day. “We are constantly trying to stay on top of the market, to be the first in the industry to offer a product. That’s why I’ve brought an agricultural aspect to the rental fleet. How many companies rent manure spreaders, tillage equipment or tractor dump trailers? We started with one manure spreader – today we’re at five and no telling what the future holds.”
When not in the shop, Peter refuses to put his feet up. In his few “downtimes” you can find him on a rink playing pick-up hockey or in a farm field. He runs a herd of Black Angus cattle and together with his family he farms about 350 acres of cash crop. He says he gets his hard work ethic from his parents. “The simple answer is that I was born into this business.”
On The Up and Up
by Jack Kohane
Time flies when you’re having fun. Victor Moffat says it’s hard to believe 15 years have passed since he joined AGF Access. “This job is always fun,” enthuses Moffat, the general manager of AGF Access’ central division, one of the leaders in access solutions (AGF Access Group is part of AGF Group, headquartered in L’Assomption, Que.), ranging from scissor lift rentals right up to fully engineered and integrated access systems for major projects such as bridges and high-rises. “Every day brings a new challenge to take on. It’s always fun and exciting to see the projects we have worked on come to completion and to be able to say we helped build that.”
Starting out with the company at a small branch in sales, Moffat, 39, shinnied quickly up the corporate ladder through the estimating department and eventually branch manager of a larger location. “This hands-on experience helped him gain a full understanding of the operations which he is able to use in his current general manager position,” notes Brad Taylor, regional area director of Southwestern Ontario.
“Well, to be honest, when I first applied to this company I didn’t know anything about the rental industry,” chuckles Moffat. “During my time here I have come to love this business and the people in it. Those that I’ve met in this industry are always supportive and want to see each other do well in our own business.” He admits that when he became the company’s GM, the business was already humming along nicely. “I just kept the standard high if not raised the bar a little bit each year. I believe that there is always room for improvement and growth. But both must be sustainable and something that can last into the future.”
AGF Access counts 17 rental branches located throughout Canada and United States. Moffat’s area includes seven rental-focused locations – five in Ontario, one in Atlantic Canada and one in the U.S. AGF Group as a whole employs over 2,800. In his time at the company, there have been huge changes from ownership to technology.
Moffat has also undergone his own changes. He is big into personal fitness. “This was not always the case, but I made a huge life change the past year,” he nods from his London, Ont., office. “I lost almost 100 pounds. The gym I work out at has a great atmosphere with people who want to see each other succeed. This translates into the work place. People have seen my change and they are making the same changes within themselves. It’s a good feeling.”
Lessons already learned
by Jordan Whitehouse
Chantal Blais, 33, took over Al-Cha Rentals from her father just over a year ago and already she’s come to a sobering realization many of us do in adulthood: sometimes the lessons our parents teach us as kids actually turn out to be useful when we grow up. “For sure he didn’t give me the easy way out of anything, and he’d make you think for yourself,” she says. “I didn’t appreciate it then, but I do now.”
Now she’s the sole owner of the full-service rental business he started from scratch in 1989 on the outskirts of Pembroke, Ont. She was 12 years old when she first picked up a broom in the store and he started instilling those lessons; 17 when she left to go to college. Four years ago she returned to learn the specifics of the business under his guidance, and today she’s aiming to take Al-Cha Rentals to the next level.
Blais has no intentions of drastically changing anything, though, as the business was a successful one for over 25 years. The core business will still be tool and small equipment rentals for those working in construction, renovations, maintenance, landscaping and gardening. But she will look to make tweaks that modernize things and improve the efficiency of the business.
She already has, in fact. One being a change in the approach to advertising and marketing. “I thought we could be a little more appealing to the younger generation, who are taking over,” she says. “So we dialed back on the newspaper advertising and went a little bit more internet-wise, where the advertising would capture a larger audience.”
Blais is also quickly leveraging some of what she practiced in her previous position at Voyageur Airways, where she worked in logistics and procurement. Not only has she been able to reduce costs in certain areas, but the business is getting better return on investments, too, and all without jeopardizing the quality of equipment and service. “It’s all going in a positive direction,” she says.
Her relatively young age has helped keep things going in a positive direction too. “Customer service is a big one, and when you’re young you can relate more with younger customers,” she says. “You also have more energy and you can be more present with employees and I think that just motivates them a little more, gets things done better and faster.”
As for the future of Al-Cha Rentals, the goal is to grow, says Blais. And to do that she knows that her focus and that of her five employees has to stay on the customer. “We just want to service our customers, make sure they’re happy and be able to go home satisfied every day that we helped somebody out.”
by Jordan Whitehouse
This past Canada Day, Matt Brun celebrated his first year in business, and while it’s been a learning curve getting Shediac Rentals and Sales built and running, he’s definitely enjoyed the ride. “I just love my job,” he says. “And I think people can sense that when they walk in. It’s just all smiles.”
It’s helped that he and his co-owner father, Eddie Brun, had a solid first year, even during Shediac, N.B.’s, notoriously slow winter months. “I thought in the wintertime it would slow down a little bit, but it picked up slowly and mostly because people were catching wind of us.”
About half of those customers are contractors needing everything from power tools to compact loaders, while the other half are homeowners and tourists looking for wood chippers, ATVs, fishing equipment and beyond. It’s a diverse clientele, in other words, and Brun was smart enough to realize that means you actually have to talk to them to know what to supply. “Ever since opening on July 1, [store manager] Mike Leger and I have talked to people in our town to find out what they need. So if people come in and ask for something, we get it, instead of assuming what they need. If you try to force feed something from a different town, it’s not going to work.”
Brun has also been smart enough to know that he doesn’t know everything. Which is why he went to people like Nancy and Randy Crosby at Classic Rentals in Truro, N.S., and his broker at Rentquip, Dan MacIntosh. Not only did they help with inventory questions, but they also helped him avoid certain mistakes. “They told me to take it slow and listen to your clientele. And they told me about certain pieces of equipment to avoid, which, instead of listening to, I got into — but only because the clientele wanted it!”
And when he or Leger doesn’t know the intricacies of all of that equipment, they use a simple solution: how-to videos shown on a large flatscreen TV behind the counter. Last winter, for instance, a customer came in wanting to replace the backsplash in his shower. Brun hadn’t done a project quite like it before, but he had the tools and a how-to video. After five minutes of watching, the customer left, returning a few days later to say it worked like charm.
Brun sees technology like the how-to videos playing a bigger role in the business moving forward. It’s all part of selling only the tools and equipment customers need, and making every single customer feel welcome.
The business driver
by Jim Chliboyko
Dino Dinunzio had been a salesman for United Rentals in Vancouver for a few years by the time Steve Provost became his newest manager about a decade ago.
“(Steve) was the new kid on the block, coming in from Edmonton. He came in and had a plan, there’s no doubt,” said Dinunzio, United’s sales representative for Vancouver. “He’d definitely been mentored by some good business people, I think.”
At 37, the Montreal-born, Edmonton-raised (and bilingual) Provost has already had almost 20 years in the industry, having started at the age of 19. He’s gone from a driver to a parts and service guy to branch manager. He currently is United’s district manager for the northwest trench-safety division, based in Abbotsford, B.C.
“My father-in-law used to rent from a company called 4-Way Equipment Rentals and so he told me they were looking for drivers and I started as a driver for them,” said Provost. He gradually made his way west and has now been with United for 14 years.
“His attention to detail with the customers was, well, maybe second to me – no, second to none,” says Dinunzio, laughing. “He was very good with that. We were very similar that way. It was all about the customer. He’d do whatever it took to keep that customer happy and keep him coming back to United Rentals.”
“The other thing I found out about Steve is for his age he had some good knowledge of sales techniques, the sales end of things. He had a good understanding of how to get his reps going and if he knew you were going and you were doing well, he’d just let go the reins and let you go with it, just give you a hand here and there.”
Provost is also the B.C. national director for the Canadian Rental Association. He became involved with the CRA for two main reasons. One was for the networking.
“And then the other main reason was for my mentor. Kind of growing up through the rental industry was (the late) Jim Johnson from Cavalier Industries,” said Provost. “And one of his asks when he was sick was for us to get involved in the CRA. It was something that he was very passionate about.”
Provost measures his own success in the industry in another way, though.
“How many new hires I’ve brought into the industry that have made it a career, taken it from a job to a career–that’s been my gauge over the years,” he says. “There’s been quite a few. And then seeing them grow with the company and take on new roles and responsibility, it gives me a sense of accomplishment.”
Provost lives in the Fraser Valley and is married to Amanda and they have a boy, a girl and a charcoal lab: Hudson, Emersyn and Sterling.
by Jim Chliboyko
To be named a Top 10 Under 40, it helps if you get an early start. Bryan Parks did.
“So, I started in summer of ’08. I’m in my ninth year now. I was 21, yep,” he said.
“Geez, was he only 21?” asked his father and Rentquip owner, Shawn Parks, in a separate interview. “I thought he was older than that. Time goes fast.”
The current 30-year-old is still at the same business: the Richmond, B.C., location of Rentquip, a wholesale distributor to rental stores. Parks says they don’t really have titles at Rentquip, but if they did he might be known as the operations manager, overseeing certain logistics of their Richmond headquarters as well as their Mirabel, Que., Woodstock, Ont., and Buffalo, N.Y., operations.
When he joined the company, his dad was in the middle of facilitating a merge between his P&M Sales and Rentquip.
“So they were kind of in the middle of a merger and me being a young guy with some computer skills and taking business courses in university and whatnot, I ended up kind of taking charge of integrating the accounting systems and all the inventory and all that kind of stuff. It was just kind of luck of the draw that the timing worked that way. So, that kept me pretty busy for the summer. Then when it was time to go back to school I kind of said there’s too much to do here and I was really wrapped up in it. And now here we are nine years later and I’m a college dropout.”
In his spare time, Bryan does things like build and maintain the official website. Shawn said that building websites is something Bryan learned how to do while still in school, for “beer money.”
Bryan is also a family man with two little girls under three.
While Shawn handles a lot of the travelling-sales-manager-type duties, Bryan says he takes care of things “inside.”
“So all the marketing, all the purchasing, you know, customer service, logistics, shipping, all that kind of stuff. So I think definitely (I’m) a jack of all trades, I guess, would probably be a way of explaining what I kind of do.”
Shawn says that Bryan has introduced innovations (real-time sales figures accessible by smartphone) that have saved the company time and money and has kept the workforce trim. Shawn also says his sales have risen every year since he brought his son on board.
And says Shawn, “I’m a pretty lucky guy. I get to work with my son, who‘s become my best friend.”
The youngest guy In the room
by Lindsey McCaffrey
At age 21, fresh out of college, Braden Fickling was invited by a friend to apply for an entry-level position at BlueLine Rental’s London, Ont. location. Although the job didn’t exactly align with Fickling’s schooling (he had just finished a program in police work), the fast-paced rental industry piqued his interest. But he had to start from the ground-up – literally.
Even with such a steep learning curve, Fickling was clearly a quick study – something his superiors and coworkers noticed early on. He progressed through the ranks at a speed unlike most employees, becoming an inside sales rep before being sent to manage a store location in Cambridge, Ont. He had barely been with the company for two years when he arrived in Cambridge, but found ways to rise to the challenge.
Fast-forward to today and Fickling is back at the London store as manager with 12 employees. And he loves it: his team, his customers, and the everyday challenges the industry brings.
BlueLine’s motto is to be fast, safe, and reliable — a commitment Fickling values in his everyday dealings with customers and employees.
“I love helping customers on a day-to-day basis and building relationships,” he says. “Anytime a customer needs help, I know the gear we have is the best in the industry. I’d put my team here in London up against any team in the rental industry.”
At just 27 years of age, Fickling realizes he’s a bit of an anomaly among BlueLine’s upper management. “It’s kind of funny going to all the team meetings down south [in the U.S.],” he admits. “I’m typically the youngest guy in the room...definitely the youngest manager.”
That said, he believes his age has been of benefit in many ways.
“First, I couldn’t have asked to start in a better position in the rental industry, because I’m able to easily relate to customers trying to operate the equipment themselves,” he says. “And not just that. Because I’ve had the opportunity to go through every position in the store, I can relate to any team member, regardless of their age.”
Fickling also believes his youth has helped with his grasp of technology. He points to a brand-new BlueLine app, where customers can order equipment in four clicks. Orders are sent directly to drivers, who access the information via iPads. “Being able to understand how the app works, and how it works with our computer systems, helps improve the way I work with my team and service customers.”
No lone star
by Lindsey McCaffrey
In little more than a decade, Bob Lennox, 32, has made quite a name for himself in the rental industry.
In 2007, he joined a business partner in a new company called Western Environmental Canada – a distributor of Western Global in the U.K. Buoyed by the opportunity to bring the TransCube (a range of specialty transportable fuel tanks) to industry players. Lennox and his team promoted the product Canada-wide, becoming well known to many in the power, heating and HVAC rental space. The team grew to more than 20 staff, with warehouses in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto.
Today, Lennox is one of several shareholders in the global company. He is also general manager for the Canadian region, leading the sales team. Lennox attributes much of his success to teamwork and a strong focus on the customer. “I always like to try and work as a team and not a ‘lone star,’ spending lot of time with people to find out deeper problems behind customer issues. Sometimes you find out the issue – like not wanting a specific problem to occur on a site – is more a regulatory thing and you can help them solve things by working with regulators. In doing so, you can add a lot of value for the customer that goes beyond merely selling them a product.”
As a prime example, Lennox was instrumental in the recent publishing of a new CSA industry code, “B138.1-17/B138.2-17 Portable oil-burning equipment packaged equipment requirements/installation requirements.” Before 2017, “there never really existed a code specific to portable or temporary equipment – only for permanent, stationary installations,” says Lennox. Ambiguities in interpretation of the pre-existing code would lead jurisdictions to enforce the code differently. This created overall uncertainty in terms of project management for rental companies and customers. Lennox worked with the Technical Standards & Safety Authority, Transport Canada and other significant players in the power generation sector to discuss solutions. Today, the new code significantly clarifies requirements for short-term installations of oil burning equipment, bringing safety and predictability to the rental industry, manufacturers, and regulators alike.
- Bob Lennox Bob Lennox
- Braden Fickling Braden Fickling
- Bryan Parks Bryan Parks
- Chantal Blais Chantal Blais
- Dino Dinunzio Dino Dinunzio
- Laura Jutzi Laura Jutzi
- Matt Brun Matt Brun
- Trista Hodgson Trista Hodgson
- Victor Moffat Victor Moffat
- Peter Van Staveren Peter Van Staveren
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