By Treena Hein
The newish owners of Equipment Centre 2.0 are capitalizing on the strengths of this established business.
By Treena Hein
When business partners Jeremy Graham and Sherri Graham decided to purchase a rental business in southern Ontario in 2017, they knew they’d make some big changes, but they certainly also wanted several central aspects of the business to stay essentially the same.
The Equipment Centre was started by Jim Young in 1974. At one time, there were four locations but by the time Jim was ready to retire from the business in 2017 there were two, in Courtland, Ont., and Simcoe, Ont. Through a historical working relationship between Young and Sherri’s family, Sherri and Jeremy became aware of the chance to purchase the company – and they’ve never looked back.
“We were looking for the opportunity to own a business and we got our financing in order and went for it,” says Sherri. Neither had owned a business before. Sherri had been in social work and Jeremy had been in the construction industry as a service technician and customer service rep. Their combined skill set, however, has provided a solid foundation for success. Their busy roster of customers ranges from large road and building construction companies and municipalities, to tradespeople, home builders, landscapers and homeowners doing their own renovations.
Right away in 2017, they added about $1 million in new construction industry equipment to their lineup. And as they had hoped, the response from those customers was strong. It was a classic scenario of “if you build it, they will come.” Remembering that year, Jeremy says “we got into articulating booms, heavy excavators, telehandlers, heavy rollers and some specialty equipment for landscaping contractors like stump grinders and chippers. We also added a fleet of mini-excavators, some skid steers and more.” And already this year, Equipment Centre 2.0 has purchased two track loaders, a 5,000-pound telehandler and a line of concrete cutting tools, with plans for adding more mini-excavators.
“Customers love the new equipment,” Jeremy says. “The only challenge is that new units are really hard to get right now because COVID has really affected the supply chain. Some lift suppliers are 120 days out for delivering anything with a gas engine.” The cost of new equipment is covered by profits and proceeds from the sale of older equipment, which is also a hot commodity right now. “We’re making good margins on selling equipment, again due to a scarcity of new equipment due to COVID,” Sherri explains. “For new purchases, our customers really guide us in what we buy and what brands we look at, but staff input is also very important.”
Purchasing all the equipment they have since 2017 has been a very successful business strategy. To reflect their new ownership and new era for the firm, Sherri and Jeremy added the 2.0 to the name. But they also kept the main part of the name so that customers would know Sherri and Jeremy would continue to provide the great service that community businesses have known and loved for many years.
One of the central aspects that Sherri and Jeremy most appreciated about the business when they bought it was the trusted relationships that staff members had established with customers. They wanted to enhance that customer service level to even higher levels. To ensure that customers didn’t have to wait for equipment, they bought additional delivery trucks and hired two full-time drivers. They also made more staff available by phone so that customers could reach someone right away and get a quick response, especially after hours.
And while they’re not located in an area where big-chain competition is likely to move in, Sherri and Jeremy both believe excellent ongoing service and a bigger selection will prevent customers from having to go to outside the community to rent anything they need.
It also helps with customer trust that the entire team grew up in the area, and are therefore well known in the community (in fact, three of the employees at the Simcoe location are brothers). Jeremy adds that “We play as a team. I drive truck, I do anything and everything, and customers appreciate that too.”
The lynch pin for success at Equipment Centre 2.0 is of course the staff. “For me, one of the most exciting parts of the business was the staff and their strength and dedication,” says Sherri. “When we bought the business, the least amount of time anyone had worked here was ten years. Some had worked here over 20 years. They’ve been the ones who have built and maintained the relationships with our customers. We did our best to show them right away that we highly respect them and that their opinions matter. And we make sure to find out their needs and meet those needs. It’s been our number one job and we’ve been so fortunate.”
Every staff member is full-time year round, except there’s a summer student who will be returning again this summer who also works some weekends throughout the year.
Equipment Centre 2.0’s office manager, Deb Guthrie, had worked at the business for 27 years before Sherri and Jeremy took over, and they consider her to be an integral core of the business. Guthrie says “when we ask for something, it’s taken care of. I think Sherri and Jeremy have made positive changes and we’re all feeling confident. We’re busier than ever and we’ve increased our customer base. The customers are getting newer equipment and they’re happy.”
The COVID effect
If you take availability of new equipment out of the equation, COVID has had a positive effect on Equipment Centre 2.0. Traffic has been steady from their building construction and road companies, among others, since just after the pandemic began. “During the first lockdown, the core staff worked from home and we started meeting customers outside,” Jeremy remembers. “But we haven’t slowed down since. Typically, the winter months are pretty slow for any rental business, but this year we haven’t seen that. With people staying at home, more homeowners have been coming through the door to rent tools for various home improvement projects. They’re doing additions and renovations instead of going on vacations.”
To keep things going in the right direction, Sherri and Jeremy have been working hard on social media to let people know what equipment they have available, the variety of projects in which contractors are using their equipment, and to show they care about the community. Sherri planned a fundraiser at Christmas time and got other businesses involved.
While Sherri and Jeremy might expand to a third location down the road, that will depend on how the construction industry fares in the short-term future. Other than that potential expansion some day, their goals remain what they have been since 2017 – to keep meeting the needs of their employees and their customers. After all, when the 2.0 version of the business is doing so well, there’s no need to create another.