By Andrew Snook
RentalEquip is driven to grow by demand.
By Andrew Snook
A ferry ride away from Vancouver sits an equipment rental company that is quickly picking up steam along British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.
RentalEquip, based out of Sechelt, B.C., offers a variety of equipment for tackling construction projects, including excavators, skid steers, lifts, dumpers, generators, compactors, power tools and more. The company was started up in the fall of 2018 by Doug Saunders, president of RentalEquip, who was already running three of his own flooring stores when an opportunity to get into the rental market came calling.
“I had one of my best pals on the phone saying, ‘I’m trying to find a roller, because I can’t find one up here,’” Saunders recalls. “I’ve always been into equipment and engines, but only recreationally. So, I asked, ‘So what’s the deal? I’d buy and you’d rent off me?”
That was exactly the idea that his friend had in mind.
“All of a sudden I’m a flooring guy that owns a roller,” Saunders says.
After purchasing his first roller, Saunders decided he would try his hand in the construction rental market.
“Buy some skid steers and excavators, that was my game plan. Be the heavy equipment guy up here and let the pre-existing rental shop do the tools up here,” he says. “But the guys you’re dealing with expect you to have everything they don’t have for a job. I found myself pretty quickly having to buy the smaller stuff – the tools, the compactors.”
Around the same time, one of Saunders’ tenants moved out of one of his commercial buildings, so he decided to set up shop there.
“I thought it would be great to have all my rental equipment in one spot,” he says. “All of a sudden, I’m hiring people to run an actual rental company. A year and four months later, we have the most diverse inventory on the Sunshine Coast.”
One of the big drivers for Saunders to decide to jump into the rental business with both feet was watching ferries filled with rental equipment from major players in the rental market being delivered into his neck of the woods.
“Why isn’t someone up here doing this?” he asked himself. “I wasn’t planning on it being what it is today, but I’m actually pretty happy and excited. It gives me something to look forward to, other than my family, kids and other business.”
RentalEquip services everywhere on the Sunshine Coast from Port Mellon, B.C., to Egmont, B.C. The company’s main focus is companies in the civil construction and excavation sector, but Saunders is looking to service anyone in need of the right tool for a project.
“We have to have everything for the civil guys, the construction guys, and we also rent out to homeowners,” Saunders says.
Not surprisingly, finding time to manage his new rental business between running three flooring shops and finding time for a personal life has been a challenge for Saunders.
“I’m starting this business by myself and I’m already working around 60 hours in my flooring business, so I’m getting up there to 80 hours,” Saunders says. “So, my family life is strained to be able to see my kids and wife enough.”
Another challenge he’s had to overcome is the learning curve that comes with taking on a variety of new equipment.
“I’m in the construction trade, but not in the equipment side,” Saunders says. “Learning about all the different types of tools and equipment, was my biggest hurdle.”
Saunders is quickly expanding his inventory in both the tools and heavy equipment sides of the business. He wants RentalEquip to be the go-to rental store for the latest and greatest gear.
“We always provide superior service and have that selection [customers] want us to provide,” he says.
One of Saunders’ long-term goals was to open a second location along the Sunshine Coast, but the company has grown so quickly that they recently decided they would open a second location in Gibsons, B.C., in the summer of 2020.
“It looks like we’re meeting our goals very quickly,” he says.
Saunders’ favourite aspect of the equipment rental business is dealing with constant change.
“I find the rental business is pretty interesting because of all the equipment. I love any business that’s changing daily,” he says. “The excitement of making a sale and making a rental purchase, I just love the excitement of it. I mean, who doesn’t like buying an excavator and other equipment?”
RentalEquip keeps a healthy selection of newer equipment in stock for its customers.
“We have a pretty good balance, probably 75 per cent of all of our equipment is new. It’s really expensive starting out to buy everything brand new, but we made sure everything we buy gets painted, looks clean, gets the logo, decaled… we’re definitely going after that clean cut, sharp look,” Saunders says. “All our trucks and equipment are showing up to every jobsite spotless and ready to rent.”
RentalEquip currently has three employees that help Saunders run the business.
“I couldn’t have done this without them, I’m very appreciative of them. Matt [Cookney] is our rental manager; Ryan Perkins is our shop guy, does our deliveries and maintenance; Melanie White is our controller. It’s definitely a challenge always finding good people, but if you can show that your business is a promising business to work for, sometimes people will come and look for you,” Saunders says. “Matt probably has more experience than anyone on the Sunshine Coast, so we’re super lucky to have him. He’s super knowledgeable about all the small tools and the process for the rentals.”
Saunders says Cookney has been instrumental in the opening of the first location.
“Without having Matt in there we’d probably be a couple months behind. He’s got the shop set up, contractors love him,” he says.
Cookney has seven years of experience in the rental industry. He left the rental industry to try his hand in the golf industry for eight years, including five in a management role, before jumping back into the equipment rental sector a few years ago.
“I’ve always enjoyed this industry because I love the diversity of the people and it lets me play with tools, machinery and big construction equipment,” Cookney says, who adds that he’s very excited to be overseeing the expansion of RentalEquip’s second location. “Not only for myself, but to see the continuity between the two stores and really establish our brand. The opportunity is here to start with Doug from scratch and really have my input into what should be in our store, what we should have for rent and what we should have for re-sale. I really feel like I’m a part of the bigger picture.”
Cookney was sold on moving to RentalEquip from a competing rental store from a combination of Saunders’ business savvy and the investment he was making into the business.
“I was instantly impressed with Doug as a businessman, and after seeing a shop full of brand-new tools I was blown away,” Cookney says. “His ambition is infectious. It’s rubbed off on me to improve myself and it motivates me to strive for greatness on a daily basis. What he’s done so far with such little staff is amazing. I can’t even begin to think of how far we’re going to take this thing.”
Although RentalEquip is a relatively young company, Saunders has had a significant amount of experience when it comes to managing staff and understands the value of keeping top performers. He says that disgruntled employees can negatively impact your business far beyond the efficiency of their performance.
Tips for start-ups
For other people interested in jumping into the rental equipment business, Saunders offers a few tips. In addition to finding the time and the right people to help you run your business, make sure to stay on top of your store’s inventory.
“My biggest tip is making sure you’re renting out gear that works,” he says, adding that he keeps track of his customers’ equipment requests. “If I get called for something three times, then I make sure I have it in my shop. My biggest thing is having what people need and giving them the service that they need. It is going to be our biggest go-to and goal for our business model – making sure the customers are getting serviced properly and are going to be happy with what we’re providing them.”