Canadian Rental Service

Solid on the Rock

By Colleen Cross & Patrick Flannery   

Features Profiles

Planting seeds on a rock usually doesn’t work. But when that rock is The Rock (specifically, Mount Pearl, N.L.) and the seed is Brad Smith, the energetic owner of Crosstown Rentals, great things can happen.

Planting seeds on a rock usually doesn’t work. But when that rock is The Rock (specifically, Mount Pearl, N.L.) and the seed is Brad Smith, the energetic owner of Crosstown Rentals, great things can happen.

Smith combines three brands under one roof: S&S Supply, Crosstown Rentals and CTR Fasteners. He also recently became the Terex dealer for Newfoundland.

Since Canadian Rental Service last spoke with Smith in 2004, he has tripled his rental inventory and moved his business interests in such diverse directions as prefab building construction and rental, renovation of shipping containers into office trailers, and construction and rental of bathroom trailers. He’s done all this while expanding and growing his line of imported Chinese power tools and actuating systems that he started out of frustration with his dealers’ inability to satisfy his customers’ demands. Crosstown and its sister organizations exist in a place where some supplies and services are hard to come by, but Smith and company have the drive and vision to fill the vacuum.

Smith’s first business, S&S Supply, which he started in 1995, has since added to the family Crosstown Rentals, CTR Fastening Systems Ltd., a manufacturer/importer of products, and BRS Holdings, which now rents buildings.


In 1999, he launched CTR after experiencing frustration with an unsatisfactory supplier for power tools and hardware, and undertaking a search of his own that ended in a fruitful partnership with a supplier in China. The line, which originally consisted of fastening items such as concrete screws, drill bits and pins-and-shot, now also includes hammer drills, drill bits, safety vests, safety cones, barrier fencing, forklifts and pallet trucks.

No grass growing under his feet, Smith created yet another company, BRS Holdings, which constructs and rents prefabricated buildings, renovates shipping containers into office trailers, and builds and rents bathroom trailers.

“We’ve probably tripled the inventory since the last article. Our revenues are up too, about 4.5 million on the average a year from just S&S Supply, which is the rental company,” says Smith. S&S Supply and Crosstown Rentals represent the rental side of the business, which carries $2 to $3 million between rentals and sales of inventory at any one time.

Offshore drilling has proven not only a boon to Smith, but also the genesis of his business ventures. In 1995, his belief that the Hibernia drilling operation, located in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin, 315 kilometres east of St. John’s, was undersupplied, motivated him to establish S & S Supply.

Smith started S&S Supply in 1995 out of his
garage. Today, he owns three companies and has moved into this
custom-built facility.
Photo credit: Mike Mahoney

“Now we have a new project called Hebron, which is another gravity-based structure similar to Hibernia,” he says. Workers poured concrete for the new Hebron structure on July 15, and right now they’re working on land. They haven’t gone to what they call the deep-water site, says Smith.

“We have introduced a unique bathroom unit for large job sites as well as small job sites.” This involves heated 10- by 32-foot bathroom trailers that are available for long-term rental. Smith believes the trailers, which he estimates will be in use anywhere from three to five years, are the first for Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We now have produced one that’s what we call a heavy duty, has a flush toilet, has a sink where you can wash your hands,” he adds. “It’s heated for the wintertime, good for minus 43 degrees and it’s now taken us by storm. We can’t get the units fast enough right now.”

The big ones are on trailers and require a tractor-trailer type truck to tow them, but the small units can either be laid in place via boom truck or forklift on a job site, or rented with a little small tow-behind trailer for a pickup truck or a car.

“So right now,” Smith says, “our busy section is people taking them for weddings in their backyards or gardens and they love them, you know, because it’s a class act. It’s a top-notch bathroom.”

“Hottie-pottie is the name that I patented and they make this unit for me, my style . . . . The federal government we’re in today looks like they’re going to buy two or rent them for long-terms.”

He expects that over the next two years, 50 to 100 of these small washrooms will be required on this job site as the roughly 300-foot, multi-level structure is built. Hundreds of men and women will work on the project and they will need facilities on each level so that they can use the bathroom in a timely fashion.

Interestingly, female workers have proven strong advocates of the units, he says. “It’s the bathroom that people want now, and now that we have more women on job sites, the women are going to the bosses and saying ‘We want the Hottie-pottie.’ ”

The luxury bathrooms are not cheap. Anyone thinking of getting into this line should figure on making an investment of $100,000 for five units.

“You’re dealing with, you know, an $18,000 bathroom,” says Smith. “We’re not talking about a $1,500 plastic box. So, you know, you’ve got to have the money to invest but if you do have the money to invest and you want to bring that to your market, by all means readers can call me and we can make it happen for them. We can put their name on the bathroom so that they can rent it to their customers. . . . It takes a bit of time to get your money back. Maybe other markets can get more than what we are. We’re getting a rule of thumb so that we don’t scare people away, like $5-600 a month for this bathroom, so there’s a return. It takes a bit of time to get a return.”

Back in 2004, Crosstown was preparing to open a 7,500-foot shop. Since then, the family of companies has continued to grow.

“We’ve built five more buildings, and again, started renting them,” Smith says. “So the success has come from the rental business through S&S and Crosstown Rentals to give me the ability to build these other buildings and then start a rental company through my company called BRS Holdings.

“We’re just presently building 12,000 square feet in Truro, N.S., with a company called Lindsay Construction. It’s going to be a two-facility building for rental and it’s just up the road from our warehouse with our CTR.”

The buildings, made of prefabricated steel, offer such amenities as air conditioning, upstairs offices, mezzanines, and warehousing and loading ramps for tractor-trailers.

“It’s beautiful, beautiful building, this last one we’re building,” he says with pride.

Over the past two years, with the help of what he calls a very intelligent fabricator with professional engineering staff, BRT also has been renovating steel shipping containers – known in the East as sea cans – into 20-, 32- and 40-foot trailers offices, lunchrooms or change rooms.

Smith’s companies have done a lot of business with the Hibernia oil platform project, which was completed in 1997, and continue to supply the Hebron oil platform, which is scheduled for completion in 2017.

The company is currently building one as a rescue training facility for the Hebron, Smith tells us. “So it’s a five-, six-building facility for which I came up with a gasket joining,” h explains. “You got five sea cans and you want to join together. You want to make a big office complex. Well, I built one of those two years ago for Hebron and just recently they came for me to build them the training facility . . . . I went to a rubber plant and they made me a special gasket for joining these containers together, watertight seal. And so they liked my idea and now they feel confident in it and they’ve come back and asked for pricing for the training facility. So we’re into a little bit of everything. A little bit outside the norm when it comes to just general rentals, so, you know, whatever it takes to make a living is the way we look at it here.”

He buys the containers directly from China, which gives him a cost advantage over competitors. His advice for those wanting to explore importing items from China?

“Don’t be afraid of it,” he says. “Just dive into it. You know, I did it right out of the blue, jumped on a plane, landed in China. Met this person and they took me to factories. And that’s how I started my relationships with some of these companies.

“You have to be careful from the financial side, of course, because you pay up front for everything and so you have to find reliable companies and reliable manufacturers in China. So the combination of a little bit of good luck and a little bit of brass brought me to where I am today.”

Where he and his people are today is a good place to be, perhaps also because he has managed to balance business growth with job satisfaction.

“I think majority-wise, our company is a happy bunch of people working together as a team to reach a goal and I think the success is in everybody’s lives that work here, not just mine. And I’m very proud to say that as well. As I get older and I don’t need the money, I’m glad to see that other people are happy to stay with me.”

As for what’s next for Smith and company, the entrepreneur sees more buildings in his future.

“I really enjoy that side of it because it’s where, as you get older, physically you can’t do much more, but, you know, from the pocketbook, you can build more buildings and rent them and keep the revenue coming in the door that way, you know, as I look towards possible retirement over the next 10 years.”


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