Stability and change
By Andrew SnookFeatures Profiles Camrose Rental Shoppe equipment rental profiles
Market needs drive Camrose Rental Shoppe.
Dave Runnalls has enjoyed helping customers find the right tools to tackle jobs for more than 20 years.
His journey in the equipment rental sector began when he took a position at a small equipment rental store in 2000 in central Alberta. From there, Runnalls worked for a couple of companies in the Cold Lake and Bonnyville areas before moving south of Edmonton to take positions in Camrose and Leduc.
While working as the manager of a rental store in Camrose, Runnalls and his colleague, Dwayne Bonnett, decided to branch off on their own and open up their own rental store – Camrose Rental Shoppe – which serves the general rental equipment market. The store served homeowners and a few contractors at the beginning, but that changed quickly as they realized how much business was available serving the contractor market.
“We do everything from small hammers, barbecues and popcorn machines all the way to excavators, forklifts and skid steers,” Runnalls says. “We saw an opportunity to open up our own store in boom times in 2005 and 2006 in Alberta. You could’ve opened up a popsicle stand and sold popsicles all year-round at that time. Dwayne and I started up the business in January 2006, opened our doors and our business exploded in the first two to four years. We had far more business than we could ever dream of.”
Camrose Rental Shoppe moved not long after opening to accommodate the increased business.
“We expanded our business from one location to another because we outgrew it and couldn’t stuff anymore equipment into our small lot,” Runnalls says.
The company continued to grow until 2014, when the price of oil dropped drastically, spiraling the province into a recession. Runnalls currently operates one location: a 5,000-square-foot facility with a mezzanine for offices, a training centre, and an 8,000-square-foot lot for storing equipment.
“Then things started to slow down slightly. From 2014 on, we have maintained where we’ve been at or gone up and down a little,” Runnalls says.
Since opening, the company has grown to have five full-time employees and has expanded its reach to serve customers westward up to Wetaskiwin; eastward all the way to the Saskatchewan border, south of Lloydminster; and just south of Edmonton.
“We serve about 120,000 people in our trading area,” Runnalls says. “One of the interesting places we do service is a small, but very important, town in the oil and gas industry that is the hub for all the pipelines that go out of Canada – Hardisty, Alta.”
Runnalls’ favourite aspects of working in the equipment rental industry are interacting with new people regularly and helping them solve their equipment questions.
“We meet new customers all the time. I like the challenge of trying to provide people with the right equipment for the right job – the satisfaction when you know that the job is done right for the customers and you can provide them the right equipment,” he says.
While Runnalls largely services contractors within the construction industry, rising-and-falling oil and gas prices still have an impact on his business.
“Although I don’t rely on oil and gas for my business, my customers rely on construction, and construction relies on the oil and gas industry,” he says. “So, 2014 to 2019 were some of our most restrictive years with the downgrade of our energy industry.”
Right when one could argue the economy couldn’t get much worse, enter the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the pandemic didn’t have the immediate negative impact on the Camrose Rental Shoppe that it had on so many other businesses.
“Two-thousand twenty was an interesting year, because we weren’t getting business from contractors, but the homeowners came to us because they couldn’t go anywhere ese. Homeowners replaced the business the contractors couldn’t do in 2020,” Runnalls recalls.
Fortunately, the contractor business started to stabilize in 2021 and 2022. That said, challenges remained. One of those challenges is finding qualified workers.
“It is getting harder and harder to find the right people for the job,” Runnalls says. “Rental companies, for the most part, pay higher than what the standard is out there, but even at that it’s hard to get qualified people for the positions you’re looking to fill.”
Another lingering challenge created by the pandemic is supply chain issues. Runnalls recalls getting caught off-guard initially when managing his skid steer fleet.
“I made a mistake at the beginning of the year, not realizing the supply chain issues,” he says. “When our skid steers get to 2,500 hours, we sell them off. This year I had one skid steer come up. In the past, I’ve never had to do research to get another one. I made the mistake of selling it before I went off looking for a new one. When I went to get my order in, I realized that there were no wheeled skid steers of the brand I needed to replace anywhere in Alberta. I was able to get one in a larger size, but not the size I was selling.”
Runnalls says that the longer wait times for parts have also been an issue. This has forced some equipment to be down for months at a time when it would normally be down for a few weeks.
While Runnalls isn’t far off from retirement, he still has goals he’d like to accomplish for expanding the services at Camrose Rental Shoppe.
“One of the long-term goals I have, and have been working on, is being able to do safety training for my company for people that do safety rentals – the man lifts, the forklifts,” he says. “Especially in the trading area that we cover. Companies that don’t want to offer the training are looking for it.”
When asked what advice he would offer to people that are considering opening up their own equipment rental stores, Runnalls says getting active in the various industry associations is important.
“They should always find an association to join, I recommend that for any type of business. Get as much information as you can out of that association,” he says.
Another important step is to do your homework before starting up.
“You need to find what equipment is required in your service area. If you’re starting a rental company, that’s what you need to do. What is required in Camrose may not be required in Wetaskiwin or in Ontario,” he says. “Where I started, in Bonnyville and Cold Lake, we needed different equipment than what we needed when we came down to Camrose. Some of it is the same, but not everything. For example, in Cold Lake they require shredders like crazy.”
Once you know the needs of the market in your area, it is equally important to stay on top of changing trends in customers’ needs.
“Markets change and it does not stay the same,” Runnalls says. “Years ago, customers would ask for a lot of flooring equipment. That is something that very few ask for now. You have to keep up on that. It’s really listening to what the customers are looking for and knowing what they’re after. You just never know.”
As trends in customer demands change, it doesn’t hurt to hold onto some of the previously popular items, if you have the space.
“We used to rent out welders like crazy. That changed, but things do come back, too. If you hold onto some equipment, it does seem to rotate and come back,” Runnalls says.
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