Canadian Rental Service

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Taking the helm

If the sign outside says “Go Jets Go,” you must be in Winnipeg. That is what part of the digital scroll reads on a sign at C&T Rentals, the current (and temporary) headquarters of the 25-year-old company on Scurfield Road.


November 28, 2011
By Jim Chliboyko

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If the sign outside says “Go Jets Go,” you must be in Winnipeg. That is what part of the digital scroll reads on a sign at C&T Rentals, the current (and temporary) headquarters of the 25-year-old company on Scurfield Road.

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Ed Dwyer has grown C&T Rentals from one guy and a truck full of heaters into a full-service, full-line equipment rental operation, now opening its third location.


 

It is in a light industrial part of the Prairie City, just off the busy commercial strip of Kenaston Boulevard (where some of C&T’s equipment is being used to build the new Swiss Chalet restaurant), and just north of the new residential area of Waverley West. It is also close to C&T’s rental industry rivals Battlefield and Hertz.

It is also a place where C&T owner and operator Ed Dwyer is planning for the expansion of his independent rental empire. He has already got one place along an industrial/commercial strip on the eastern edge of the city, on busy Dugald Road, and he is planning another right in the middle of Winnipeg’s up-and-coming CentrePort development.

“This is a really big year for me,” said Dwyer regarding 2012. “It is the 25th anniversary of the company, it is the year I become president of the CRA, I open another branch office, and we’re going to have a board meeting here. The national board is going to be at the store.”

“Also, it is our 25th wedding anniversary [with wife, Diana]. A lot of things happened 25 years ago.”

It has also been a stretch of time in which many things have changed in the business.

“Twenty-five years ago, we did everything on a typewriter,” said Dwyer. “Now, we live and die by the computer. And I don’t even go to a hard copy [of documents] anymore. That’s the big thing, using computers for accounting, software, phones; you wonder how you used to get it all done.”

While a lot did happen 25 years ago, a lot is happening right now. Dwyer cites local projects like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (currently under construction), the new James Armstrong Richardson International Airport terminal (finished), the new as-yet-unnamed Bomber and Bison football stadium at the University of Manitoba (under construction), the Manitoba Hydro building downtown (finished) and the new Ikea outlet (spring of 2012).

“The economy in Winnipeg has never been better,” said Dwyer, who adds that The Peg now feels the way Calgary used to. “It used to be a $2-million job was a big deal here. Now, it is nothing.”

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From left to right, Even Mohr, Brad Soutter, Ken Pinder, Darren Desorcy and Doug Pinder.


 

Dwyer’s is very much a Manitoban story or, rather, a Winter-peg story. His business was initially focused solely on one product, renting out construction heaters during the winter, usually not a very busy time for builders. But there was enough work going on to justify the presence of a company renting out heaters. At one time, Dwyer was known simply as The Heater Guy, and would pile a bunch of heaters into his truck and hit the various active wintertime construction sites.

“Construction in the winter is a slow time. We were the opposite of that,” said Dwyer of his original niche. “It is a lot easier in the rental business to start off with one thing. If you have all the equipment, it is expensive. And hard to do.”

But once he developed a bit of a following on the heater side of things, Dwyer started to look for ways to branch out. Specifically, he was looking for a way to corner the business during the slow part of his year, the summertime.

“To make things go in the summer, we started with the compaction equipment,” he said. “I was renting heaters in the winter, and the first thing they want to do when the ground is thawed is to compact it. The business grew, but it got frustrating to keep changing the sign.”

So, the name changed instead. C&T stands for Compaction Equipment Rentals and Tempheat Construction Heater Rentals, his two former businesses. His daughters, Kelly and Shawna, originally thought the company was named after the family cats, Crissy and Tiger. (Dwyer also has a son, Michael.)

Dwyer may be a Jets fan, but he has not lived here all his life. He is originally from Newfoundland, specifically a small Avalon Peninsula town called Northern Bay, on Conception Bay, where he still has a house and some family. He still speaks with a slight Newfoundland lilt and visits his old home once each summer. His office contains various subtle nods to the nautical side of his life, whether it’s the 1950s-style framed map of Newfoundland, or the sea-themed posters.

Dwyer joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a young man, serving on the Restigouche-class destroyer Terra Nova. From those decks he ended up seeing a good portion of the world, as well as the opposite coast of Canada. He got to know places like Halifax, Victoria and Hawaii. The ship was decommissioned in 1997, but apparently can be seen in the 2002 Harrison Ford movie K-19: The Widowmaker.
“My second home was San Diego,” said Dwyer. “I couldn’t believe they were actually paying me to do what I was doing.”

After he left the navy, Dwyer moved to the boomtown of Calgary in 1979, beginning his rental career with Tempheat. He eventually started to look eastward for better opportunities and a more profitable home for the firm’s excess equipment. The two men for whom he worked, Ralph Mitchell and Orval Grenon, had their sights set on Regina, but the way Ed tells it, he saw a better opportunity in Winnipeg, a city three times the size of The Queen City.

After a few years, in 1987, he bought the Winnipeg branch he had established, and added a few more carefully chosen offerings, such as propane and insulated tarpaulins, for which he saw a demand. He was just starting to branch out further from his very specific niche. So his business, along with the number of items he rented out, expanded. But it did so carefully.

The firm had a couple of physical moves over the following years, but Dwyer gradually settled on the Scurfield and Dugald locations in 2005. He figures he gets 85 per cent of his business from the construction sector and the rest from clients involved with home maintenance and renovation. He says he does not get much business from the residential neighbourhoods to the south. To attract the weekend crowd, Dwyer has implemented a weekend special so folks can rent the equipment on a Friday, take it down to The Lake and bring it back on Monday. Winnipeg has a sizable population of people incredibly devoted to their summer cottages.

Dwyer always seems to be on the lookout for a way to extend his business, whether it is branching out into a newer line such as aerial lifts, or scouting out locations for future expansion. His next move will be a significant change. CentrePort is a massive project: the establishment of a 20,000-acre development that will serve as an inland port situated very near the heart of the North American continent. Dwyer wants a piece of the action at the new place.

“We needed a new location for the aerial lifts. The big telehandlers weigh 20,000 pounds. You need almost an acre to turn these things around, or to load them up,” said Dwyer. “After aerial lifts, we’ll be a full-line rental company, which goes against everything I started with.”

But CentrePort is not a mere, local urban project. It is the focus of the provincial CentrePort Canada Act, establishing the project on a 20,000-acre parcel of land to the northwest of the city, fairly near to the new, $500-million international airport terminal.

According to the website, “CentrePort Canada is the only inland port in the country to provide business with single-window access to free trade zone benefits, access to tri-modal transportation and a gateway to key markets in North America, Latin America, Asia and Europe.”
CentrePort’s 20,000 acres are not actually in Winnipeg, rather the land is in the neighbouring rural municipality of Rosser. It is a refreshing site to build on, says Dwyer, due to the relative lack of red tape compared to Winnipeg, and the fact that the local administration seems to be more welcoming to business.

And Dwyer will be right in the middle of it, with his heaters, compactors and aerial lifts, as well as everything else he carries.

The new place will be multi-storey, on 2.5 acres of land, in a 10,000-square-foot building. Dwyer will also be transferring his head office from the Scurfield location to the new CentrePort one. He does not see his workforce numbers changing much. He currently employs between 20 and 25 people, but will merely transfer a portion of his employees to the new place, leaving a few at the Scurfield and Dugald locations to man the forts there.

He will also have the added business of the Canadian Rental Association’s presidency to contend with. It is not a new thing for him; he has been the president of CRA Manitoba and the senior vice-president of the CRA. He’s also been involved in the American Rental Association. Dwyer envisions a term that is fairly packed with travel. He will be visiting all the trade shows he can. The day after his interview with Canadian Rental Service, he was off to Chicago to take part in a leadership course.

For Dwyer, being active in the organizations is not just about networking; these are organizations in which he genuinely believes.

“If you are not a member of the CRA, what can I say? My dues are the best dollars I have ever invested in my rental business. There are all the benefits, and we also have the trade shows. It is great for small, large and publicly traded companies. United Rentals just announced it would start tracking its business using the ARA’s Rental Market Metrics.”

The association is also planning a publicly push in the upcoming year. They have persuaded HGTV host Bryan Baeumler (Disaster DYI) to become the national spokesperson of the CRA, started a national advertising campaign and created a new CRA website.

“This is something new for the association. It takes a few years to get proper feedback.”

Dwyer also has some ideas for things he wants to tackle during his time as president of the CRA.

“We are trying to get industry standards worldwide. We want everybody to be using the same common measurements. It is hard to measure one company against any others without one.”

And while the CRA is taking a focused look at itself, and how it can serve its members more effectively, Dwyer advises individual firms to be more reflective and more regimented in how they do view themselves.

“You have to set goals. I wish more companies would do that. If not, they are doomed. When they hand in their shoebox [of receipts and documents] over to the banker, he will know more about their business in 10 minutes than they do.”

“You have to know your debt-to-equity ratio. In the future, it will all be about the numbers.”

 The rental industry, Dwyer figures, is a healthy one and is right now in a good place. He sees several trends emerging for rental agencies.

“Twenty-five years ago, all the big guys were not here. But then the consolidators came in. Though I do see the independents coming back, as specialists. They will fill in the needs, like the party rental places. The people who rent tents generally do not rent dishes.”
As well, Dwyer sees some specific economic trends taking place.

“These days, rental is the smart way to get things done. The equipment is so reliable, and the companies want the beaters off the job sites. The big companies buy the newest and best equipment. And the rental rates have also dropped a lot. I see that as a good thing. The rates have dropped, but we rent out more.”

Dwyer also sees GPS tracking of larger rental units becoming a larger trend. He recently had a 20-kilowatt generator stolen from a building site — something that does not really cost him, he just bills the renter. But having equipment stolen is a bother and tracking might help a company find greater efficiencies in its day-to-day business, like seeing how long a particular piece of equipment is stuck in traffic.

In addition to all this, Dwyer is dealing with the cost of doing 25 years of business, including having all the merchandise organizations offering to help him commemorate his anniversary.

“We are getting all these offers, like buying these 25th anniversary seals to put on your envelopes,” he says. “Twenty-five years flies by pretty quickly.”


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