Canadian Rental Service

The right attitude

By Mike Davey   

Features Profiles

All of life is change. Sometimes the change is for the better, and sometimes it’s for the worse.

All of life is change. Sometimes the change is for the better, and sometimes it’s for the worse. The one thing life does not do is stand still or stay the same. An organism that tries will die. The same could be said of a business. Very often it is a case of either succeed or die trying.

Ron Russell is the owner/operator of Kerrisdale Equipment. Russell is a second-generation rental professional. His father co-founded the business in 1960.

Looking back on the history of Kerrisdale Equipment, it’s easy to see which way the business went. Change and evolution have been nearly constant since the operation first opened its doors. The company’s business is the rental, sale and repair of a comprehensive range of small tools and equipment. Today Kerrisdale Equipment consists of three rental centres throughout Vancouver, and a central warehouse. But it sure didn’t start out that way.

Kerrisdale Equipment started life as a partnership between two men, when Howard Russell and Fred Topping founded the company in 1960. In fact, the flagship store of Kerrisdale Equipment is still located in the same place: West Boulevard in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Kerrisdale Village. A lot has changed for the business, despite being in the same location for the last 50 years.


Howard Russell was a plumbing/mechanical heating engineer, and Fred Topping was a house builder by profession. Although the two men came from different trades, they both shared a common ambition to open a hardware business. Through a natural progression, a tool rental business emerged from the hardware retail operation, and Kerrisdale Equipment started down a different road.

Darrin Stewart is part of the management team at Kerrisdale Equipment. Originally from Scotland, Stewart joined the company in May 2009.

Darrin Stewart is the general manager of Kerrisdale Equipment. He believes that the addition of tool rental at an early point laid the foundation for the company’s current success.

“In those days it was a unique offering,” says Stewart. “The idea was to offer small plant, tools and equipment to the construction industry, related and allied trades. There was also growing demand among DIY enthusiasts.”

The current president of Kerrisdale Equipment is Ron Russell, son of joint owner and co-founder Howard Russell. Russell took a job at Kerrisdale Equipment during a summer break from school. It turned out to be a momentous decision, both for him and for the company as a whole. He never returned to school, and  has never once looked back.

After taking some time to learn about the business in greater depth and adapt to his newfound career, Ron Russell eventually decided to phase out the hardware side of the business and concentrate solely on tool rentals. This move proved successful. It was so successful, in fact, that by 1975 Russell was able to buy out his father’s share, with Howard’s full blessing.

By 1995, a decision was made to open another store, this time on Vancouver’s Dunbar Street. The location was acquired from Vancouver Power Tools for $300,000. Since then, the company has captured a larger market share and proved to be an invaluable resource for its customers.

Even with three stores in place, it wasn’t too long before Kerrisdale Equipment needed to expand again. This time the expansion didn’t involve a new store. Instead, the company set up a central warehouse facility on Heather Street in Vancouver. The warehouse location also houses central stores, a workshop facility, and the offices of the senior management team, including the accounts department. The central warehouse facility gives the organization valuable space to develop and examine other profitable opportunities. However, one might ask why Kerrisdale Equipment didn’t simply expand an existing location to meet those needs.

“Real estate and commercial space in Vancouver space is at a premium,” says Darrin Stewart. “We simply couldn’t grow anymore on our existing premises. Also, having a dedicated warehouse allows us to keep a larger, more in-depth inventory, more seasonal stock and larger equipment like our fleet of Bobcats.”

Kerrisdale Equipment’s flagship store. The company has two other retail locations and a central warehouse.

Naturally, the size of the team has increased along with the expansion of the business. The staff has grown from the relatively small number of people needed for a retail hardware operation, to 22 people spread across four Kerrisdale Equipment locations. 

By the time the central warehouse location opened its doors, it had become clear that Kerrisdale Equipment was one of the leaders in the field. This was clearly acknowledged by the company’s peers in 2008, when the CRA B.C. local association named Kerrisdale Equipment as the recipient of the Rental Company of the Year award. Suppliers that are also local associate members nominate recipients of this award. The CRA B.C. local asks them to consider a wide range of criteria when making nominations.

“There are some things we ask people to think about when nominating stores,” says Angie Venekamp, CRA B.C.’s national director. “Some of the things under consideration are store layout, cleanliness, length of time in business, the ability to help customers and participation in the local association.”

There’s no question that Kerrisdale Equipment is an active member. Danielle Russell, Ron’s daughter, sits on the board. The Canadian Rental Association isn’t the only association that can count Kerrisdale Equipment as a member. The company also actively supports the Vancouver Board of Trade, Business Networking International (BNI), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Greater Vancouver House Builders Association.

Kerrisdale Equipment exemplifies the ideals of always moving forward and proactively examining new ways to help its customers and employees. To help ensure that the company would continue to do so, Ron Russell took on the services of Darrin Stewart, a proven tool and rental sales professional from Scotland. Stewart has been with the company since May of 2009. His role focuses on managing and controlling the company’s affairs through assertive and visible leadership of the entire team. The goal is to drive sales growth, productivity and pay particular attention to compliance.

In line with these goals, Stewart is the driving force behind Kerrisdale Equipment’s participation in associations beyond the rental business.

“When I came here, I really didn’t know anyone at all, and I thought networking was the way to go. It has paid big dividends for the business. BNI in particular is the largest organization of its kind in the world,” says Stewart.

Networking can help by exposing you to other people and their ideas, and also helps by letting you learn from the mistakes of others. However, Stewart freely admits that Kerrisdale Equipment shares many of the same challenges facing other rental operators.

“Health and safety is going to be a huge concern going forward,” says Stewart. “Getting good people can also be difficult, because the government doesn’t really concentrate enough efforts on apprenticeship programs. We have to foster employee development and promote internally.”

Part of that is making sure that employees have a clear path to self-development. Kerrisdale Equipment has a stringent, coherent training program in place, which Stewart says also helps them to provide a higher level of customer service and aids in keeping good staff.

“We’re a privately owned, independent business, and I think that helps us to fulfill that vision,” says Stewart. “It’s a matter of mindset. If your employees are just numbers, then they don’t have input into what you carry, or much of anything else. That means they don’t have the opportunity to develop a ‘we can help’ attitude.”

One way in which Kerrisdale Equipment is helping its customers is with the printing of a full colour catalogue. Although this is rare among rental stores in North America, Stewart says it’s quite common in Europe , and he believes it can be a fantastic sales tool to drive the business in specific markets.

“The catalogue pays particular attention to the needs of the home owner,” says Stewart. “There are a lot of people who, if you tell them about a piece of equipment, they don’t really know what you’re talking about the way a professional contractor would. When you can give them a picture and some specifications that they can examine at their leisure, they’ll understand a bit better.” This makes sense. After all, we even have an old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words.

The “we can help” attitude at Kerrisdale Equipment extends far beyond the front door and out into the community. The business is a regular supporter of Canuck Place Children’s Hospice and also sponsors local Little League baseball. This attitude helps to foster a perception that Kerrisdale Equipment is very much a part of the community. In turn, that helps to keep customers coming back.

“It’s like the little corner store that you buy your milk and bread from,” says Stewart. “You keep coming back because it’s local, and you always get a warm welcome with friendly, personal service.”

For more information on Kerrisdale Equipment, please visit the website at .

Inside Kerrisdale Equipment
To succeed, a company must have a firm idea of where it’s going.
The mission and vision shown below are how Kerrisdale Equipment stays on track.


Providing a quality product at a fair price with a knowledgeable staff delivering a high level of customer service.

A system run company that provides fair compensation for its employees and the company coupled with innovative products delivered with a “We can help” attitude to the customer.

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