Canadian Rental Service

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Too busy to play

Just off the sometimes-treacherous Highway 99, about halfway between Vancouver and Whistler lies the town of Squamish.


April 22, 2014
By Jim Chliboyko

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Just off the sometimes-treacherous Highway 99, about halfway between Vancouver and Whistler lies the town of Squamish. You’ve probably seen of it or heard of it before; it’s known as the recreation capital of Canada, there’ve been a few movies and television shows filmed there and avid climbers may know it as the home of the Stawamus Chief, a granite fist jutting up from the earth just outside of town

Rental Network 
Rental Network was primarily an equipment rental store under its old ownership, but Dan and Peggy saw more opportunity in party and event rentals. The gamble paid off – today about 75 per cent of the store’s revenue comes from the event side.



 

At first glance, it would seem like maybe not the best place to have a rental business, too far away from either Vancouver or Whistler, but for Dan Barry and Peggy Daniel, and their Rental Network, it seems to have worked just fine. This past winter, when Canadian Rental Service spoke to the pair, post-Christmas, they were so busy that they were having to turn down work—from regular customers.

“Every January, February we have this little spell where it’s all you can do, all the work we can get,” said Barry. “We’ve turned down two jobs with regular customers. Just yesterday, same day, so we have, on one day next week, three projects going on simultaneously.

Most of the work that particular week was taking place in downtown Vancouver, but Squamish is the home of their headquarters with their main property in the light industrial area just north of the centre of town, two blocks off the Sea-to-Sky Highway. And they also have a nearby warehouse. Much of their work, of course, comes from Vancouver, some is based in Whistler as well as other places in the area. And they do some work locally, sometimes contributing time or labour to local events.

Dan and Peggy’s business currently employs 10 people, not including themselves, and their website currently has calls to hire for six different positions. 

Barry and Daniel worked together with another firm back in the late 1980s. They saw an opportunity to break away by taking advantage of the underserved tenting market and set up shop in a town which only had one other existing rental business, run by a man on the verge of retirement.

They’ve been at it for over 13 years. The name, Rental Network—with the emphasis on the word “network,” was coined by Daniel.

Also working for them is Peggy’s daughter, Angie Venekamp, who is currently the director of the B.C. Local of the Canadian Rental Association, who has been working in the industry, in some capacity, since she was 14. The company is active in the association.

rain clouds clear away 
When the rain clouds clear away, the view from Rental Network’s location is spectacular. The store sits just a few kilometers away from Stawamus Chief, a mountainous chunk of granite that is one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the world.


 

“I think through association meetings you get to communicate with others,” said Barry. “They have the same problems as you. They’re dealing with exactly the same issues all the time and so it allows us to get an idea. Like insurance, we learned something about our insurance yesterday which we’re positive others probably don’t know.”

Tents and events make up a big part of the Rental Network’s business. They offer more than a half-dozen kinds of tents on their website. But they rent out things like mini-excavators, a scissor lift and hydronic heaters; one of their current jobs is renting out heaters to a damaged hotel that’s currently being gutted and renovated, to prevent the cold and snow from collapsing the building.

When asked what the breakdown of the business is between doing events and pure equipment rental, Barry speculates it is about 75-25 split.

“We’re fortunate because we have the equipment part of the business that allows us to provide everything as far as the heating, lighting and temporary power whereas you go to a tent company, you get a tent and you might get the lighting installed that you want. But you’ll get maybe one choice on a heater. We can offer you a few choices on how to heat it only because of the equipment business. The event business would never afford you the opportunity to have that inventory.” As an example, Barry points out that hydronic heating equipment, which is a big renter for Rental Network, would not be justified in a pure event rental store.  But he has it for his construction customers, and can therefore use it as an option for certain event applications.  “I don’t think there’s a lot of people who do tents or event business and equipment. There’s not a lot of us in B.C. left,” Barry says. “I think there’s more companies that do party and equipment, tables, chairs, barbecues – that kind of thing – and glassware but they don’t do tents, glassware, linens and equipment. I think we’re a bit of an oddity there.”

The company is not just confined to Vancouver and the Highway 99 corridor, though. They’ve done jobs as far afield as Pennsylvania, California and Toronto. With tourism being such an important driver of the B.C. economy, and with a few shake-ups since the turn of the millennium, business conditions have been altered since the turn of last century.

“9/11 changed everything here for Whistler,” said Barry. “We had cancellations within 24 hours of 9/11. It was, like, $100,000 worth of work. And it’s never completely recovered. It’s never been the same way and so what we found ourselves doing was we took on more weddings.”

“It’s starting to turn around. Corporate is starting to get busier now,” said Daniel.

But aside from the occasional other lull due to economic recession or, say, the distraction of the 2010 Olympic Games things are pretty steady for the pair. They get a lot of work from destination management companies, event planners for corporate events. There are six of them in Vancouver alone, and the Rental Network has worked for them all. Getting hired by such firms have gotten them to work at events for companies as well-regarded as Porsche, Jaguar and BMW.

Often, the pair is called upon to not just rent out tents but to actually design, build and deliver tents. One project happened for the Rental Network because other tent manufacturers were distracted by the Olympics.

heat would be a big item  
You wouldn’t think heat would be a big item in temperate British Columbia, but Barry says Rental Network gets a steady flow of heat business from up in the mountains. Power generation companies are regular customers.



 

Said Barry, “Nobody would talk to (the potential client) so somebody phoned here to me and talked to me and we had done a trade show two months before, made an inquiry about something that they were looking for and I said, ‘Oh, we’re putting together some numbers of a kind of project like that already,’ because I was just sourcing the fabrics and stuff like that. They just wanted this look of tent and so I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I’m working on that. Tell me what you want,’ and they sent me conceptual drawings and they had a site, an exact location, the convention centre in Long Beach. They told me what they wanted and exactly where it had to fit in this one little hole. Michelle gave me some concepts, I built it out of regular tent materials and then some custom materials and basically just drew it on the computer to fit in the spot and sized all the materials to fit as much as we could using off the shelf… We designed it and quoted it. They said please and then some. They deposited and we built.

“Some of it was manufactured in Seattle, some of it in Oregon and all we did was leave here with some of our parts, drove to Seattle. There, I built the tent in the parking lot where we bought the fabric – the outside skin – drove to Oregon, got the rest of the parts and did some more special stuff there at their place and drove to
Long Beach.”

And that’s how the Rental Network gets a regular customer; the same folks have been clients for four years now.

It helps to be handy. When one customer suddenly needed 16 harvest tables – a heavy wood table that is becoming popular with rustic-themed events – the crew got to work.

Said Barry, “She showed me what she wanted. Then I showed Peggy, ‘This is what she wants. Let’s figure out how to build them.’ We’ll build one and see if she likes it and then she liked it and we knew after building it how much it would cost to build. We gave her a price for the first 16. The point of the whole thing was that she needed 16 for four events so it’s four uses.”

“Because when she said country harvest table I looked at the picture, “Oh, that’s like the table I want to buy at the furniture store,” so I went down to the local furniture store, stuck my head under it to see how it was all put together.” They now have 40 of the things, which they insist they use up all the time.

Dan and Peggy 
When it’s time for an outdoor photo in rainy coastal B.C., better get your hood up. Dan and Peggy say adaptability is one of the keys to Rental Network’s success.


 

There are other challenges, though, some of them provided by Mother Nature which, of course, every rental place has to deal with from time to time. However, being situated where they are, in the mountains of British Columbia, there are the particular challenges of the capriciousness of the local climate to deal with. “It’s different doing jobs in the winter, too, because you’ve got to think about heating because the tents aren’t able to accept snow load,” Barry says. “So they have to be heated so the snow melts so that’s a whole added cost to tenting in the winter. We have a little clause. Whenever we work on either mountain they actually sign a waiver. They get winds that exceed 160 kilometers per hour. ”

And, despite being located in the recreation capital of Canada, Barry, at least, hasn’t been able to take advantage of it much. “A couple of years ago I showed up at the top of Whistler and the customer got me a lift pass and he was going to show me around and he  says, ‘Don’t you have skis?’ I said, ‘I haven’t skied since I moved here in 1987 and that was the truth. I haven’t had time.’”

Despite how busy they are, Peggy’s daughter, Angie, has been extremely active both in the event side of the store and the local and national rental associations for years. Angie rose through all the chairs in the Canadian Rental Association B.C. local, and now sits on the national board as the B.C. director. She still sits on the committee for the B.C. trade show, which has been re-energized by her tireless efforts and organization over the last few years.