Top 10 Under 40
By Martin Forgues and Jack Kohane
One went into business for himself when he was only 16. Another had to take over store operations unexpectedly when her boss was injured. And one helped the family business grow revenues tenfold.
By Martin Forgues and Jack Kohane
These are just some of the amazing stories you find when you take a look around the Canadian rental industry and talk to the truly remarkable young people in it. When we hear about owners retiring and putting stores up for auction for lack of a successor, there’s a temptation to become gloomy about the future of the industry. These stories are the antidote.
Benoit Rousse, 37, GAL Power Systems
A staple at GAL Power Systems’ Montreal outlet for the last 15 years, Benoit Rousse’s past working and business experience have made him a most valuable asset for the company, according to GAL’s general manager Martin Lopes. Lopes remembers Rousse’s arrival to the company a decade and a half ago. While the laureate was a rookie in the rental industry, he already had acquired a set of skills that soon revealed a high working standard. An entrepreneur since a very early age, this experience proved very valuable from the start. Lope says Rousse has never seen a problem he doesn’t think he can solve.
“Ben started honing his business skills at just 16 years old when he owned his own car wash business,” Lopes writes. “His car cleaning business eventually led him to develop an interest in the inner workings of vehicles and he began to develop excellent talents as a mechanic. When he applied to become one of GAL’s technicians 15 years ago, we were impressed by his initiative, positive attitude, and eagerness to learn and develop his skills. We at GAL Power believe in recognizing those who have strengthened our company through dedication and hard work. To that end, we wish to nominate someone who has been with us since our more humble years and has helped shape our company into the industrial leader it is today. “
According to Lopes, Rousse’s arrival at GAL coincided with a sudden yet steady growth of the company. While he started out as a technician – putting his previously acquired skills to task – he was quickly promoted to sales representative.
“Ben helped bring our rental sales from just $400,000 each year to $5 million,” Lopes goes on. “His eager, friendly approach won over customers of all kinds and in the following years, our rental sales have continued to grow each year. Ben’s biggest impact came when he was given the chance to head up our sales team as rental manager in Montreal. Once comfortably in the driver’s seat, Ben proved a capable and talented leader who motivated and educated the sales team to new heights of success. Under Ben’s guidance, our rental sales have now exceeded $8 million per year.”
Johnny Dragicevic, 38, Canlift Equipment
As Canlift’s managing partner, Johnny Dragicevic had brought the company’s management into the 21st century, according to CFO and 12-year Canlift veteran, Shawn Wilson.
“The rental business is still mostly run by the generation before us. Johnny’s management is very modern,” he said.
Wilson praises his employer not only for his innovative and inspirational leadership approach, but also and mainly for his devotion towards customers. Having spent six years with Canlift, he credits him with the company’s expansion since then.
“Johnny quickly understood that customer care is central to success in the rental industry and that’s where his focus is. Everybody has their own ideas about how to run their business, but Johnny’s dedication to customer service and certainty is key to our own,” Wilson says.
But Dragicevic’s vision about how to run a rental business isn’t the only factor that made him part of this year’s Top 10. His leadership skills and managerial style keep inspiring his employees to invest their energy 100 per cent into their work.
“He is always with the employees on the floor, serving customers and addressing issues himself instead of adopting a more ‘bossy’ approach,” Wilson said.
Canflift employee Carol Stubbert also praises her boss and endorses his nomination in this year’s Top 10. “He is a great boss who also takes pride in all he does. He always takes the time out to answer any questions we might have or deal with any issues.”
Peter Aaron Bonish, 36, Pete’s Party & Tent Rental
When the younger generation embrace tradition and take over the family business, beauty lies in continuity. As Pete’s Party & Tent Rental’s human resources manager, Peter Bonish inspires pride as much as he gave his family an appreciated sense of relief.
“Peter always knew he wanted to take over the shop,” says his mother, Sue Bonish. “Aside from his mandatory HR placement job required to graduate, working here has always been his only job.” She recalls those times when Peter’s paternal grandfather – the store’s founder – made him screw nuts and bolts together for one penny apiece when young Peter was around four or five years old and the shop still bore its original name, Peter’s Radio and Rental. The store became Pete’s Party & Tent Rental in 1971 after giving up the radio part of the business. Later, as a teenager, he was “promoted” to other jobs such as cleaning chairs and as member of the tent crew.
Since his graduation in human resources management, Pete’s Party & Tent Rental created a job post as HR manager to accomodate him. Nowadays, he’s the de facto general manager.
“He took us into the 21st Century,” says Sue. “He did so much to improve our management and take care of such issues as workplace safety that no one else was qualified to do.” She admits she doesn’t know what Peter’s plans are for the future, but is far from worried about the company’s.
Young and Eager
Andrew D’Amato, 26, D&D Party Rentals
Andrew D’Amato says he can’t recall a time when he didn’t work at D&D Party Rentals, a family owned business started in 1979 by his grandfather, a former construction contractor. “I remember being there as a young child just overseeing what happens in the warehouse and operations, and even going on the road once in a while with my dad on last-minute deliveries or customer service calls. An interesting business for me right from the get-go.”
Starting out as a small tool rental source for Toronto’s growing construction market, the D’Amato family did it all with one delivery truck. Today D&D Party Rental comprises a staff of 30 and four trucks servicing events across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Tony D’Amato, Andrew’s dad, now helms the operation and has successfully transitioned the business from a tool supplier, to D & D’s core business of tenting and providing party rental equipment from tablecloths to cutlery, dinnerware and cooking equipment.
Andrew, 26, handles sales and account management and is nearing completion of his C.E.R.P. (Certified Event Rental Professional) certification program through the American Rental Association. He’s proud to point out that the company has expanded from an income of about $80K in 1979 to an annual income of over $1 million annually.
“At a young age I had a taste of psychology watching family members deal with really angry customers while still remaining cool calm and collective,” recalls Andrew, who later eagerly worked in the D&D warehouse and went on the road as a driver helper. “This served me well in dealing with customers face to face and also with equipment handling. I know what it takes to do the work we do and the value of our service.”
According to Tony D’Amato, who nominated Andrew, his son has enthusiastically taken on the mantle of leadership in the rental business. “The fact he started at the bottom and has experienced all aspects of the business has really prepared him to be one of the most knowledgeable, confident and reliable customer service/account managers in our industry,” he lauds. “He’s young and has a great future ahead of him and for the company.”
When he’s not out there talking up D&D to clients, Andrew’s love of music has him producing albums for other artists and playing drums in bands. “I’ve been on many stages, watching and learning how big concert events are put together. I’ll leverage this experience to continue growing D&D. For one, I have always had a dream of improving our audio/visual department and being involved in larger music festivals.” As he sees it: “Growth is a big part of the natural rhythm of a thriving family business.”
Tried by Fire
Melanie Cougle, 25, Perfect Party Event Rentals
This year’s Top 10’s youngest entry, Melanie Cougle already packs years of experience in the rental business, five years short of her 30th birthday. As she was barely settling in her position as store manager, tragedy quickly required her to handle the business by herself.
“She started working for PPER part-time while she was still in high school. She continued working at the store when she went to university on a part-time basis as a key holder,” said Melanie’s step-father and store owner Mike Gazo, who wrote her nomination.
While attending university, she had the opportunity to take advantage of the American Rental Association scholarship awards numerous times and was very appreciative of it. When she finished university she took the position of store manager in November 2013
Gougle graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, with Honours. She then became Perfect Party Event Rental’s store manager.
In August 2014, tragedy struck the family business. “I was involved in a very serious vehicular accident. It was in the middle of our busy rental season and happened at the worst possible time. I was hospitalized for two weeks with several serious injuries. I had to undergo surgery to repair my leg and was left to start a very long recovery period. Melanie was thrown into the thick of our busy rental period,” Gazo reports.
Melanie quickly had to learn without much mentoring, responsible with keeping the 30-year-old business’ reputation pristine.
However, Gazo expresses proud relief regarding his step-daughter’s performance. “I am still not back at work and still rehabilitating to get my life back. Melanie has done an incredible job of continuing to make the business work.”
Trial by fire reveals one’s true character, and Melanie’s proved strong. “When you retire, you have time to plan and get someone in place to take over the business. When an event like this happens, it shows when someone has character. My step-daughter has a great deal of character, and I thank her for ensuring my/our business is doing well and moving forward,” Gazo says.
Christina Andreola, 26, Loungeworks
As an account manager at Loungeworks, Christina Andreola wears many hats. Clients and colleagues alike call her a force of nature to be reckoned with. On a typical day at her Vancouver B.C.-based company, which provides event furniture rental, event design, and production management support, Christina fields incoming calls, processes client orders, and co-ordinates logistics with her warehouse. “Most importantly, I keep in touch with our clients to see what exciting things they’re up to and how we can help them execute their event goals,” she says firmly.
Her approach is collaboration-focused. “We are consistently working to come up with new ways to partner with our clients to showcase our furniture and decor pieces along with their specialized work,” she points out. One example is an initiative she spearheaded in 2013 called #130Weddings (the hashtag was the name of the event). Together with her company’s design team, she worked to divide the Loungeworks showroom into eight unique spaces all pertaining to one part of a wedding reception (ceremony, bar, lounge, dining, etc). “Each space was given to a reputable Vancouver wedding planner that had access to our inventory to use as the base for their space designs,” explains Christina. Pinterest was also incorporated into her overall marketing strategy. “This had our collaborators interacting with our Loungeworks social media followers. We celebrated the collaboration with a kickoff party, inviting the who’s who of the Vancouver wedding industry to enjoy trendsetting designs while mingling with planners and suppliers alike. Now, we are preparing for our third annual #130Weddings event (set for Spring 2016).”
Loungeworks marketing manager Emily MacDonald, who nominated Christina, lauds Christina as a fast study. “She came to Loungeworks three years ago being new to the event and rental industry, but she quickly became the go-to resource for our clients. She’s headed up some of our most successful rental projects including work with the Dental Conference, Dermatology Conference, and more.”
Christina’s busy workaday world also includes heavy involvement in the Vancouver theatre community, having written, produced and starred in her own show: The Dudes of My Life, selected as a MainStage entry into the 2015 Vancouver Fringe Festival. “That’s helped to increase my knowledge in event services and rentals as well as how to reach out to new clients, come up with creative solutions with limited time and/or budgets, and in successful team-building,” she notes. “I’m lucky to be working in an environment which is focused on collaboration and improvement so that we can continue to be leaders in the design field.”
The Opinion Leader
Mike Maltby, 33, Ingersoll Rent-All
“Profit isn’t a four letter word,” says Mike Maltby when asked what makes for a successful entrepreneur. “To me it means that sometimes it’s better to have our equipment sit idle than match a competitor’s low-ball price.”
As vice-president of Ingersoll Rent-All, a business purchased by Mike’s dad, Don, in 1989, Mike encourages a straight-talking approach from those he works with. “Have an opinion. Nothing is more useless than a group of people who agree with everything you say. If you think I’m wrong about something let me know. Sometimes we learn most by having a healthy debate with someone who disagrees.”
The company, located in southwestern Ontario in a region renowned for cheesemaking and a bustling automotive parts industry, has grown from a one-man operation operating out of a commercial strip mall, to a thriving rental operation on 3 1/2 acres of land with five full-time employees. “We serve the small to mid-sized contractors and homeowners in the area,” notes Mike, a former president of the Canadian Rental Association for Ontario (2011 – 2013) and current Ontario representative to the national CRA board. His company is among the area’s largest Stihl outdoor power equipment dealers, with both sales and service.
Mike’s main mission: making a difference in the community, and helping people succeed. “I really love helping a first time DIY customer work through a plan to complete a project,” he enthuses. “What I like best about the rental business is driving around town and seeing the results of a project that our equipment was used on and knowing that we helped build that.”
To stay ahead of the competition, Mike insists that you have to surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.
“Employees are the pulse of the business,” he emphasizes. “Our employees are the people that our customers see most of the time. I don’t want to develop a culture where employees don’t think they’re allowed to deal with day-to-day issues with our customers. I think that goes a long way to building our employees’ willingness to act, when necessary, to further our business.”
He urges his industry colleagues to reap the rewards of community involvement and to seize the opportunities offered by engagement in the trade association. “I find that the more people I meet through my work with the association, the better off our business is. Every time I go to a meeting or event I walk away with something that can be used in our business.”
The Risk Taker
Remi LeBlanc, 29, Parkland Party & Equipment Rentals
Remi LeBlanc knows that doing the same old, same old just won’t cut it nowadays. So when Parkland Party & Equipment Rentals went up for sale, he saw the potential, took a risk, and bought it on the spot in early 2014. He hasn’t regretted the decision.
Now Remi and his management team are focused on bringing the 50+ year-old downtown Red Deer, Alta., retail landmark into the new millennium. “We want to take this business to the next level,” enthuses the 29-year-old owner and operator of one of the city’s largest party rental stores. “The previous owners grew the business to a respectable size by creating relations with other businesses and people in the Central Alberta area.” His goal, Remi likes to emphasize, is to cement those relationships, go to the customer, and expand the company’s market reach.
Since opening its doors in the 1960s, Parkland has been recognized as the destination stop in Red Deer for home renovation, landscaping or small construction equipment rental. Under LeBlanc’s present leadership, Parkland Party & Equipment Rentals is diversifying its product range to include party and wedding accessories, and widening its selection of event decorations and rentals. Parkland is also capturing more customers by leveraging its geographic position located at the midpoint of the Calgary–Edmonton Corridor. “In the past this company has stayed mostly local, but as I see, it if the customer wants us to be at a different location, we will put in the extra miles for them and do what we have to make it happen for them,” affirms Remi.
Putting in the hours is what makes this business hum. “Remi is incredibly dedicated to his job and his customers,” nods Chris Windrim, Parkland’s marketing and sales manager, who nominated Remi. “He’s always looking for every opportunity possible to grow this business across Central Alberta. He is an incredibly hard worker and a true leader, not just a boss. He creates a positive work environment by sparking a continuous stream of new and creative ideas. In a word, Remi is relentless.”
Now truly family owned, Parkland Party & Equipment Rentals is led by the LeBlanc clan. Remi’s dad, Marcel, is a partner involved in the decision-making, and brother, Steven, 23, is fast learning the business. Remi remembers visiting the Parkland store as a youngster with his dad. “It was something of an adventure to me,” he recalls with a grin. “The adventure continues, as I’m learning that running a rental business is a lifestyle, not a nine-to-five job. I see us a guarantors of customer satisfaction: if they aren’t happy, we’re not happy.”
The Family Guy
Scott McAndrew, 39, Mastermind Event Rentals
Scott McAndrew doesn’t do anything small. Almost singlehandedly, he’s changed the way rentals are done in the city of Ottawa. In 2010, he created the concept of a linen tradeshow where potential clients could see fully designed tables and then mix and match to find their ideal design. This event has grown over five years and now has over 16 local designers creating tablescapes to inspire people to see what is possible with rentals locally.
With a focus on the details required for any event, Scott points out that his company, Mastermind Event Rentals, has one of the largest selections of specialty linen rentals in the National Capital region. As a result of the demand, he says, “Mastermind has expanded to offer all the necessary event rental items such as tables, chairs, catering supplies, dishware and more.”
Scott and his wife, Jennifer, started Mastermind as a home-based business in 2007 after their wedding. In the last eight years they have grown out of their home and garage to an 8,000 square foot warehouse, including a full industrial laundry centre to ensure the quality of their products. Sales in 2014 increased 20 per cent to over $600,000. The company now employs over 10 staff.
Jennifer, Mastermind’s event director and Scott’s nominator, says that it’s Scott’s approach to customer service that has resulted in loyal support from clients. “Mastermind started to fill a niche that was missing in the Ottawa market,” she explains, noting that the company started with a single digital photobooth, but has since grown to provide linens and wedding items. “Scott has been responsible for expanding the strategic focus of the company and has grown the inventory to match the demands in Ottawa.”
Mastermind has continued to give back to the community and is involved with numerous charitable activities, such as Cystic Fibrosis Canada (sparked by the passing of a close friend to CF), Bruce House. The McAndrews also work to provide housing, care and support in Ottawa for people living with HIV and AIDS, and for Ronald McDonald House for which the McAndrews created a golf tournament raising over $25,000 in three years.
Scott says it’s his love of family that keeps him motivated. His father and mother both work for the company to ensure the personal, family touch. “His mom won’t let a piece of linen go out without her inspection,” nods Jennifer. Even Scott’s children (Chase, 6, and Bryn,4) have grown up around the business. “I love having them around the shop,” nods Scott. “And they enjoy tagging along on weekend deliveries and setups.”
The Resilient One
Troy McDonald, 31, Nor-Val Equipment Rentals
Valuable work and life experience often come with age, though sometimes fate accelerates the process. Nor-Val Equipment Rentals owner Jim Clipperton’s praise of 31-year-old Troy McDonald comes with relative ease. McDonald’s job performance draws commendation by itself, and they’ve also known each other for more than a decade, since Troy’s first day on the job.
“He’s been working with me since he was 18 years old. He first came in for about five years before leaving to work on a oil rig,” said Clipperton. Troy’s gig on the rig lasted for approximately four years before tragedy struck. He was gravely injured in a truck accident which he barely survived and cut short his employment.
“Troy had planned to stay there and work on the rig as a career,” Clipperton explains. Fortunately, both had stayed in contact and Clipperton took him back at Nor-Val, where he quickly became one of the company’s top assets, swiftly making it to his current position as operations manager in a few short years.
Jim Clipperton gives a lot of credit to McDonald’s oil rig experience. “He had to gain a lot of knowledge and he learned to deal with a lot of different people while working there,” he said, describing him as a people person, a critical trait in the rental industry and key to be able to manage his current 40-person crew.
Troy’s devotion to the trade also goes noticed. He volunteers at the British Columbia local trade show as well as on the Canadian Rental Association’s local board.
“Troy is an unbelievable individual,” concludes Clipperton.