Canadian Rental Association
Turning the wheel
By Chris Skalkos
Canadian Rental Association welcomes Jay Williams as its incoming President for 2009
By Chris Skalkos
|Jay Williams from Two Mountain Rentals/Location Deux-Montagnes in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, will be the CRA president for 2009.|
As a next generation rental operator, Jay Williams got his start in the industry at a young age while working for his father’s rental store Two Mountain Rentals/Location Deux-Montagnes in Saint-Eustache, Quebec. “I was 12 years old doing odd jobs, mostly to help out. Even as I got older, I didn’t think this was going to become a career. I was doing it just to help out with the family business,” says Williams.
What started as his desire to help, led him to eventually become a partner in the business with his father, Ed. However, that same desire has also driven him to help others in the industry, and this has led him to become president for the Canadian Rental Association (CRA), a title he will assume in February 2009.
Two Mountain Rentals opened for business in 1972. Located in a residential area of Saint-Eustache, an urban centre northwest of Montreal, it rents to a customer base of industrial clients, construction contractors and home owners. The family-run business allowed Williams to try out many facets of operating an equipment rental store, but one defining characteristic of this industry particularly appealed to him.
“This business is about helping people,” says Williams. “One day I looked back and realized how much I had learned, but what I liked was that I was able to transmit this knowledge to others. At 25 I decided this was going to be my career.”
The company has built a reputation of providing a high quality level of customer service that is quarterbacked by Williams and his father who maintain a constant presence behind the counter.
“Customers, especially contractors, like to see the owners behind the counter and my Dad and I split our time so that one of us is always here. Customers have come to expect that. They want to hear our opinion and we want to hear their opinions. Talking to customers is the best way to get their feedback,” says Williams. “Our customer service philosophy is simple: no waiting! Either Dad or I are with a group of employees ready to give customers immediate service.
There is always somebody standing by ready to help. Today we have 15 employees in the store,” he adds.
The company’s dedication to customer service has prompted it to get heavily involved with industry organizations such as the CRA and Lou-Tec, a co-operative group of independently owned rental companies based in Quebec that share resources among stores under one common banner. Ed Williams is one of the founding members of the group which is celebrating its 30th anniversary next year.
|Jay’s father, Ed Williams, encouraged|
his son to become a director for the rental association in Quebec
following a family tradition of helping others in the rental industry.
|Since 1972 Two Mountain Rentals|
has been renting to a customer base of industrial clients, construction
contractors and home owners.
“We joined Lou-Tec out of a desire to better service customers. We have contractors who work all over the province if they call and ask for equipment outside of our service area another Lou-Tec store closer to them can help by sub renting equipment. It allows us to reach out to our customers and service them from great distances,” he says.
Reaching out to help also has its benefits, something Williams’ father learned early in his career and made a point to install that in his son. The company has been a long-time member of its provincial chapter of the CRA, l’Association De Location Du Québec, recognizing the learning opportunities that exist by networking with industry colleagues. “We got involved to meet other rental store owners, to ask their opinions about equipment, see what they do at their stores and pick up what would work for us,” he explains.
Williams became more involved one day after a friendly nudge by his father. “At a local association meeting my Dad volunteered me to be a director. I wasn’t there that day but I found out about it the next morning from people congratulating me for volunteering to be a director,” he says with a chuckle. “Dad said I would broaden my knowledge and gain new perspectives. So I accepted the nomination.”
After only one year serving as a director for his provincial association he became the CRA national director representing Quebec. Williams says he was fast-tracked to a national position because of his ability to speak both French and English fluently, adding that communication is a key element to keeping association members informed and interested.
“Ninety percent of our members are French and do not speak English. Out of a board of 10 to 15 people only two of us speak English. This makes it difficult to work with English speaking members from other provinces,” he says. “My first goal when I became national director was to solidify relationships between Quebec and the rest of Canada to ensure we have a mutual understanding. I wanted to break down the language barrier because rental operators in Quebec want to be a part of this association.”
Instead of viewing this as adding more work to his already busy schedule of operating a rental store, Williams looked upon this as an opportunity to help his own business. “It’s a way to gain more knowledge. Stepping up from a provincial to a national position means more involvement with national directors giving me even more opportunities to learn from other professionals across the country. Being exposed to different people with different ideas is a resource in itself. Locally or nationally everybody benefits and so does your business.”
When the opportunity arose to become CRA president Williams realized this would allow him to pursue his desire for helping and learning on a national platform. He also adds that he was inspired by current president Brad Williams from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The two have much in common. Other than coincidently sharing the same last name, they also share strong communication skills and a colourful sense of humour.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him (Brad). I have complete confidence in him and he inspired me to do this,” he says, adding that he has also been influenced by the strong leadership of Benoit Légaré, president of the provincial association in Quebec. Williams credits him for invoking a strategy of providing information to association members and following that up with concrete action on topics that directly affect their businesses such as regulations, permits and educational programs. The newsletter that the association circulates to its members in Quebec called INFOLOC is an example. The multipage full colour glossy publication is packed with information directly pertinent to members.
As president of the CRA Williams says he has not set lofty goals for himself during his short one year term in office. “I have realistic expectations, if I start something I want to make sure it gets done,” he says. Instead of launching brand new initiatives he says he would rather better utilize the resources that are already there for members.
“We already have a website, we have an insurance program for members, we have educational resources and programs connected to the American Rental Association (ARA), we have regional trade shows and local associations already hold regular meetings with informative guest speakers,” he says, adding that newcomers to the industry often express surprise by the amount of resources available to them. “It’s like having a built-in support group for start ups in the industry,” he adds.
He says these resources exist now and rental operators have full access to them, but because they have been there for a while it is easy to take them for granted until someone points them out.
“The infrastructure is set so my work is already done. I just want to tweak what is already there and help others access the resources the CRA offers. More people will be using these resources by the time my term as president ends,” he says. “I don’t want to re-invent the wheel. The wheel is already there. All I have to do is turn it.”