By Jack Kohane
When the new owners of Georgina Rent-All purchased this long-standing business with the intent to take it to the next level as quickly as possible, they were impressed with how accepting the area rental community was.
By Jack Kohane
“Everybody has been great to us,” smiles Matthew Parlette, who co-owns the 1,200-square-foot shop with its accompanying small engine repair bay, together with his wife Candace. “The rental operators here have a lot of experience and business savvy and don’t mind sharing it with us new kids on the block.” That extends to referring customers to each other if one of them doesn’t stock an item. Though they’re newcomers to rental service, the Parlettes admit that gaining increased market share would be a far tougher road if not for the expert resources they have at their disposal.
Even citing location as a prerequisite for any thriving business, Georgina Rent-All has always defied the odds. Embraced by rolling hills of sweet corn and acres of wild blueberries on the rural outskirts of Keswick, a growing community of produce and poultry farms as well as commuters bound for Toronto, an hour south on Highway 404, this might not seem the ideal spot for a rental service shop. But what spurred the Parlettes to take a chance on buying Georgina Rent-All from its retiring owner was that they recognized this operation had a solid sales record since opening in 2005, servicing a burgeoning customer base of commercial accounts and affluent DIYers, providing small, medium and large equipment for a range of projects. Prior to that, the building (built in the late 1950s), complete with service bays, achieved something of iconic status among the locals as one of the few nearby auto repair shops. The potential, as the Parlettes saw it, was apparent. They took the plunge to independent entrepreneurship in early 2018.
“The building has been here since this area was called cottage country,” smiles Candace, adding that this area has changed by leaps and bounds over the years. Much of that is due to Keswick’s close proximity to Toronto, as well as to the million-dollar, year-round cottages hugging the southern tip shoreline of Lake Simcoe, the province’s fourth-largest lake. Where there were once hunting and bait shops, today there are strip plazas, Walmarts and upscale subdivisions. The town of Georgina’s bedroom population is on the rise too, with a five-per cent increase since 2011 (currently about 45,000 inhabitants) according to the latest census. That bodes well for the continuing fortunes of Georgina and its rental service businesses. “We’re set to capture more of this growing market,” nods Candace, who originally hails from Illinois and then came to Toronto in 1996.
Courage and a can-do gumption have long been the hallmarks of Georgina. Sited kitty-corner from the Parlette’s shop are the armoured tanks and cannons on display at the Georgina Military Museum, as well as the close-by log houses of the Georgina Pioneer Village commemorating its first settlers.
Striking out for the couple as they settled into their roles as retailers also meant striking up relationships with others in the know. “We picked their brains for information about running a business and we got plenty of support in return,” enthuses 40-something Matt. The couple now divides their time between their three young kids at home and working the customers at the shop. Matt retains his demanding day job as a firefighter – he’s a 25-year veteran of Toronto Fire Services. He also helps out doing machinery repairs alongside their thick-bearded mechanic maven, Bob Davis.
To kick-start their learning curve, the Parlettes reached out to Bradford Rental. They proved very forthcoming with tips on running a tight rental ship and with product information. As smart networkers, the Parlettes leaned on and learned from, Dan and Gary Porter, owners of Bradford Rental Sales and Service (founded 1975), located 30-minutes southwest of Georgina. “You can’t buy their level of know-how,” muses Matt.
Asked why they offer their expertise on successful retailing to raw start-ups who might wrench market share away, Dan replies: “The bottom line is that we’re all in this game together. It’s mutually beneficial for everyone if we strive for unity. That’s our strength. And who knows, maybe I’ll need help from someone, someday. I trust they’ll be there for me too.”
Richard English, owner of nearby Black River Rental, understands what the Parlettes are going through as start-ups. “I opened my doors in Keswick six years ago, so I’m a fairly new company too,” he says in a phone interview. “When I started out, I needed assistance too from people in the industry. They gave me gems of wisdom gained over years to help us along. And they gave us a break on mark-ups on tools and equipment we ordered from them. Hey, we’re all working together to service our community.”
In addition to working their supplier network hard to re-establish those key relationships, some of which had waned over former times, the Parlettes sought out financial counsel. They took their business case to the South Lake Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC), a federally-funded, not-for-profit, community-based initiative that provides business loans to new start-ups and existing businesses.
Candace proudly wears her new Rent-All t-shirt emblazoned with the snazzy logo and the words: How May I Help You? “Our team members will be wearing these shirts and we’re planning to offer these tees and baseball caps for sale to customers and as giveaways for upcoming community events and in-store promotions. We’re also involved in the local Welcome Wagon initiative that will introduce us to new residents to Keswick. It’s our goal to keep us top-of-mind to customers for their rental needs.”
As part of their business outreach to the community, the Parlettes are sponsoring internships in the small engine repair programs and courses provided at Toronto-based Centennial College of Applied Arts and Technology and Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., and the Georgina Trades Training school. It’s their way of giving something back, and to help promote the trades to young people.
Using local Welcome Wagon initiatives to introduce Georgina Rent-All to new Keswick residents’ social media is another first for the Parlettes as they seek innovative ways to get their message out to new and existing customers. Recognizing the importance of getting a presence on the internet, they’ve crafted a new corporate website. It’s the company’s first foray on the internet and spotlights information about the Rent-All shop’s history, location, contact details, owners’ bios, sales events of used and new equipment, supplier lists and their roster of services. Hitting the cyberspace ground running, the Parlettes have widening footprints on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “We’re writing educational blogs about how to use our rental lines and to announce local events and community news,” says Candace. They’re also getting into party rentals, including tables, chairs and tents. ”We’re exploring all avenues,” she adds.
But no exploration is needed to predict the weather. A cold Canadian winter is a sure bet for years to come. Banking on a long and frigid ice-fishing season, one that’s sure to lure enthusiasts from far and wide to snag buckets of Lake Simcoe trout, whitefish, perch and pike, Georgina Rent-All is offering the SnowDog line of utility task machines. “We’re an outdoorsy community here. These machines get folks into the wild, over ice, snow and woods to get where they’re going. It’s a new line for us, but we’ll try it out starting in the fall.” It shouldn’t be a long wait for the icy grip to set in and the fish to bite.
“There’s a lot of stresses for people starting out in business, even one with a good track record like ours,” notes Matt. “But we’ve had a lot of help and input from those who understand where we are coming from and where we want to be. We’re very thankful.” With this kind of industry support, Georgina Rent-All looks to be around for a long time to come.