Most people fantasize about winning the lottery. They love to imagine how many of their problems could be solved if they suddenly won $5 million or $10 million or $50 million.
For people who live in a house that needs fixing up, the next best fantasy is the popular television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. People make an application to the show and then, if picked as a finalist, they wait for a determined morning and suddenly there comes a knock at the door letting them know they've been selected. They are moved out of their house for a week, their belongings put into storage, they are sent on an all-expenses-paid vacation and when they come home, they have a brand new house.
The Emmy award-winning show, hosted by Ty Pennington and aired on ABC, is hugely popular. Viewers are touched by the change brought to the lives of deserving, yet less fortunate people, and are awed by the amazing sight of a brand new home constructed in seven days. But a lot goes on behind the scenes for this feat to take place, and left unseen is the massive logistical contribution of the world's largest equipment rental company, Greenwich, Conn.-based United Rentals.
RER was given inside access to an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition build that aired on December 5, and observed the preparations for the filming as the show's crew prepared to build a home in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, Ohio.
United Rentals prepared about 65 pieces of equipment for use in construction of the home. The build was being carried out by a United Rentals national account customer, Marous Brothers Construction.
Locally based in Willoughby, Ohio, Marous Brothers had already worked with United Rentals on other projects. They had a strong confidence and comfort level in the reliability and performance of United Rentals, which has several branches in the Cleveland area. Marous Brothers vice president Ken Marous met with United Rentals national accounts manager Brian Stanley to go over the needs of the job well in advance, and Stanley coordinated with local branch managers — John Clark of the general rental branch based in Cleveland; Joe Pannitto of the aerial branch in nearby Independence, Ohio; and Paul Sustersic of the power and HVAC branch in North Olmsted, Ohio.
Spirits were high with everybody connected with the project, and even the most minimal contact with the Anderson family, the beneficiary of the new home, made people excited to be part of the build. The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition staff selects people who are not only in economic need, but also are positive role models who contribute to their communities, and in choosing the Anderson family, they hit the target.
Andre and Jasmine Anderson are both legally blind, yet run a center for people with disabilities, called the Disability Awareness Center. Run out of the Anderson home, the center does presentations at schools and businesses about the lives of people with disabilities. Jaison, one of their two sons, is deaf. The Andersons' home was literally falling apart and had a damp basement, crumbling porch, a roof with missing parts, broken windows, loose and exposed wiring, holes in the floor and cracked, uneven pavement. The Andersons were not only incapable of doing the repairs themselves because of their vision disabilities — which also complicated their ability to hire and supervise others to do the work for them — but on a very limited income, were not in a financial position to get the repairs done.
Andre Anderson completely lost his sight because of diabetic retinopathy. Jasmine is progressively losing hers to the same illness.
The newly built home, more than twice the size of the Anderson's original 50-year-old, 1,200-square-foot home, contains a number of technologies designed for people with disabilities such as the Andersons'. During the build, the Andersons enjoyed a vacation at the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, Colo., a resort that specializes in improving the quality of life for people with disabilities through outdoor adventure activities.
With the assistance of more than a dozen subcontractors, and 1,500 volunteers — more than 100 from United Rentals and the Marous Brothers business, who donated their own time to help out — the Marous Brothers were charged with building the house in a matter of days. Originally scheduled for 109 hours, the project was completed in an incredible 95 hours. The Marous staff pre-fabbed some of the walls and frames and had them prepared in advance of the build.
“It was a great experience with our people and all of the volunteers, watching them come together as a team for one cause,” Marous Brothers vice president Ken Marous told RER. “We had a lot of Type-A personalities, but they checked their personalities at the door.”
Having worked together before simplified the process for United Rentals and Marous Brothers when it came to determining the equipment list. “United Rentals is experienced in these builds, so they gave us an initial list of equipment and we went through that list and tweaked it a bit and tailored it to the needs of the build,” said Marous.
“We met with the builder several times and went over our equipment list and finalized it with them, and then between Joe, Paul and I, we determined who would provide what,” United Rentals' Clark told RER. “We set up the trucking and worked around our other deliveries because the rest of business doesn't stop. We slotted the whole period and got it all out here to the site.”
The equipment, delivered on a United Rentals convoy, included aerial work platforms up to 40- and 60-foot booms, light towers, utility vehicles, skid-steer loaders, backhoes, mini-excavators, air compressors, reach forklifts, generators and more. United Rentals' Stanley oversaw much of the project. Marketing specialist Richard Carolan was on site as well, serving as liaison between Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and United Rentals. Carolan determines the branches best situated for each build, and then coordinates with branch and district managers and national accounts reps from the company's headquarters.
To the Marous brothers, the project was part of a philosophical commitment to keep in mind those less fortunate and give back to the community that has supported their business.
“That's the way we were raised, to give back to the community,” Ken Marous told RER. “We stayed in touch with the Anderson family after the build. We brought them all over to the office; we went to their house on Halloween and were giving out candy. We raised $70,000 for their mortgage and other costs, we raised money for a $50,000 maintenance program, and provided a lifetime financial management program from Merrill Lynch. We wanted to try to change the community, not just build a house.”
Before the build, United Rentals provided equipment for a community rally held by the Marous brothers, during which they recruited the services of subcontractors and artisans that supported the project. Funds were raised to support the supply of 5,000 meals that needed to be provided during the build, and contributions toward the cost of building materials and various other expenses that arose during the construction process.
In total, United Rentals had about 45 people involved in preparation for the project as well as ongoing service to the jobsite during the build. The company was on call 24 hours a day in case of need.
“In many ways, the service is more important than the equipment,” said Stanley. “The big thing for the contractor is that they have our support no matter what. If something goes down they have to know that they're taken care of, because their building time is so short.”
United Rentals had people on site around the clock in Maple Heights, volunteers as well as employees assigned to shifts such as 8 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 4 a.m. Each branch had employees volunteer to work on their off time — many from branches in the immediate vicinity, but also quite a few from surrounding towns, providing a large base of expert help to draw from in case of need.
The company's large footprint is seen as an advantage by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and its senior producer Diane Korman, who noted, “Over four years and more than 4,500 pieces of equipment, United Rentals has come through for us every time, despite the challenges of weather, timing and logistics.”
“Maple Heights was a fantastic effort by everybody, everything went really well,” said Paul Sustersic, North Olmstead branch manager. “We had quite a few volunteers every day, even on Saturday morning. The equipment ran great, and we actually helped out with some issues with some other vendors. For example, a subcontractor had one of his own generators fail and we helped out. We got a generator there right away, even though it was after hours. We were able to pull theirs off, put ours in there, and keep them up and running while they were drying out the inside of the house. There was great collective support between our branches.”
Quite a few of the United Rentals volunteers helped out operating machines, although given the company's training programs there were more qualified operators than machines to be operated. “Basically our people signed in and were told what to do and where to go,” said Sustersic. “There was a lot of labor, moving things back and forth, supplying materials for the specialists doing certain parts of the house. Bringing concrete over, bringing brick over, you name it, everybody did what they had to do, whatever was asked of them.”
With thousands of people on the project and an intense schedule, a lot could have gone wrong. Tired equipment was quickly replaced by United Rentals, including that subcontractor's generator that broke down in the middle of the night. But not much did go wrong — in fact it pretty much all went right. United Rentals provided the required equipment and support, the house was built in faster-than-expected time, and a lot of people felt the satisfaction of doing something that helped a deserving family begin a new life. It was indeed an extreme makeover.