A Pump, a Heater and a Drill

Most boys of 18 are thinking of parties, cars and girls. Maybe they're thinking of college or sports. When Wayne Mosley was 18, he was starting his own rental company.

At the time, his father owned a mechanical contracting business and the union allowed its members to have only one family member in the business. One of his older brothers was working the trade when Mosley was ready, so his brother moved into the office and started learning to bid so that Wayne could learn the trade. Mosley worked the mechanical contracting trade until he was 18, and then he had to make room for his younger brother.

"There was nowhere else for me to go," Mosley says, "so we took a pump and a heater and a drill and thought we'd get into the rental business. The first year, we didn't even get into the phone book. We had no equipment whatsoever, and we had a tiny showroom. If we made $100, we'd go out and spend it on equipment. I bought a compressor and a Bobcat. We still had the heater, the pump and the drill, and that's how we got started."

Mosley says "we" because he borrowed a few pieces of his father's equipment, but in reality, he himself started the business from scratch when he was barely old enough to shave.

"I went out and made calls," Mosley says. "There were days when nobody showed up and nobody called, nothing. It was 1977 and in the beginning of the '80s was a downturn and I went back to working the trade. The doors were locked, there was a sign on the door, and my brother would come out of the [contracting] office and write a contract if anybody wanted anything. I'd come in at 3 in the afternoon and open up and then work all weekend. I don't think anybody could start a rental business like that today. You'd starve to death."

Amazingly, Wayne Mosley's business, Central Tool Rentals, took off, and many of his original customers who rented from him when he had fewer than a dozen pieces of equipment still rent from him. "If they had a need, they'd ask me and I'd try to get it for them," Mosley says. "They stayed with us."

Mosley built customer loyalty by his personal attention and, while his business has grown to where he's about the average size of Cincinnati rental centers, his attitude toward his customers hasn't changed. "I like talking to my customers at the counter," Mosley says. "You hear them talk about going into the big houses and saying, 'It took us a half-hour and the guy talked to me like I was nothing.' But I like the rapport with the customer; I like going one-on-one with the guy. I'm sure I could double the size of this business, but would I have the same rapport with my customers?"

In addition to maintaining the personal contact, which Mosley sees as the key to his business, he avoids being leveraged. "I like it right where I'm at with no money borrowed," he says. "If times got tough, to have all that money borrowed from the bank? If there's a downturn, I'm in fantastic shape.

"We started this thing with nothing. I couldn't borrow money. Imagine how the banks would look at some kid who couldn't even get into the phone book! I made it without borrowing, except a little bit here or there. I sleep well at night and have no problems being exactly where I'm at right now."

While many small independents owe their success to specialization, Mosley's niche is his lack of them. "I try to stay out of that niche market where you load up on certain items," he says. "I like to think we've got a bit of everything, or two or three of everything. You've got companies in town that specialize in air compressors, in welders, in high reach. I don't try to compete against somebody that has 100 of something we've got only two of."

While Central Tool is clearly a general rental company, it does have certain strengths. A Stihl distributor, the company has done well representing that chain saw line. It also does plenty of skid-steer loader rentals, and a lot of air compressor, mini-excavator and small backhoe business for a clientele that is about 75 percent contractor and 25 percent homeowner.

Mosley's hesitancy to attempt expansion, in addition to his enjoyment of the personal contact with customers, also stems from his difficulty in finding quality personnel. "I've got my younger brother Dean working for me, and if it wasn't for him, I don't know what I'd do," he says. "Before I found him, it was tough to find managers so I could leave the place and not be here 60 hours a week. I was always concerned that the place was going to fall apart or they would do something wrong and get somebody killed."

That's the challenge of running a small business that demands hands-on attention. But Mosley also has a personal satisfaction and connection to his customers that is the core of Central Tool's strength. And not everybody who owns a business can say what Mosley says: "I really enjoy this business every day. Immensely."

Owner: Wayne Mosley

Founded: 1977.

Locations: One.

Employees: Eight.

Annual revenue: Estimated at $75,000.

Customer breakdown: About 75

TAGS: Ar Mag
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