The President's Plan

Jan. 1, 2002
David Wilcox didn't intend to make a career in the rental business. After graduating from college with a degree in education, Wilcox found that a surplus

David Wilcox didn't intend to make a career in the rental business. After graduating from college with a degree in education, Wilcox found that a surplus of teachers in his area made finding a full-time position difficult. He substituted in the classroom for one year and then began working for relatives in the construction industry. His experience in construction introduced him to the rental industry.

Soon after he began his stint in construction, Wilcox's father, who had made a career working for an agriculture and construction equipment distributor suggested that they open their own business. His dad recommended that they consider opening an equipment rental store. The senior Wilcox's argument was simple. “I have called on farm machinery dealers for 26 years,” he said. “All I did was try to collect money from them.” But when he sold equipment to a rental store, the owner would just pull out a checkbook and pay for the unit on the spot, he explained. To him, that seemed like a lucrative business.

In 1977, the first General Rental Center opened in Frankfort, Ky. Along with himself and his dad, who provided the business expertise; Wilcox's cousin also joined the business and took care of the accounting and bookkeeping tasks. According to Wilcox, he and his wife were the workhorses. By the early 90s, he bought his cousin and his fathers' shares of the business. Then in 1994, he opened another location in Shelbyville.

Throughout his career as an owner in the rental industry, Wilcox has been involved in the American Rental Association and has taken advantage of the membership services it has to offer. As president of ARA Wilcox wants other members of the association to do the same thing.

Wilcox will take over as president of the American Rental Association at the annual convention and trade show, Feb. 18-21, in New Orleans.

RER: What are your primary goals as president of ARA?

Wilcox: I want to keep the continuity in leadership that we've had in the past few years. I admire the past leaders and I hope I can maintain the traditional leadership of ARA. I'd also like to energize and invigorate volunteerism within ARA. I want it to improve. I would like to see some new faces volunteering.

I would also like to see all existing programs that we currently have and any others that are in progress followed through to completion, such as the certification program in party rental, which is about to graduate a few people. That type of education program will continually be modified and improved upon.

I'd also like to improve ARA's “wow” factor. I'm not saying that it's lost that over the years but any entity that's been doing the same thing is going to lose some of its momentum. I would like to get some new members involved who haven't participated, as well as those who have dropped out. Marketing shows members how participation can help their businesses. I would like to reach the point where no rental business would even open its doors without taking advantage of ARA programs and services.

We don't want to knee-jerk react but it is certainly time to do some serious exploring of international markets. By attending trade shows both overseas and in the U.S. we should participate as a guest of their shows. We need to determine a strategy to take to the board to determine whether [the international market] is worth pursuing or not. We need to get all the facts and do research to support the decision to move into international markets.

ARA is a big legislative watchdog, which is a service provided by most associations. Members often take it for granted. I would like to use that membership service as a people pool to get new leaders involved in ARA.

We have an annual caucus, which I have attended every year as an ARA delegate from Kentucky. Through my involvement in that I ran for the board and then became an officer within ARA. We need those types of membership services to foster volunteerism to the next level. These people have clout on Capitol Hill. I would like to see more veterans of the process recruit some new members to become involved.

RER: How will you achieve these goals?

Wilcox: We need to figure out how to energize ARA members. The association needs to continue to improve education and get the word out to members that they need to utilize the programs that are available to them.

ARA is volunteer-driven. I want to get people to understand that if they want to take advantage of the programs then they need to be involved in the process of developing those programs. You only get out what you put in.

A lot of states have a nucleus of people that consistently show up at meetings. We need to see if we can't come up with new methods of getting new faces involved. We need to get the next generation — the young people — to help design programs that they would be interested in.

RER: What do you perceive as your biggest challenge as ARA president?

Wilcox: ARA is in the final stages of developing a long-range plan. We have come to a consensus on the first two phases and we plan to wrap up the third phase at the board meeting in February.

This plan has a lot of flexibility built into it. You can revisit the plan to modify and tweak it any time you choose. This will be a transition year for ARA and it will be my challenge to see that it goes smoothly.

RER: Tell me more about this long-range plan.

Wilcox: It's called knowledge-based governance. Basically, it relies heavily on research and data concerning any issue. We would do a considerable amount of research and data gathering before taking the issue to the committee to get the best solution for ARA.

RER: Is the membership base of ARA where you would like it to be?

Wilcox: We would always like to recruit new members. ARA has got to get the message out and show value in the membership. There's plenty of value there if they would just take advantage of it.

RER: What would you like to see the field representatives accomplish during your term?

Wilcox: Our marketing needs to be more effective. Mailings were going unread. Personal contact gets the message out better. Field reps do need to show up at any local or state meetings and they need to participate and keep people aware of what's going on in ARA and increase the awareness of ARA and ARA services. They should help organize the meetings if they can, but at least let people know there is a meeting. They also need to recruit new members for sure.

RER: What are your thoughts on the economy in the year ahead? How will the recession affect rental business?

Wilcox: I think the recession was already in place to some degree before Sept. 11. In my area of the country the downturn is a result of the rise in energy costs including gasoline prices. For example, if your business serves a lot of do-it-yourself type customers that rely on small contractors or themselves to do some projects, they probably have laid back a little money in reserve for these type of projects. But when their heating bill doubled last year they had to dip into their reserves to make ends meet. And thus, they had to forgo these projects.

Commercial construction will take awhile to see the reflection in that area because big commercial projects are planned so far in advance. If projects get put on hold, it could get worse before it gets better. People are refinancing their homes but not building new ones or getting home equity loans — at least in our area that is the case.

Everybody is in a very cautionary mode. If people begin to feel more comfortable about the terrorism issue they will say, ‘OK, it's time to go back out and party now.’

RER: ARA and RIA are now working together more closely. How is the cooperation working out? What do you envision for the two associations during your term as president?

Wilcox: We are meeting with RIA leadership soon to review the relationship. We will find out what they think about how its working out and of course we will have a comment on how we think it's working out. The agreement is one that shouldn't be a problem to achieve. RIA will be a true ARA state association in a couple years.

We are planning to co-host their event in Las Vegas this year and we are counting on California to really support that show. ARA will do its part to recruit the rest of the country for the event.

ARA will hold only one trade show, a Rental Summit, this year opposite our national show, which is scheduled for Oct. 8-10, in Las Vegas. Instead of having a second show we have developed the concept of ARA assisting state and local associations to sponsor educational events in their areas, built on their priorities and utilizing associate members in the program. We call this program RenTech.

We just recently hosted the first event in New England. It was a school on heating and generators. The idea is to get employees involved in the process. About 75 employees attended the New England session and ARA has budgeted for three of these events per year. They will be offered throughout the country and ARA is hoping to capitalize on its membership program. RIA has talked about hosting a RenTech out there too.

RER: You talked about this issue a little while discussing your goals, but how will you improve ARA's presence internationally? Do you feel that seeking more international membership is necessary?

Wilcox: I feel confident that other countries look upon ARA as the leading rental trade association in the world. Our trade show is the No. 1 rental trade show in the world and we continue to improve upon it as always. We need to explore the opportunities that we have to incorporate their participation. We may be able to put on educational seminars or make RenTech available to another country association in South America or Europe.

The Hire Association in England has agreed to co-host an international reception in New Orleans. They could bring a lot to the table.

RER: Are there any issues I didn't ask about that you would like to address?

Wilcox: I look forward to this coming year. I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve ARA. I hope to make some kind of an impact. I want to keep the association's momentum going in the right direction and continue to improve education, which is one thing that members may see as the best value of membership.

Brandey Smith can be reached at [email protected].