When owner Bud Taylor took over Rent Masters, Ottawa, Kan., in 1993, he vehemently wanted to weed out the bad customers, implement procedures and see to it that each customer knew they were renting a clean, usable product. Today, he's accomplished all of the above and flourished because of it.
As puzzling as it is to Taylor, Rent Masters had managed to stay in business from the time it opened in 1984. The previous owner's ways of running the shop were hardly comparable to today's. It took about a year of working nearly around the clock to establish a rental store without dishonest customers. He calls these the “rascals” or “flakes” who would have a piece of equipment all day, bring it back, say it didn't work and get their money back because the owner never questioned them. “I've actually had customers who I've asked to leave and have said please don't come back,” Taylor says. “If they're trying to take advantage of me every time they're in here, I don't need the aggravation.”
Another alteration Rent Masters has experienced is ensuring each piece of equipment has been cleaned and checked out before it is ready to be rented again. “I feel sure that when that customer gets out there it's going to start up for them and perform like it should,” Taylor says. “I've stressed service a lot here, service of equipment and to customers as well.”
And if something does happen to the equipment, Taylor and his employees try to walk a person through it over the phone, which Taylor says will sometimes be as simple as telling them to check the fuel. There are times though when something is so wrong it can only be remedied by transporting the equipment back to the shop. “We try hard to get the problem fixed quickly for them, so they can continue to use it,” he says. “It doesn't always work. Sometimes it does. You can't perform miracles. You do the best you can.”
Taylor says the thing he enjoys most about the rental business is meeting people and visiting with them about their problems or projects. Solving homeowners' and small contractors' problems is the majority of his business. Some of the more experienced customers don't need as much attention when it comes to learning about the equipment, but Taylor and his employees spend considerable time educating those who do. “That's important to a customer,” he says. “If you give them all the information you possibly can about the equipment and their job, they appreciate that, and they come back.”
A predominantly agricultural community, Ottawa is about 25 miles south of Lawrence and has a population of 13,000 to 14,000. Taylor's is the only rental store in town and has established a customer base of 5,000. “I don't have much in the way of competition around here locally at all,” he says. “We try to treat our customers right, so they don't go to another town to rent.
“It's kind of a unique situation I have here, and I'm very appreciative of that,” he says. “Because if we had someone in, first thing they're going to do is cut my prices to death, try to get my customers. Then I'm going to have to cut or stay where I'm at and lose customers. Your larger chains such as RSC, United, all of those, they're not interested in a town this small.”
Taylor's situation is even better in that he has not been affected by the economy. He says business has increased each month over last year and the year before. One of the reasons for his success stems from the fact that he understands his clientele and what they can spend. Rental centers in big cities can charge more because that's what the market can afford. His market can't afford the same rates.
Aware of this, Taylor hasn't raised his prices in four years. “I know what the people are willing to pay here without complaining,” he says. “You have to know your people. You have to know your area to be able to judge what you should do or charge for a piece of equipment.”
Taylor knows his customers, and everyone knows Taylor. He's worked to provide an honest business for those who need equipment, even farmers who because of pride of ownership often don't rent. “I know when they're in here they don't have any choice because they're tight with their dollars, and they have to be,” he says. “They're brought up that way from childhood. It's a passed-on deal.”
Someday soon, nearing retirement and looking to sell, Taylor will pass on his deal, hoping his successor will continue what he started.