I Can

I had no money, but I had tons of desire, and worked seven days a week and loved it. About a year later, I had a lease-option on a second store and, a few months after that, I had a third store.

Before you start thinking I had the Midas touch, I did not. The lease-option on the second store was because I had no cash, so I leased the entire store in hopes of making money to put a down payment on it and term out the loan. The third store had been a truck and trailer rental store. The owner had gone bankrupt, but the landlord and I had talked and he had contacted me to see if I wanted to lease the property. I still had no money and had to borrow the first and last months' rent to open this store.

I was still working my butt off! I would schedule my workweek spending X amount of time at each store and then someone would call in sick and everything would be upside down. I was beginning to hate the business I had loved so much. I was putting money in one hand and giving it out with the other.

My third store, to make a long story short, is the one I ended up with.

I sold the first store along with 99 percent of the equipment and was able to get out of the lease on the second store. So there I was at my third and only store, able to dedicate all my time and energy to it; but still, I had no money. I sold the first store for what I had paid for it and still owed about $5,000 on the second store.

While I was running only one store, I had only a few items available to rent, which I had pulled from the first store. I had one pickup truck, about five trailers and not much else. We also rented Ryder trucks. Ryder had an active phone number, so we were busy immediately with trucks. I must say that, without Ryder, I would never have made it. The trucks brought us so much activity that we were really doing great. Our truck customers became equipment customers, and I again fell in love with the business.

The 1980s were great to us. I remember going to my first convention, and I was literally like a kid in a candy store. I spent $25,000 that I didn't have. We would take delivery of equipment, and sometimes, within hours, it would be out on rent. It was truly a miracle that we paid everybody, mostly on 30-60-90 terms.

The 1990s have been quite different. We have had to work harder and pay closer attention to what we buy and when we buy it. It makes me wonder about many things. Am I not as smart as I used to be? Perhaps, but what I wonder even more is: How are all these big companies going to run all these stores? Are they that much smarter than me? Perhaps, but I am not convinced.

At last year's American Rental Association show, I had the privilege of talking with other members at our Region 9 dinner. We talked about our stores and our families. In talking about my family, I realized that, being the youngest of four kids, I hated having people tell me what to do. Many people think the youngest kid gets everything. Not in my family. I got hand-me-downs and everybody was my boss. Is that why I went into business for and by myself? Perhaps.

So what is going to happen to all the store owners who have sold their companies, but have stayed on to work for the new owners? I am too independent to take directions from someone in another state telling me how to run a business that I started from scratch.

While mine is still a small, undercapitalized business, I am free to make my own decisions, right or wrong - and believe me, there have been many wrong decisions - but I do have my finger on the pulse of this business.

When customers come into my store, the chances of them dealing with me or my wife are very good. My 16-year-old son was literally raised here and now he takes care of customers, writes contracts, loads, and tests and maintains equipment.

Will this be his store someday? Probably not, but who knows?

This is an incredibly labor-intensive business and there are problems every day. I am not sure how Home Depot or any other big company can do it and maintain the level of customer service that the general public has come to expect. What are they going to do that is so different from what U-Haul tried to do?

I hope we don't get into rate wars. I have never seen that work before, but I can play that game and I think I can win. I hope the big companies aren't threatened by me because we are very different. If I rented all the stuff I own, they still would hardly notice.

What about you vendors out there? I really appreciate the prices and terms you have given us over the past 17 years. Are you going to focus on just the big rental yards? If so, what is going to happen to you when a company that usually buys hundreds of thousands of items from you gets a better deal from someone else? What if it orders so much and then makes you wait forever to get paid? Do you remember when you started giving rental companies great prices and terms to get your item out to a public that might not have ever heard of you before?

When U-Haul was buying so much, some of our vendors couldn't deliver to us because U-Haul was buying all their product and they didn't have the time to fill our small orders. I remember those vendors, and guess what? U-Haul isn't really buying anymore, but I still am - and I remember having to wait or even change companies. Do I fault you vendors for selling to big companies? No, but don't forget who I am in the process.

At the ARA show, I was amazed to see a pressure washer company with a washer displaying a huge sticker of one of my new competitor's names. No offense, folks, but do you think that is going to make me rush to buy some of those?

Are all of the changes just a phase we are going through? Maybe. Are some people who have sold their stores and carried back the paper regretting it? It is my understanding that some have. I would warn all of you stores out there who are my size to please be careful. Don't give your store away; move cautiously.

Think: What are you going to do if the company defaults? Do you really want to rebuild what someone else screwed up? Are you going to go fishing in your retirement or will you have to do something else to let you live in the manner in which you have become accustomed?

Am I saying that I will never sell? No, but it would take a very large check.

Are you in a community that doesn't want any more rental stores? Then yours is worth more. Is this business a hassle? Yep, sometimes it is a royal pain in the butt. Other times, it is a flat-out blast and you can't think of anything else you would rather do.

When is it the best? When one of your customers says, "I appreciate you being here" or "Wow, you have so much stuff, how do you keep track of it all?" or "You made my job so much easier" or "Your equipment always works great" and on and on. It's our customers who make all this fun. Don't you feel sorry for all the big guys that never get to hear that?

We can all get along, big and small; we just have to do what we know best. I will never own several stores because it's not what I do best. But I have made a very good living out of an undercapitalized business with 10 tons of stuff in a 1-ton box.

I almost sold this store seven or eight years ago. The ball was in my court; all I had to say was yes. I'm glad I didn't. No, it hasn't been easy and I've worked hard, but I have time with my family, my kids are getting a great education both here and at school, and we run our own ship. My employees make above-average wages - better than what the big stores pay - and they have been with me for a long time.

If I want to paint everything pink, I can. If I want to rent left-handed widgets, I can. If I want to change my hours, I can. All those "I cans" is why I am in business. How about you?

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