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Rentals from the Heart

Jeff Wearing has a simple answer for those pondering the viability of independent rental centers.

"Paint sprayers."

Excuse me?

Mid-size rental companies serving the contractor and homeowner markets - including Wearing's four-location Ready Rent-All - are being squeezed on one end by rate-slashing rental giants and on the other by rental departments at do-it-yourself warehouses, and Wearing wants to talk paint sprayers?

"It is an item that requires a lot of service, and a lot of training to be able to learn how to service it," Wearing says. "If an airless sprayer comes back and is not thoroughly cleaned and maintained, the next customer is definitely going to have a problem, whether it's a clogged filter or a pump with no oil in it.

"A backhoe can be rented out one day, and brought back the next and rented out again with very little maintenance compared to an airless sprayer."

Airless sprayers, therefore, are an example of an inexpensive but high-maintenance rental item that neither big rental companies nor big-box rental departments have an inclination to hassle with.

The wide-ranging rental inventory of Wearing's Ready Rent-All in suburban Decatur, Ga., is full of such examples. From compressors to moving trucks to work platforms to a full array of party rental items, Ready Rental-All and affiliated companies AAA Truck Rentals and RSVP Party Rentals can accommodate most any rental need.

"We feel that versatility gives us an advantage that a lot of companies just don't have," Wearing says. "Being diversified has given us an opportunity to be successful. There isn't much in this world you can't rent, as long as you are willing to make the effort."

There is no question about Wearing's dedication to that effort. His passion for the industry is a refreshing change from what has become, at least in part, an industry of emotionless suits uttering rehearsed sound bites.

A longtime American Rental Association member, Wearing is relishing the opportunity to help the industry as a member of its new education committee. "Training is a vital part of this industry's future," he says. "We don't have a school like there are journalism schools and medical schools. We have nothing to provide for the future of our business other than the school of hard knocks."

And while his degree from the school of hard knocks has served him well, he knows that independents will need more ammunition to compete in the future. The fight for business, according to Wearing, is brutal of late.

In addition to the big companies that blanketed the Atlanta area to get a piece of the building boom before the 1996 Summer Olympics, Wearing is on the front lines of the rental battles against the deep pockets of The Home Depot.

Home Depot opened literally around the block from Ready Rent-All four years ago, and began renting equipment in the past year. According to Wearing, the giant neighbor has provided more business than it has taken away.

"We try to keep a good rapport with them so that we get their overflow," Wearing says. "Because they don't have the knowledge and ability to train their people properly, they send customers to us when they don't have the equipment or don't know what to tell a customer. I'm not saying they might not be a foe later on, but I don't think about them that way."

That approach is not surprising. It is part of a basic business philosophy that Wearing has followed for the last 30 years: Always remain upbeat and flexible.

"The competition is getting fierce," he says, "but my philosophy is that there will always be a niche for the independent entrepreneur in this business. As far as my success is concerned, I have to remain flexible. That's the key, because when things get tough, you have to be able to adapt."

With the two equipment rental locations and the separate truck and party rental businesses providing more than $5 million combined in annual revenue, consolidators have expressed interest in buying Ready Rent-All. Jeff Wearing has not as yet returned the interest.

"If I wanted to retire and live on a farm, hey, I could do it tomorrow," he says with his typical gusto. "The amount of money that some rental center owners were offered was too much to say no to. When you are talking about 10 times earnings, that's something you have to look at. But I am still enjoying what I am doing, and I still have the passion for the business."

Decatur, Ga. Owner: Jeff Wearing.

Founded: 1969.

Locations: Four.

Employees: About 45.

Annual revenue: About $5 million.

Customer breakdown: Contractor, industrial, homeowner, party.

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