The Changing Faces of Rental

Feb. 28, 2018
Two women manage Able Equipment Rental’s Edison, N.J., branch. All they did was raise revenue 55 percent in their first year.

When customers enter Able Equipment Rentals’ Edison, N.J., branch, they usually see two women behind the counter and one young man, the rental coordinator.  Often, the predominantly male customers go right to the young man. Depending on the situation he often refers the customer right back to the branch manager, Erica Hackett, or assistant manager, Kristen Nancoo.

Able Equipment Rental has a wide-ranging inventory – a complete offering of aerial equipment, telehandlers and industrial forklifts, earth moving equipment, cranes, lighting, heaters, generators and a variety of specialty machines. Often customers want recommendations of what piece of equipment might be best for a particular or unusual application. Sometimes the customers – primarily men – expect the information to come from a man. Hackett and Nancoo recall times when after they showed a machine to a male customer, he then asked a mechanic or salesman for a man’s opinion. But it turned out the explanation or recommendation coming from one of the women was the right one. They know the equipment, they understand the applications and they provide outstanding customer service.

And the next time that customer visited or called the Edison branch, they specifically asked for Erica or Kristen.

This is not just a feel-good story to promote the concept of equality. Hackett was named branch manager of Able Equipment Rentals’ Edison branch and Nancoo assistant manager in December 2016. How did the branch fare in their first year at the helm? Revenues increased 55 percent. 55.42 percent to be precise. Yes, 2017 was a pretty good year in the equipment rental industry. But not many branches grew revenue 55 percent.

Hackett is quick to point out it takes the effort of many people to improve a branch’s performance. But Mindi Parrott, Able Equipment Rental’s director of human resources says Hackett is being modest.

“The Edison facility has four full-time salesmen, along with a team of shop mechanics, drivers who deliver equipment and full time experienced road mechanics, a total of 19 people,” says Parrott. “All those people rely on these two women for guidance and direction, in many cases, on how their day needs to go. They help manage the process, that’s key here.”

Parrott refers to the decision to promote Hackett and Nancoo “a lay-up decision, a no-brainer. They are so good at customer service, and they are so even-keeled. Anytime I call them, they sound the same. They are never frazzled, they always present the same friendly voice to the customer.  And I think it’s that customer service focus and that service mentality that makes people want to come back and work with them.”

When Hackett tries to give credit to the branch’s sales team, marketing manager Neil Goldstein again says she is being modest. “We have great salesmen but it’s partly because of Erica and Kristen also,” he says. “They are team leaders and motivators.  I know the salesmen; I deal with them a lot. And Erica and Kristen manage in a way that lets them shine.”

Hackett and Nancoo didn’t grow up with the ambition of being in this industry and really knew nothing about it before joining the Able staff. When Hackett graduated from college, she went to work in the food-service industry, where she developed her customer service expertise. When she was looking for a new job, she just happened upon Able Equipment Rental inadvertently, although her brother had worked for the company some years before. She started out in the back office.

“I did general admin and it became a little slow for me and I started asking for more responsibility.  I started doing the work orders for the service department and from there I became the service administrator,” says Hackett. “I worked in rentals and service.  When the branch manager position opened up last year they realized they didn’t need to bring anybody else in. They just moved me up. Able does a pretty good job of promoting people from within.”

“What really prompted us to move her up was during the void when we were looking to replace the manager, she was doing a great job running the office,” says Parrott. “So it just made sense.”

After five years at Able, Hackett became a branch manager and helped grow revenues 55.42 percent, with Nancoo as assistant manager. Not a bad start to a rental career. Along the way, she dedicated herself to learning the equipment and its applications, knowing that as a woman she would have to work especially hard and do everything correctly to succeed. That knowledge, along with a work ethic and customer service capability that was exemplary, and her even-keeled personality, would earn the respect of co-workers and customers alike.

“I just learned from being around,” says Hackett. “Asking questions, reading the specs, a lot of it was being quick on my feet. A lot of it was just dealing with customers and being forced to learn.” Much of the growth at Edison is simply that Hackett and Nancoo are people persons who enjoy taking care of customer problems.

 Hackett acknowledges that customers are sometimes surprised when they walk in the door. “You walk in the door and we are different, it’s a different feel,” says Hackett. “There’s nothing you can do to change it but be on your game 100 percent of the time. I feel that some men will receive something that one of our male co-workers say easier, or they want a second opinion when it comes to something. It’s tough, but I’m very outspoken and assertive and we do a pretty good job of making them feel comfortable that we know what we’re doing and that we’re here for a reason.”

“I’ve experienced first-hand when people come in and I’ll talk to them and they’ll completely ignore me and go straight to the man in the room and I’m like ‘hello! Hi, I’m helping you,’” adds Nancoo. “And when I explain everything well, they’ll walk out like ‘Ok, I guess she knows what she’s talking about!’ But it does feel good to talk to them and show them I know what I’m talking about.”

Hackett would like to see more women and people of color participate in the rental industry.

 “I think a lot of women are not in this industry because it’s not glamorous,” she says. “When I explain to people what I do for a living, they’re like ‘What?’ People have this perception of what the rental or the construction industry is about and I don’t fit into that mold. It feels good to turn around the stereotypes and allow people to see a different face. It is unfortunate that there are not a lot of African Americans in the industry but it will change.”

Nancoo also enjoys defying stereotypical expectations and working with equipment in a male world. Nancoo also got involved in the rental industry pretty much by accident. She had previously worked in retail as a manager at Target, with a strong customer service background. She originally worked at Able in an administrative role and then returned as a rental coordinator before becoming assistant manager at the Edison branch.

Women in the workplace

Women in important roles is not new at Able. The company was founded in 1996 by Steve Laganas and his wife Eliza.  She was head of operations and legal for many years, setting a tone of equality in the workplace. The company has had a zero tolerance policy when it comes to gender discrimination and anything resembling sexual harassment since its inception.

“Sexual harassment is something that is major in society and sometimes males don’t even realize when they are doing it,” says Hackett. “The rental industry and this company aren’t immune to it. But Able protects us; we have a no-tolerance policy. I don’t experience it in the workplace, but you can’t always control how customers view us.

“Able is a growing company, our location is also growing, and we do a good job of operating as though we’re a small family company, so we always feel included and welcome. And Steve has an open door policy. I can call Steve at any time, so if I ever expressed to him that I was uncomfortable about anything, he would be the first one to address it.”

Gender issues aside, Hackett and Nancoo spend their time on the typical tasks involved with running a branch in a large urban area, with Edison located directly across the Hudson River from New York City. They spend time working with the customers, working with people who are in charge of inventory allotment to keep the branch equipped for their needs, coordinating with other branches, coordinating deliveries, service issues, dealing with staffing issues that might arise and basically everything that comes up at a branch.

“My biggest challenge is juggling different hats, because I kind of jump back and forth between managing the people, taking rental calls, ordering the parts, and other things,” says Hackett. “My job is so extensive that it’s hard to juggle from time to time but I like the challenge, it makes the day go by quick.”

“Sometimes customers call and they’re unhappy and we let our work speak for itself,” says Hackett. “If they call in with an equipment issue, we can have a mechanic there within an hour, I think that’s what’s turned a lot of them around and they really appreciate how fast our service department gets to them or how fast we respond and react to their issues.”

The branch deals a lot with customers on the phone but there are walk-ins, especially given the branch’s visibility on the New Jersey turnpike.

Able customers are widely varied in addition to the usual construction jobs and industrial facilities. “Our customers range from fire protection to movie production companies, masons, electric and mechanical contractors, you name it,” says Hackett. “Everybody who needs our equipment.”

And they all receive the same positive treatment.