The Duke Company is an equipment rental and contractor supply company based in Rochester, New York. The locally-owned company rents a wide range of construction equipment, industrial equipment, and contractor tools from the world’s best manufacturers.
Aided by very knowledgeable and well-trained employees, The Duke Company has been able to grow steadily since its inception in 2003 while adding new product lines and servicing a larger geographic territory. We spoke with its President and Chief Executive Officer David Terry and Vice President Kevin Holahan to learn more.
Before it became known as the Duke Company, David Terry and a few partners started in a small trailer with a Volvo Construction Equipment Rents, Inc rental franchise. In 2011 David and his partners left the franchise network and changed the name to “The Duke Company.”
“We decided to name the business after my father, Duke Terry. We all feel that he helped us to get up and running. He was very well known in the Rochester area through businesses he owned such as Monroe Tree Service and Lewis Tree Service,” explains David.
The Duke Company provides many services to its clients including renting an extensive selection of construction equipment. It also sells building materials for new construction or renovations. Also, included in Duke’s portfolio are construction-related products: de-icing products and concrete forming systems.
Duke employees are knowledgeable and well-trained in every department of the company. It has a capable workforce, and most employees and managers have twenty to thirty years of experience. These loyal and dedicated employees have a remarkably low turnover rate.
“One of my philosophies is to surround yourself with good people because your company is only as good as your people,” says David. “A lot of the people that we have brought into our outside and inside sales divisions and other divisions throughout the company, we acquired through contacts that are currently working here.”
“It’s about folks that have worked together in the past at other businesses in our industry. They were trying to be a part of our team over the years, and that is the main way we have been able to bring on good people is through a network of individuals that have known each other and worked together.”
Its employee retention also has a lot to do with word of mouth, and the company’s solid reputation in the industry has gone a long way to helping Duke employ talented people through the years. In most cases, Duke has not had to look for new hires; people come to Duke. Most of the new hires are pre-qualified by existing employees. It is a formula that has proven to work.
The Duke Company is now trying to pass the knowledge and experience onto to the next generation of employees. “There are certain positions here that could be taken by younger recruits. They can start from the bottom and work their way up. We have had people start in the warehouse that are currently working as inside salespeople. They have gained knowledge of the product first by working with it and getting an idea of what these products are and what they do,” says David.
That kind of hands-on experience and knowledge inevitably leads to an inside sales position where the employee can continue to learn from co-workers with even more experience. There are a number of people who are in this cycle of advancement. It keeps the quality of work up, and it is a great way to train the next generation of Duke workers.
The Duke Company has locations in Rochester and Ithaca. Rochester is the home base, and the main focus here is on new construction and renovation.
The Rochester Chamber of Commerce produces an annual ranking of the best businesses that it calls the Rochester Top 100. These are measured based on sales revenues over the last three years, numbers of employees and growth. To be recognized, a company has to be privately-owned, headquartered in Rochester and garner at least $1 million in sales per year. Duke has been listed in the Rochester Top 100 for eight out of the last ten years.
There is much competition in Rochester, but Duke has been able to maintain a substantial market share over the years. Kevin speculates that there are around ten to twelve additional rental companies within the Rochester and Monroe County regions along with a number of materials suppliers but that Duke is unique in its ability to offer building materials, concrete forming systems and construction equipment rentals. It is a one-stop-shop approach to supply contractors with the majority of what they need all under one roof.
David emphasizes that safety is the top goal, with customer service as a close second. “Treat people like you want to be treated. We strive to be the friendliest rental store in the market. Treating people as you want to be treated goes a long way with customers, as well as our employees. Maintaining relationships with your customers equates to repeat business,” says Kevin.
One of the primary goals for Duke is to expand the business and provide jobs, as Kevin tells me. The current plan is to open a few new locations, increase operations and acquire new customers maintain the current customer base, enhance relationships with existing customers and acquire new ones. The expansion through new locations has been in the works for some time since some of Duke’s deliveries are to customers over an hour away.
“We know areas where our customers are working, and we would like to have a brick and mortar presence in some of these markets. We are currently making deliveries that are from one hour to two hours away. It would allow us to better service that territory. The hope is to open two to five new locations within the next two to three years,” explains David.