As far as construction tool and equipment rental companies go, you cannot get much better than Stephenson’s. The one-stop-shop for all rental needs has a stellar culture of customer service. Construction in Focus spoke with its President and CEO Guy Manuel.
Stephenson’s began in 1954 when Elgin Stephenson had a single equipment rental location in Welland, Ontario, and it has been proudly Canadian for over sixty years. Recently the company announced a change in ownership that allows Stephenson’s to remain a Canadian company and make additional investments to broaden its reach and support even more Canadian customers.
“It’s hard to imagine now, but from our humble beginnings through to the early nineties, we did not have an outside sales team. We relied on word-of-mouth to promote our brand. The Stephenson’s brand has always been very well known among the construction industry and homeowners alike, for excellence primarily in small tools and general equipment rentals,” says Guy.
Since the nineties, the company has had substantial periods of expansion, both organically and through acquisitions. According to Guy, the competition has made Stephenson’s into a better company in the long run, and the 2008 recession, while challenging, did not stop this rental services company from continuing its successful expansion.
Today, its network extends across Ontario from London to Ottawa, north to Barrie and into Alberta, with locations in Calgary and Edmonton. In 2014, it entered a partnership with Lowe’s Canada and has since opened sixteen locations inside this big box store.
“While expanding into the Calgary and Edmonton markets, we continue to invest heavily in equipment, personnel, and technology to support our overall expansion as we continue to experience significant growth in Ontario,” says Guy.
Stephenson’s prides itself on being a truly full-service construction tool and equipment rental provider. The shopping experience is aided by safety and product training and customer tool repair services. Its customers are a who’s who of Canada’s largest construction companies.
There are three things for which Stephenson’s is known amongst its clients. Firstly, it offers the widest selection of small tools and accessories available in Canada. Its size and scale provide customers with a more cost-effective alternative to owning small tools. It is the only rental company in Canada that operates a system in which every store – and by extension, every customer – has access to its entire selection of equipment, regardless of location.
The second area of specialty is its unique distribution network. Customers must have access to equipment when they need it, so Stephenson’s built a hub and spoke style network.
“Our shared fleet model gives customers – regardless of their physical location – access to the company’s entire fleet. This is unique in our industry and made possible by its state-of-the-art operations support centre and a centrally monitored delivery and dispatch system,” says Guy.
Add to this the fact that Stephenson’s has the longest open hours in the industry. Since its partnership with Lowe’s, Stephenson’s has extended weekday hours to be open from 6 am to 10 pm, Saturday hours from 7 am to 9 pm and on Sunday from 8 am to 8 pm.
Thirdly, there are the specialty divisions, which include heating solutions and climate control. This has been made possible through massive investment in equipment, personnel, facilities and technological innovations. Stephenson’s now has the largest fleet of heaters in Canada.
Stephenson’s has grown from twenty-two to thirty-eight locations in the last two years, nearly doubling its network. The expansion has seen the company aggressively enter the retail space by partnering with Lowe’s as well as expanding its core business network.
“After we solidified our partnership with Lowe’s and conducted a trial location in a test market, we began planning for expansion inside of Lowe’s retail outlets. The lessons we learned were put to use by developing a winning store layout which included the product mix, branding package, and overall retail business model,” says Guy.
The relationship with Lowe’s is one of a kind, and the partnership came together because of the strong strategic alignment of both parties. Stephenson’s dominance with traditional job site customers over the past few decades has been noteworthy. That relationship has helped the company to expand current connectivity with local homeowners, small trades, and businesses in the communities it serves. The Lowe’s relationship made sense for Stephenson’s.
The latest initiative in its partnership with Lowe’s is participation in Lowe’s Contractor Rewards Program. The new program is designed to build loyalty with Lowe’s non-credit customers, and Stephenson’s is proud to be a part of it by offering special rental incentives to this important customer segment.
Stephenson’s has the only shared fleet model for equipment and tools in Canada. This was accomplished to maximize the use of the entire fleet while providing tremendous benefits to customers. “Ultimately, it means that our customers have access to a substantially larger fleet of equipment than if they were doing business with one of our competitor’s single store model,” says Guy.
The shared fleet model enables the sales team to take an order without hesitation knowing that wherever the last available piece of equipment is in its network, the centralized fulfilment and delivery teams will make the delivery happen on time. It can offer this convenience due to its robust fleet management system that makes equipment transfers both seamless for customers and cost-efficient for Stephenson’s.
Stephenson’s has been in the construction heating industry for eighteen years and has the single largest inventory of construction heaters in Canada. At its modern testing facility in the Greater Toronto Area, licensed technicians maintain a stock of heaters with a total capacity of over four billion British Thermal Units (BTUs). To put that in perspective, four billion BTU can heat over 100,000 homes.
“Every year we invest millions into heating equipment, and due to our long-term reputation in this niche market, the demand from customers continues to grow. Hundreds of construction companies trust Stephenson’s heating solutions for their heat and climate control needs twelve months of the year,” says Guy.
Recently, large investments have been made in the climate control sector bringing on a full line up of one-ton through sixty-ton air conditioners, small- and large-scale dehumidification including desiccant products and an array of ventilation and fan systems. The ultimate goal is to extend the market leader position that Stephenson’s enjoys in the construction heat market to the climate control category.
The FLEX small tool subscription program has been relaunched with even more flexible options. Customers can subscribe to receive a number of small tools over a set period of time and can make tool exchanges for different types of equipment during their subscription for one fixed price. They have access to Stephenson’s entire menu of small tools and accessories, on demand, throughout their projects, at one flat rate, without the risk of late fees or add on expenses.
What makes this program more compelling now, is that Stephenson’s offers shorter subscription lengths, including four-month FLEX, longer project length six-month FLEX options and even longer seasonal programs with twelve-month FLEX options.
Stephenson’s marketing uses an outside and inside sales team and online presence that take advantage of its strong brand recognition and the value offered through its thirty-eight stores. Its highly-skilled sales professionals take a team sell approach which is unique in the market.
“As a team, they connect with customers on every one of their job sites and at the office level, with support through a single point of contact in our centralized order fulfillment department we call the ProDesk. These multiple touch points ensure we align with our customers changing needs in the field, in the office, and beyond,” says Guy.
Stephenson’s is also engaged in marketing activities at a grassroots, companywide and digital level. A new chapter for how Stephenson’s markets itself includes testing of a mobile application called Stephenson’s Connect. Many of its customers operate from job sites and vehicles, and the app allows busy customers to submit rental and pick up requests at their convenience.
“Stephenson’s Connect will streamline the quote request process for existing and new account customers, by providing more digital tools to rent equipment, manage their rentals and trigger requests for support,” says Guy.
Customer service is taken very seriously. In sixty years, the company has learned an incredible amount about its customers and itself. The ‘Stephenson’s Customer Service Commitments,’ are guiding principles that appear on the walls of every location.
“We keep our customers and build deep relationships with them because they appreciate that every rental and service provided by us is supported by genuine, long-tenured expert staff who are committed to help their business succeed. Our team of employees really are exceptional,” says Guy.