You have heard the cliché about the kind soul who would happily give you the shirt off their back. What about the accommodating Vice President of a rental equipment company who gave away his desk to fulfill a customer’s order?
Blake Menning was the Vice President in question, and he works at All Choice Rentals (ACR), a booming equipment rental house that is approaching its tenth anniversary this June with three locations in Alberta, Canada. The company offers aerial equipment, earth moving and compaction equipment, trailers, pumps and hoses, lighting equipment, power generation equipment, waste management and portable toilet services, and more.
But about that desk rental?
“We had a customer a while back who was looking for four sixty-foot office trailers – with an office room package. In that package, they needed four desks and four rolling chairs. Knowing that we only had three desks available, and the trucking company was on its way, I walked back to my office and said, ‘How am I going to make this work?’ I’m sitting at a desk. We wanted to make sure the customer was taken care of, so I loaded up my desk and put it in that office trailer, and I went without a desk personally for three months,” he explains.
This story exemplifies its commitment to customer service, something that helps the company stand out from other firms in the rental equipment business.
ACR primarily served the oil and gas sector during the first years of its existence. However, wildly fluctuating oil prices convinced the company to expand its inventory and customer base.
“If you looked at ACR as a company five years ago, you would say we’re very much into oil and gas – strictly a power generation company. Fast-forward to today, you would say yes, we are an oil and gas rental house, but we also provide rentals to other industries such as construction,” states Menning.
Skid steers and excavators are some of the most popular rental items it provides. The company has also “really ramped up our aerial fleet. Five years ago, we had less than a dozen [aerial] pieces. Today we have closer to sixty pieces, including scissor lifts, boom lifts, and telehandlers,” he says.
All Choice Rentals has branches in Drayton Valley, Rocky Mountain House, and Hinton, Alberta and is eager to launch new locations. “Our Rocky Mountain and Hinton branches are smaller in terms of personnel. Drayton Valley is our headquarters. Our administration, safety personnel, and accounting staff all work out of Drayton Valley,” notes Menning.
The three existing branches are located within two hours’ drive of each other, which means they can ship the equipment back and forth easily depending on customer need. By pooling equipment in this fashion, ACR can take on jobs that might have otherwise gone to national rental companies.
The location of its branches is no accident. “We try and distance ourselves from larger markets like the major cities. We try and find a market that’s under-serviced, that has some potential, but is geographically distant from a major center, so we’re not constantly competing with the nationals on price,” he explains.
Interestingly, the company’s clients are not all Alberta-based. It has several customers from nearby British Columbia and Saskatchewan and works with American companies coming into Canada for various projects.
All Choice Rentals employs twenty-six people at present, up from seventeen workers a couple of years ago.
“We try to find guys who are go-getters – who aren’t afraid to go the extra mile and are willing do a service call or deliver a piece of equipment on Christmas Eve at five p.m. For example, we don’t want groupthink. We want people who challenge us and say, ‘Hey, you can do things differently here.’ That only helps us become more efficient as a company,” says Menning.
He offers an anecdote to back up his point. “We had a customer at Christmastime who needed to unload a trailer. They had a bunch of steel coming to their job site. It had rained the previous night, and it was sheer ice everywhere. They were looking for a set of tire chains, but the tire chains the telehandler required were an oddball size. They called everywhere and couldn’t find a set, so they called ACR,” he says.
“Sure enough, we tracked down a set of tire chains in Calgary approximately three hours away. We picked the chains up after hours, drove to the customer’s job site at three in the morning, and installed the tire chains so the client could unload his truck that morning.”
The quantity and quality of ACR’s equipment is one way the company stands out from the pack. Most of the gear it rents out is less than three years old. Customer service that goes above-and-beyond is the real differentiator, however. “ACR is not a low-cost provider. We’re not the cheapest rental company in the industry. I make it clear to our customers right off the bat, that’s not us. A lot of people say it, but we really do offer an elite level of customer service,” he states.
“We have a peace-of-mind rental guarantee,” he continues. “That states that all equipment will be in operating condition at the time of leaving ACR property. ACR will deliver that equipment within sixty minutes of the quoted delivery time. We will repair or replace any inoperable equipment within twenty-four hours. If we do not have a particular piece of equipment, we will do our best to provide an alternative solution or try and find that particular piece for the customer. If any of these options are not met, we will provide a free day’s rental or no charge on delivery to that customer.”
A spirit of innovation is also central to its customer-oriented focus. The company has even developed its own equipment to help clients. Together with another firm, it once took an old boom lift and equipped it with an engineered mount and LED lights that could be powered by a portable generator. The result was a stadium lighting solution that saved energy and was far more manoeuvrable than the existing lights the client was using.
Such innovation and dedication have not gone unnoticed. The company has earned a slew of industry honours, including the Canadian Rental Association (CRA) President’s Image Award and Alberta Rental Store of the Year Award, both for 2017. Recently, Menning earned the CRA’s 2018 Rental Person of the Year Award, which was handed out at the American Rental Association trade show in Anaheim, California February 18, 2019.
All Choice also picked up a Drayton Valley Mayor’s Gala and Community Recognition Award in Business Achievement in 2018. According to draytonvalley.ca, the award acknowledged ACR’s customer service and community engagement. “We recognize that in order to be successful in the communities we serve, we need to give back. In the last ten years, we have donated over $200,000 to various charities and local events,” he explains.
The company has provided support and funds for initiatives such as Kiss the Community, a project to raise money for the Drayton Valley Community Foundation; Humans Helping Humans, who build sustainable housing for local residents in need; Healing Hands, who provide children with coloring books in local hospitals; and many others.
Its proactive approach to promotion has an online focus. “I’m really active on social media. I manage our Facebook and LinkedIn page. We’re trying to have a good online presence,” says Menning. The company has strong ratings on Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook and has “optimized our website for search engine optimization (SEO),” he continues.
Climate change is proving something of a challenge. Original equipment manufacturers are more attuned to fuel savings, emissions reductions, and an overall environmental mindset than they were in years past. This can mean pricier gear.
“The equipment is becoming more expensive. Equipment three years ago – that didn’t necessarily need a Final Tier 4 engine, we’re finding those pieces of equipment becoming ten, fifteen, twenty percent more expensive than they once were. That said, rental rates aren’t changing. Equipment is becoming more and more expensive, but we aren’t able to increase the rental rates,” he says.
Future growth should enhance ACR’s purchasing power and make this less of an issue. A large company can afford to buy equipment in bulk, something that makes equipment sellers happy and leads to lower prices, explains Menning.
And growth is definitely on the agenda for this firm that has successfully navigated ups and downs in the Alberta economy and oil field sector.
“In five years, we’re going to grow from three branches to five. I want ACR to grow, be successful and profitable. If any opportunity comes up where we’re able to grow past five branches, we’ll definitely look at that as well. We don’t want to grow too quickly and not be able to handle that growth. We want to grow slowly and organically, but if we go from five to ten to twenty stores or move to a new province, that’s something we’ll look at for sure,” states Menning.