In January 2020, CBS Rentals, a fast-growing construction equipment rental firm based in the Houston area, achieved a remarkable milestone. CBS set a record for equipment rented numbers to clients, primarily in Texas.
It was “a big deal because our industry is very seasonal. The winter is typically when our numbers are down, but the summer, spring, fall are the highest volume, especially summer,” recalls Marketing Manager Ethan Tucker.
Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 hit hard and, “rent volumes started going down, but not as much as we would have thought. We still ended up doing pretty well last year,” he continues.
Indeed, despite the virus, CBS Rentals remains determined to expand, adopt the latest technology, and increase revenue. The company is optimistic that recent investments in equipment, technology, and personnel will pay off in a major way.
It helps that the company is considered an essential business and has stayed open during the pandemic, supporting customers while working to keep its teams safe and business going. “We had a five-year plan going into 2024. [In 2020], obviously, things slowed down. However, I foresee 2022 being a huge year for everyone. By 2022, we will definitely have new locations,” states Tucker.
CBS currently has twelve branches and roughly 200 employees, versus 180 employees when Construction in Focus last profiled the firm in November 2019. Most branches are in Texas, with one in New Mexico and another in Kingsport, Tennessee which serves a chemical plant. Equipment is frequently shared between locations to make sure customers always get what they need.
The company’s clientele consists mostly of “large subcontractors. We do some work for general contractors; we do some for industrial manufacturing plants, and because we’re in Texas, [we do some for] oil and gas [operations]. But I would say the primary customer target would be sub-contractors – roofers, electricians, plumbers, framers.”
The most popular rental category consists of aerial equipment such as scissor lifts and booms. The company also does a brisk business renting out material handling equipment including telehandlers and forklifts and earthmoving gear including backhoes, bulldozers, and mini-excavators. Generators, sweepers, and air compressors are also available. It has a rigorous preventative maintenance policy and puts its fleet through frequent tune-ups to ensure everything runs smoothly.
CBS Rentals has purchased new equipment and embraced technological solutions to enhance accountability and reliability. For the past few years, the company has used telematics technology to monitor the performance of its equipment in the field and alert clients about maintenance issues.
Tracking units installed on the rental equipment “send information through the Internet of Things back to us. So, we’re able to see what’s going on with our equipment remotely and make decisions based on that,” Tucker explains.
He cites a recent incident in which a company service technician utilized telematics to avert a potentially expensive work slowdown. The technician received an alert indicating that the coolant level on a piece of equipment in the field was dropping for no apparent reason. The technician contacted the client, received permission to inspect the equipment, and discovered a tiny crack in the radiator. The customer did not realize there was a problem and was grateful when CBS swapped out their gear with minimal disruption to their schedule.
CBS Rentals has completed its telematics technology with a new online solution that consolidates multiple software programs into one system. It created the solution using advanced tools from the cloud-based software company SalesForce.
“We started connecting all our different applications, all of our different services, and we’ve made it an all-in-one system. Each department has its own dashboard, so when a salesperson logs in, they get a snapshot of the company but they also see their information, their tasks, their numbers, the metrics that matter to them and their branch,” says Tucker.
Such information is now available to anyone accessing the system. The new set-up “allows us to input all our company data, including telematics and contracts, and put it all into one big bucket,” he says. “When somebody calls, we have it all right in front of us.”
CBS Rentals continues to experiment with new software and digital solutions. “We’re using a new product by SalesForce called Field Service for dispatching. We’re testing a dispatching system that we’ve created,” Tucker says. “This is going to allow us to connect everything in our company.”
Among other things, the new system will simplify administrative duties. Drivers equipped with iPads will be able to photograph company equipment to check for damage, and then store the images on their tablets along with contractual information. An operations team can send data and details to drivers, via the same iPads. Customers will sign off on the iPad, eliminating paperwork.
The company has become so enthusiastic about technology that it recently launched a start-up called Rental Dynamics. The idea is to approach other equipment rental firms and offer them the kind of software solutions that streamlined operations at CBS. Tucker splits his time between the two.
“There are plenty of other companies like us throughout the country. If we can make them better, then great. We want to build a better industry,” he says.
For all these futuristic developments, CBS Rentals has not forgotten the importance of the human element. The firm practices values-based leadership to reinforce the core company values of integrity, service, innovation, and performance, while understanding and appreciating the actions of its workforce.
“We’re about two years into it. All our management have gone through the full program, and our branches have now gone through the full program. We still practice it and hold meetings where we go over [all the principles],” says Tucker.
A key tenet of values-based leadership is understanding that an employee’s actions represent “just the tip of the iceberg. It’s what you see,” he explains. A worker might be underperforming or in a foul mood because of a deeper issue, such as health concerns or problems at home. Values-based leadership encourages managers to look beyond surface actions to try to fully appreciate the reasons a worker might be behaving as they are.
The company is also dedicated to an initiative it calls “Women Leaders of CBS.” Elizabeth Loge is the firm’s Chief Executive Officer, and the company actively takes steps to encourage women to assume leadership roles. Female team members were recently flown to Sedona, Arizona “for four days together, doing leadership training and fun activities,” Tucker says.
Clearly, CBS is doing something right, given that Loge won the prestigious ‘CEO of the Year’ award from CEO Monthly magazine in 2020, in the rental industry category.
Loge also led the company’s response to COVID. When the virus struck, Loge and CBS Rentals’ owner Jason Herin hosted an employee-wide town hall, during which they outlined adjustments to keep everyone healthy and secure a profitable future for the company.
“Step one was making sure everyone was okay, starting with our own employees. Then it was ‘How do we take care of our current customers, vendors, partners, families?’ Then, we moved from there. ‘How do we change the way we do business?’ We leaned on our technology offering a lot. We leaned on people who had new ideas. In the end, we were able to turn around very quickly,” declares Tucker, with a note of pride.
The company’s sophisticated solutions also helped keep CBS flexible and able to adapt to new circumstances, he adds.
The company had planned to launch a revamped website in 2020. This was put on hold due to COVID but will proceed early this year. “It’s a complete redesign of the site and a complete redesign of the ordering process. We’re allowing our customers to pay online, which is something the older site didn’t do. This new website is going to be really game-changing for us,” he declares.
The company is also “trying out new equipment all the time. Manufacturers are constantly innovating; coming out with hybrid machines – full electric, different horsepower.”
He envisions bigger and better things for CBS Rentals, once COVID lifts and the company can start opening new branches again. “Five years down the road, we want to make sure we can cover everyone in Texas. The big areas like Houston, Dallas, Austin – right now we have one maybe two locations in these cities, so there’s plenty of room for growth there,” says Tucker.
“We doubled in the last five years. Over the next five years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we more than doubled. I can see us getting to twenty-four locations in five years. As for equipment we own, I see that tripling. For our technology offering, we will introduce new items like AI. Whatever the manufacturers chose to include in their equipment, we’re going to be first adopters. We’re going to lead with customer service.”