Jeanette Jennings had been a customer of Highland Rent All, Albuquerque, N.M., for many years while working at her husband’s generator rental, service and repair operation. She liked how she was treated when she went there and saw how much potential it had for growth.
“I always enjoyed Highland’s concept and personal touch. The company had been in the Highland family since its inception in 1973. It ran for almost 48 years under the same business model and in the same location since its founding. The store was one of the first buildings on this street, excellent for traffic. I thought it would be nice to take it up another notch and provide a few more things, upgrade the building and the systems, so I wrote a letter to the owner,” she says.
Determining who the letter should be sent to wasn’t as easy as she first thought. “I did my research and wrote to the current owner in January 2020. I introduced myself and asked whether he might be interested in selling the business to me,” she says.
This was a pretty gutsy move inasmuch as Jennings did not have years of experience in the rental industry. She had worked with her husband at his business for six years. Before that she was a real estate broker for 20 years. Even so, she did not have any trepidation about what she was asking. “I had no fear. I just had faith that I could do this,” she says.
Her approach worked. “I don’t know whether it was at the top of his list to sell the business, but because I expressed an interest, he considered the opportunity. After reviewing it, he said yes,” Jennings says.
With her husband Tad as her silent partner, Jennings took over the business in October 2020.
Even though it was during a global pandemic, the business, which caters to the construction, landscape and general tool markets as well as some party, fared well. “When our state shut down, it gave the homeowners time to work on projects. Business was very good prior to me taking over and stayed very steady after I came in. The business has continued to improve, with revenue increasing,” she says.
There were a couple of immediate challenges that Jennings addressed:
Installed a computer system: “The company didn’t have a computer system until two months after I took ownership,” Jennings says. “I didn’t have a huge record of what sales had been in the past. Without a database, it made things a little more interesting.”
Implemented maintenance standards: “My standards are high. I need equipment to look and be well-maintained and presented in a manner that gives our customers confidence. Not having any of those records computerized has been tricky, but that has ironed itself out,” she says.
Jennings is grateful to her employees. “We have a good team. There were five when I came. We have eight now. It has been challenging to find labor, but I think we have a good group. They are on board with moving forward, making changes and growing the business,” she says.
She also has made the company a Stihl dealer. “We are starting to see better traffic coming through. We also are offering small engine service and repair,” she says.
In addition, she has added new equipment to her fleet. That is how she learned about and joined the American Rental Association (ARA).
“I had a vendor come in who was showing me equipment. I was very excited about it. He said, ‘Are you going to The ARA Show™?’ I said, ‘Huh, what show?’ He talked about it. I said I would love to go,” she says.
Attending the show “was super-exciting as I was familiar with all the different manufacturers and had established various accounts with many,” she says.
At the show she connected with other vendors and purchased equipment for her operation, including upgrades to attract even more customers. “I increased my chipper size from a 600 to a 900, which will appeal to the bigger contractor. We have intentions of moving into a larger arena,” she says.
One area she hasn’t changed is the attention to customer service. “That always has been very good here. We are continuing that and take pride in being a customer-oriented rental company. We want to be the source for what our customers need,” she says.
Jennings is proud of all she and her team have accomplished in a short amount of time.
“I have enjoyed learning the different types of equipment that I have to offer and speaking to the customers about that equipment. It’s been fun,” she says.
Yes, there have been times of trial and error, but “I have listened to what my guys say about the equipment. I have my Stihl technician who comes in. I tell everyone to teach me. I feel like I have been a sponge,” she adds, admitting that she has loved every part of it.
“We are providing a cost-effective way for our customers to complete their jobs. We are showing our starter landscaper and contractor clients that they don’t have to make the investment of buying equipment. We are here for them. That is very satisfying,” she says.