Taking on new challenges is nothing new to Nathan Smith, office manager, Confetti’s Party Rental, Little Rock, Ark. So, when asked to be part of the ARA of Arkansas board, he didn’t hesitate, seeing it as another opportunity to learn, grow, meet new people and serve the industry he recently joined.
One of the significant challenges Smith faced came five years ago when he decided to work for the family event rental operation — something he did not do in his adolescence.
“My father started the business 27 years ago, right before I was born. He started it from the ground up and has built it into a very successful operation. What was interesting was that when I was growing up, I never worked here. My dad gave us the opportunity, and, in retrospect, I wish I had been involved earlier,” he says.
It was while thinking of going to graduate school that Smith had what he called “an awakening moment.” He had received his bachelor’s degree in sociology/anthropology with a focus on linguistics from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., which included a study abroad experience in Oxford, England. He was considering returning to England for additional schooling to pursue a master’s degree in linguistics at the University College London’s Division of Psychology & Language Sciences.
“While I was filling out the application and proofreading my purpose statement, I asked myself if this was the right thing to do. I called my parents and said I felt something tug me in a different direction. That’s when I realized I was about to miss an even better opportunity if I didn’t return to Little Rock. My father has created a great company and I did not know enough about it. We now have more than 15 employees, all of whom have become my family too. I wanted to learn what this business was all about, so I decided to come back and learn. I figured there wasn’t a better way than to dive in and learn the business from the ground up,” he says.
In 2017, that is exactly what he did. “I started working in the back, helping clean dishes and pulling orders,” Smith says.
That learning curve jumped exponentially in January 2020 when an employee was suspected of financial impropriety. “My father needed me to step in and take on this part of the business. I haven’t been in the finance world and still hadn’t learned how to use QuickBooks® at that point. I said, ‘OK, I am here to learn, so let’s do it.’ I stepped in,” he says.
He had just started to feel a little comfortable in his new position when in March 2020 the coronavirus (COVID-19) hit and turned the entire business upside down. “We had to lay everyone off, so I it was just my father and me for more than six months. It was crazy-long hours and at one point my father and I were working for no pay. It was certainly a test of faith. I had to learn very quickly, including all about applying for the Paycheck Protection Program [PPP]. During that time, I went over all our finances and restructured all our spending, which saved our company from long-term avoidable issues. It was intense — talk about a master’s course,” he says.
As restrictions began to ease, calls started to come in. Smith and his father needed help. “My grandmother even came in to help. She knew the processes as she was key to starting the business with my father back in 1995. In her day, she had organized a lot of charity balls out of Dallas and ran a lot of events, so she knew the planning side. When business started to come back, she helped answer phones and did other things to assist,” he says.
In time, Smith and his father were able to bring all their employees back from furlough. “We were so grateful they wanted to return. We have gotten back on our feet and are receiving tons of calls from customers. Arkansas is glad to be celebrating again,” he says.
As if he wasn’t busy enough, Smith, who also is an avid European vehicle restoration enthusiast, started a volunteer project that helps local seniors with personal tech support assistance. “I started out by helping family and friends with their computer issues and now I have built a network of people here in the city who I help. It is truly a rewarding volunteer experience,” he says.
Taking on one more volunteer role was an easy “Yes,” Smith says, when ARA of Arkansas President Kerrigan Ambers, district manager at United Rentals, Rogers, Ark., asked whether he would be interested in joining the state chapter board.
Smith, who has never served on a board before, is excited to take on this new role. “I look forward to providing my time and my capabilities to assist the board in any way I can. I am here to learn, offer perhaps a different perspective, assist in building connections and help the ARA of Arkansas grow during this ‘new normal,’” he says.
Be sure to thank all the rental operators who are serving in leadership roles for the state chapter:
President: Kerrigan Ambers, district manager, United Rentals, Rogers
Vice president: Tyler Burns, owner, Diamond Rock Rental & Equipment, Gentry
Secretary & Treasurer: Mary Hix, co-owner, Hix Equipment Rentals, Batesville
Board member: Jonathan Baugh, owner, Lawn and Power, Star City
Board member: Lisa Dawson, owner, Somthin Borrowed Event Rentals, Rogers
Board member: Nathan Smith
Associate member director: Chuck Stone, owner, Construction Equipment Specialties, Fayetteville