Cheney says farewell to the rental industry
By Brock Huffstutler

Cheney says farewell to the rental industry

Judy Cheney, former office manager of Vermont Tent Co., Essex Junction, Vt., notched many achievements in a career that spanned both equipment and event rentals: American Rental Association (ARA) Region One Person of the Year recipient; Certified Event Rental Professional (CERP); ARA of Vermont board president; eight-time participant in ARA’s National Legislative Caucus in Washington, D.C.; and ARA Party Certification Task Force Chair are among the highlights on her résumé.

Newly retired, Cheney reflects on a career that epitomized the spirit of Women in Rental in a conversation with In Your Region:

In Your Region (IYR): Congratulations on your retirement. When did you officially transition into this new phase?
Judy Cheney: April 30, 2022, was my last day with Vermont Tent Co. My husband, Steve, who worked for the company alongside me since 1986, retired on Dec. 31, 2021.

IYR: How did you arrive at a career in the rental industry?
Cheney: I graduated from Champlain College in May 1974 with a degree in accounting. Having just started a family, I was looking for a part-time job. Without knowing anything about tool or event rentals, I applied to a small general rental equipment store in South Burlington, Vt. I started out working 10 to 12 hours per week and quickly realized that, in order to do my job effectively, I needed to learn more about the rental process and the equipment. In addition to my accounting duties, I started to work as a customer service representative. I found the rental business to be interesting and challenging. When the store owner semi-retired, I advanced to general manager. Eventually, the store was sold to another rental company that specialized in tool rental. The two stores were then combined and sold to Hertz Equipment Rental, where I stayed on as manager of the party division until 2000 when I was hired by Vermont Tent Co. as the business/sales coordinator.

IYR: What was it about the rental industry that appealed to you as a long-term career?
Cheney: When I began, I had no idea how exciting rental could be. As I learned more about the industry and met other rental people from across the country and around the world, I was motivated to become more involved in the industry. I discovered how cooperative, honest and extremely nice people throughout the rental world are and how helpful they are in solving the problems that everyone has. That point was driven home in a discussion I had with a lovely lady from Australia one year at The ARA Show™. She had the same type of customers walk through her doors in Sydney as we did in South Burlington. Involvement in the industry, at both the state and national levels, has been a tremendous experience for me. I was able to use the knowledge and skills gained from practical experience, observations from my peers and the ARA to climb the ladder to the top of our industry.

Judy Cheney (left) with an industry peer at the 2016 ARA National Legislative Caucus in Washington, D.C.

IYR: What, in your experience, did it take to become a successful woman in rental?
Cheney: Early on, I found that one of the biggest challenges of working in a general rental business was dealing with men who thought that women didn’t know anything about the equipment. Men would call and ask to speak to someone who knew something. Over time, I became increasingly knowledgeable about the equipment from actually using some of it and seeing it serviced. I was then able to ask customers the correct questions to determine what they were really looking for and to make educated recommendations for their rental needs for both tools and event items. It was a wonderful feeling to gain acceptance in an industry that had been dominated, in the past, by men. Our industry has grown both in size and professionalism, and I am proud to have contributed to that.

IYR: What were the biggest changes you saw in the rental business from when you started through your retirement?
Cheney: From my tool rental days, the kinds of equipment that were available grew immensely and the consumer became more versed in how to use them. As far as the party industry, the tents expanded from the blue and white stripe canvas to the vinyl, sailcloth and clear tents. The styles of tents changed as well. Tents are so expansive and beautiful now. The variety of tabletop items has gotten very elaborate, from the ivory with gold rim to very beautiful designs and more colors. Clients are looking for more upscale items from chairs to china, glassware, cutlery, lighting and other tent décor.

IYR: You were involved as a volunteer leader within ARA in several capacities over the years. What motivated you to get involved so deeply, and how did that volunteerism benefit you?
Cheney: John Crabbe, the owner of Vermont Tent Co., suggested that I get involved as he was a huge supporter of ARA. John would tell people that I have been in the rental business longer than he was. I enjoyed the involvement. The caucus was very valuable as I learned more about how the government works and saw how influential ARA can be. John McClelland [ARA vice president for government affairs and chief economist] is a very knowledgeable person and presents the topics in an understandable manner. Being on the Party Certification Task Force was interesting; I saw how programs came together and how to work with a small group.

IYR: What advice do you have for people who are new to the rental industry?
Cheney: You need to have excellent people skills whether you are in sales, the warehouse, a tent installer, service, etc. The industry is a fast-paced one and you need to be able to change gears at the spur of the moment. You need to be very organized and keep good records and notes as things change so quickly.

IYR: What are your plans for retirement?
Cheney: Fishing is at the top of my list. My husband and I bass fish. We have participated in several national tournaments as co-anglers and marshals. We are fortunate to live close to Lake Champlain and a few small ponds that we can travel to within 10-15 minutes. It will be nice to take life a little slower and do things around the house, take care of my flower garden, cook and sew. We have a large collection of salt and pepper shakers that need reorganizing and dusting. If we want to take a few days to travel somewhere, we can do it without planning in advance.

IYR: What will you miss the most about being in the rental business?
Cheney: I will miss the wonderful people I have had the privilege of knowing and working with at Vermont Tent and at the state and national level, as well as the many clients I have helped. The sales staff whom I worked with very closely, my co-workers and bosses at Vermont Tent — Mike Lubas, Lon Finkelstein and Mike Solomon — have been so supportive over the last 22 years.

Brock Huffstutler

Brock HuffstutlerBrock Huffstutler

Brock Huffstutler is the regional news editor for Rental Management. He writes and edits articles for ARA’s In Your Region quarterly regional newsletters, Rental Management, Rental Pulse and other special projects. Outside of work, he enjoys biking and spending time at the few remaining vintage record stores in the region.

Other articles by Brock Huffstutler
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