During the Great Recession in 2009, it wasn’t easy to find work. That’s when a friend helped Sean Williams get an interview for an entry-level spot sweeping the floors and washing chairs at First Place Rental, Oswego, Ill.
“I was offered the position but was told it was only seasonal as I knew nothing about equipment let alone the equipment and event rental industry as a whole. After a few months, they approached me and asked if I would like to stay on full-time,” Williams says.
At first, he simply viewed the job as a means to a different path. “While working, I continued to go to college and earned my degree in actuarial science, but during that time I really started to feel at home in the rental business,” he says.
“After I graduated, I moved from working the sales counter to our accounting department and that is when I started to see how unique and exciting the rental industry truly is,” he says.
Today, at age 35, he is First Place Rental’s president. The company rents items from small hand tools like hammer drills to 10-ton excavators. Since 2015, First Place Rental has strictly been in the equipment sector, targeting small to mid-size contractors that also are family-owned companies.
“We tend to do a lot of business with landscapers and a fair amount with homeowners as well,” he says.
Dealing with the pandemic in 2020 wasn’t easy as Williams also was strategizing how to purchase the business, which was previously owned by Scott Munsterman, who died in 2019. Munsterman’s father, Arne, who died in 2013, was the American Rental Association (ARA) president in 1981 and owned Wheaton Rental Center, Wheaton, Ill., until the business was sold in 1999.
“The thing that I took away from last year the most is that we can handle just about any situation that is thrown at us. One thing that has helped me is to try and have a positive outlook on every situation, which is much easier said than done. We went through a lot of ups and downs together and our core group is much stronger now because of it. That will help us moving forward into the future,” Williams says.
While attending The ARA Show™ 2019, Williams decided to become more involved with ARA, joining the Young Professional Network as well as the ARA of Illinois, where he serves as a board member.
“ARA has a whole list of things that have helped me in my journey. Attending the show every year and building relationships with other rental operators has been a huge blessing. Also, building strong relationships with our key vendors has done wonders over the years,” he says.
Working with numbers is what Williams lists as the best part of his job. “I love strategizing and coming up with ways to hit targets in different areas. It always is a great feeling when you hit the goals you set, but then you just set the bar higher for next time,” he says.