At the next ARA show in Atlanta, one person missing will be Larry Pedersen of A Tool Shed, based in the San Jose area. Pedersen died of a cancer-related illness shortly before press time.
Those of you who knew Larry won't easily forget him. He was a large man with a larger spirit. I've known him for years and always appreciated the many hours we spent talking about the rental industry and life and business and travels. I've always thought I'm a pretty experienced traveler, but I'll never come close to Pedersen's travel resume. According to his son, Robert, Pedersen has visited just about every country on earth.
I always appreciated Pedersen for his candor. If he disagreed about something, he would never hesitate to say so, but rarely without a sort of gruff warmth that could tell somebody they were full of “fertilizer” but with a twinkle in his eye and a slap on the back.
Pedersen took over his father-in-law's business, A Tool Shed, back in 1964, when he was in his early 20s and built it up into a strong regional multi-branch company that was one of the leading rental players in the San Francisco Bay Area and surrounding communities.
Pedersen was a remarkably generous man who supported dozens of charities and organizations and donated equipment to every good cause that crossed his path. I don't know how he had the time for all the boards he sat on and committees he served on. His family took in a young man from Nepal, who, I believe, Larry met on one of his many travels. Pedersen sponsored the young man's education and brought him to the U.S. where he lived for years in the Pedersen household.
If I remember correctly, the last time I spoke with him was when we were putting together the numbers for the RER 100 — A Tool Shed was a perennial listee — and after days of phone tag, I finally reached him on his cell phone as he was leaving the ballpark where his favorite team, the Giants, had just gotten whipped on opening day of the 2008 baseball season. Dodger fan that I am, I enjoyed his description of the Giants' lackluster performance as they got beat, and when the Dodgers later won the Western Division, I thought about calling Pedersen to rub it in a bit. I never did make that call, and know now that was right around the time of his cancer surgery.
Of course we rarely think about these things while someone is alive and in our midst, but I'd have also liked to tell him that I appreciated his friendship and admired him for his generosity and community spirit. And, knowing that it was a Pedersen family tradition to go to the Giants game on opening day, I might even hope they win one for his sake next year. (Just one, that's as far as I'll go, Larry!)
We'll have a full obituary of Larry Pedersen in our next issue, and you can read it now online at http://rermag.com/trends_analysis/headlinenews/larry-pederson-dies.
I've been surveying rental companies in preparation for a rental industry new-year outlook that you'll read next month, so we'll be giving you an idea of what rental companies are doing in response to the current economic environment.
While most are cutting down on capital spending on equipment, they aren't folding in their tents when it comes to marketing their services. Many are, in fact, augmenting their sales forces.
That certainly makes sense. You're going to have to beat the bushes for business because business won't be leaping out at you like it was before.
The important thing to remember, though, is train your sales people well. Teach them to get business by convincing customers of the services your company can offer. Just going out there and slashing rates to the give-away point will not help the industry and will not help your rental company in the long run, even though for a little while a few more bucks are coming in. Some are taking aim at the industrial marketplace, where there are fewer competitors and people seem more willing to pay for quality.
Encourage your sales people to find new markets, to visit companies that you have not visited before. Train them to sell quality, to educate the customer about the importance of service, to raise awareness of the benefits of rental, especially during a time when contractors find themselves facing the same credit crunch you are. Next month we'll take a closer look at how you can do this during a downturn.