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Always learning, adapting, growing — that’s the Target Rental way

By Connie Lannan

September 5, 2023

At the counter of the Durango, Colo., operation: owner Jim Duke, left in the salmon-colored shirt, standing next to Lonnie Scholten, manager of the Durango location and the operation's longest employee

At the counter of the Durango, Colo., operation: owner Jim Duke, left in the salmon-colored shirt, standing next to Lonnie Scholten, manager of the Durango location and the operation’s longest employee

All through college, Jim Duke worked as a plumber, so he didn’t have much experience in rental when he joined his father’s operation, Target Rental, with headquarters in Durango, Colo., in 1998. He learned, adapted and, now as president, has overseen the operation’s tremendous growth — earning it the recognition of being a Rental Management Market Mover in the June/July 2023 issue of the magazine.

“My dad never wanted me or my brother to work in the business, which he bought in 1983 as a Taylor Rental franchise. His idea was for us to go out and have our own bosses and create our own future, so I got into plumbing when I was 19. While I was going to college, I worked side jobs as a plumber. I continued with that after college. I enjoyed working with my hands. I still do to this day, but I got to the point of ‘Do I want to continue crawling on my knees and into crawl spaces for years to come?’” Duke says.

After looking at different businesses, “my dad said, ‘Jim, I have a business that I am ready to get out of.’ It was like, ‘Wow, sometimes you don’t even recognize opportunities that are staring you in the face.’ He said to try it for a year. If I liked it, we would figure it out. I started out washing equipment. Fortunately, eight to nine years in plumbing, I knew all the equipment. In plumbing you go through all the different phases of construction. I felt comfortable with the equipment. I enjoyed it. I also liked the blue-collar feel to the customer base. A year passed and I said I want to do this,” he says.

He bought the business in 2000. With two other employees, Duke dived into his new role as owner. “It was a real learning curve. My dad was a hands-off educator. He gave me the keys, showed me the basics and said I should know where the numbers come from, so he had me do the bookkeeping. Other than that, he said just go work in the business. There wasn’t a lot of direction, but I jumped in on the ground level of a small company and asked what I needed to do and then just started doing it. It all worked out,” Duke says.

When Duke took over, the business still carried equipment, party and other household types of items. “My first tagline was, ‘Everything from backhoes to baby cribs.’ We spent so much time dusting off champagne flutes and plates that we realized we had to either put the party items in a separate location or change our base of equipment,” Duke says.

logoHe chose the latter. By 2007, the last of the remaining event items were moved to another rental operation. Equipment rental for the homeowner and contractor markets was now the only focus.

Throughout this time, the company experienced rapid growth. “From the time I bought the business we were doing $400,000 in revenue. I was already up to $1.5 million about five years later. It was great and things were awesome and then The Great Recession hit. Within 18 months, rental revenue dropped 70 percent. We got smacked in the face. I had never experienced anything like that before. I did everything I thought I had to do. I probably should have sold stuff a bit sooner, but we made it through. What is interesting about business in general is that sometimes surviving is what matters. We made it through to the other end,” he says.

Jim Duke

Jim Duke

Shortly after came the opportunity to become a Bobcat dealer. “The gentleman who had owned the Bobcat of Durango was ready to exit. We felt like becoming part of the Bobcat team would give us some legitimacy in our markets because in our extended area of Durango the biggest and closest city near us is Albuquerque, [N.M.], which is three hours away. We are an island unto ourselves. We always had Bobcat with our skids and minis, so we thought it would be a good partner,” he says.

It just happened that Duke knew a rental operator in his American Rental Association (ARA) Peer Advisory Group who was a Bobcat dealer. After he recommended the affiliation, Duke brought Bobcat into the fold during 2012, bringing that company’s assets in-house.

For a while, Duke struggled with his company’s identity. Were they Target Rental or Bobcat of Durango? “Since then we solidified internally how we view ourselves. We are a rental-dealer concept. We have a strong rental arm to our dealership. It has been very rewarding and has helped us grow,” he says.

With the new addition, they needed more space. So, in 2018, Duke built a brand-new 9,000-sq.-ft. facility on four acres.

Durango has a population of nearly 20,000. To grow, Duke knew it needed to happen “out instead of up. We tried to grow it up. We bought a crane business, but that failed miserably. A major part of our growth strategy has been to move into some of the smaller and larger communities and create a regional footprint,” he says.

Their first branch was in Cortez, Colo. “It is an agricultural community that is about an hour away from us to the west and borders the Navajo Nation. I was worried at first about our different customer mixes and maybe they wouldn’t like our equipment as well, but we hired people from those markets and recognized that it is not an impediment to growth. We have our core values about why we are doing what we do and how we do it. We have a customer-focused viewpoint. All our work is on behalf of the customer,” Duke adds.

What Duke did not anticipate shortly after opening this location in 2020 was that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic would shut his operation down the same week it opened.

General manager Steve Webb, addressing staff in Durango during a company meeting

General manager Steve Webb, addressing staff in Durango during a company meeting

“It was fascinating, but we worked through it all. When the news first hit, we all thought the world would fall apart and we would all end up in the hospital. We took all the precautions and followed all the mandates. We soon realized that most people could stay at home and wanted a nicer home. We offered the ‘COVID-19 19 percent off’ rate for six months. We adapted and now this location has been doing really well,” he says.

He continued that growth this past March when he opened his third location, this time in Farmington, N.M. Now with three locations — all Bobcat dealerships — and 45 full-time employees, including one of his workers who has been with the company for the past 42 years, Target Rental carries everything from an 80-ft. boom to jumping jacks, with a large fleet of Bobcat excavators, skids and track machines mixed in.

“We sell, rent and service. We sell Bobcat, Multiquip and were just selected as a Doosan Portable Power dealer,” Duke says, noting that this serves his customer mix of small to large contractors and homeowners.

Business continues to grow, seeing a significant increase that earned the business with Rental Management Market Mover status.

Target Rentals' headquarters in Durango

Target Rentals’ headquarters in Durango

Duke attributes a lot of that growth to what he has learned through his ARA Peer Advisory Group. “We follow “Traction,” which is part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS). We have our core values, core focus and know what our core market is. We set one-, three- and 10-year goals. Twenty years ago, I was just winging it. We are at the point now where there is a lot of thought and less and less is done reactively. We are recognizing the further along we get and grow our organization the more proactive we must be. We have to look ahead with what we want to do, and we have started the meetings and organizational structure to achieve that,” he says.

His employees are all on board with the company’s EOS push. Duke says, “Our success is directly tied to our employees’ strong commitment to the company’s core values. We have many employees who treat the company as if they are the owner. They are vested in its success and this shows in how we operate.”

With that commitment and drive, Duke knows that more growth is in the future. “In 10 years we hope to have six stores with a footprint of more than 250 miles between stores, achieving $12 million to $15 million in rental revenue and $12 million to $15 million in sales revenue,” he says.

With Duke and his teams’ focus on the customer, along with their penchant for continual learning and adapting to the market, there should be no doubt that goal will become reality.