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ARA of Michigan’s Winter Conference was a hit on all counts

By Connie Lannan

February 7, 2023

Attendees at the ARA of Michigan's Winter Conference

Attendees at the ARA of Michigan’s Winter Conference

Education, networking with rental peers and vendors, awards and plenty of fun all were part of the jam-packed ARA of Michigan Winter Conference, which took place Jan. 6-8 at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant, Mich. It turned out to be the perfect mix for those who attended.

“It was excellent — very well-run and well-attended. Plus, the speakers were top-notch. We had 10 people from our operation attend, including myself. All who went were very impressed and got a lot out of it,” says Kyle Keeley, president, Chet’s Rent-All, Rochester Hills, Mich.

Bruce Jones, president, Allied Equipment Rental, Burton, Mich., agrees. “It was really nice. We had six from our operation attend. What made the conference really stand out for me was the attendance. There were a lot of rental operators and vendors to connect with. I don’t get a chance to get out and visit with other rental people very often. Everyone is so busy. It is hard to network with people and pick their brains about a problem I am having, etc., so it was great to be able to do that. I also enjoyed meeting with the vendors and connecting with my reps. It helped us start to get ready for The ARA Show™ in Orlando,” he says.

Tyce Holst, owner, Holst Enterprises d/b/a Taylor True Value Rental, Holland, Mich., couldn’t agree more. “I thought it was great — well-attended, and the ARA of Michigan offered a really good program,” Holst says, adding that he also enjoyed meeting with his local vendor reps who support the ARA of Michigan.

This year’s conference was rather bittersweet for Holst. His sister, who worked in the rental operation for years and had been an avid attendee of the conference, passed away last year. Her absence was felt by the other four employees who went. “But we had our new employee who took over my sister’s job attend with us. It turned out to be a really good bonding time for all of us. Some of our team had never done anything together outside of work and were able to socialize with each other and learn in this relaxed atmosphere. That was great for us,” Holst adds.

Education was a main thrust of the conference, which offered a wide variety of speakers who addressed important concerns of Michigan rental operators. For instance:

Left to right: Edward Craddock, Kyle Keeley and Scott Irwin

Left to right: Edward Craddock, Kyle Keeley and Scott Irwin

“James Waite was excellent,” Keeley says. “Our managers got to hear why it is so important to get those signatures on the contracts. He also touched on Michigan laws and how they affect things. Kevin Gern’s active shooter training was very intense. Our team talked about that a lot at dinner that night. Alex did a great presentation about how to use the ARA website and contacts. Barbara Khozom also was great. My guys just raved about her presentation. She gave handouts that offered a step-by-step guide on how to lead with excellent customer service, including what she called the ‘GIFT’ assessment that stands for greet, inform, inquire, follow up, follow through and take responsibility. My managers can take these back to their teams at all our locations. And, of course, Detective Sgt. Dietz gave a thorough review of red flags and offered other tips we need to know. We do a refresher on those tips every spring at all our operations.”

That was the consensus of Holst and Jones, too. “My two counter staff who attended the conference thought the active shooter training was very educational and engaging and thought Barbara’s presentation offered valuable tips for giving constructive feedback. She also shared how to deal with difficult customers, which they appreciated,” Holst says.

All say they took home tools and resources they plan to implement at their stores. “The active shooter presentation generated a lot of conversation with my team,” Jones says. “We are going to come up with a plan for our operation. And we will delve more in-depth on what Barbara had to say about providing excellent customer service.”

Winter Conference wouldn’t be complete without “retro game night” on Friday. “Rick Long [with Power Equipment Plus] puts on a great retro game night with games you grew up playing as a kid — from Rock-’Em-Sock-’Em Robots to cornhole. It was a pretty great night,” Keeley says.

Holst agrees. “My employees had a blast,” he says.

ARA of Michigan President Sue Irwin, center, congratulates new ARA of Michigan Rental Hall of Fame inductees Jim VanderWier, left, and Rick Long

ARA of Michigan President Sue Irwin, center, congratulates new ARA of Michigan Rental Hall of Fame inductees Jim VanderWier, left, and Rick Long

The ARA of Michigan Rental Hall of Fame ceremony culminated the weekend. This year’s inductees include:

Rick Long, president of Power Equipment Plus, Sand Lake, Mich., who has served on the ARA of Michigan board for more than five years beginning in 2004 as the state chapter’s first associate member director and then again in that same role from 2015-2018. In 2019, he also was honored by ARA with the Special Services Award for his commitment to serving the state chapter board and its members.

Long has played a significant role in all aspects of the state chapter. He was involved in the state chapter’s auction since its inception. For many years, he served as the ARA of Michigan’s RenTech director, teaching classes or arranging speakers to offer valuable training to Michigan rental operators. He also was instrumental in having the Michigan State Police offer a session at the Winter Conference, thus creating a strong partnership to help Michigan rental operators combat theft. The retro game night, which has become a mainstay at the conference, takes place because of Long, who also penned the ARA of Michigan Rental Hall of Fame writeups for years.

James “Jim” VanderWier, owner of Redi Rental, Muskegon Heights and Grand Haven, Mich., has served on the ARA of Michigan board since 2008 and at the national level on The Rental Show Task Force from 2012-2013.

VanderWier has been an integral member of the state chapter board. He was on the ground floor of the first state chapter rental auction. Throughout the years, he helped book and organize lots of rental equipment auction items. To date, Redi Rental has participated in every ARA of Michigan rental auction that has taken place. The auctions and the Winter Conference are favorites of his. He actually planned what could be considered the first full conference weekend event at the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury, Mich., back in the early 2000s. He has encouraged other rental operators to get involved with the ARA and ARA of Michigan because, as he says, “People just like you are what it is all about.”