After nearly 70 years of serving the greater Bowling Green, Ohio, community, Bee Gee Rental and Sales closed Dec. 21, 2022.
Rick Van Vorhis, president, who has worked at the business since 1967 and took over as owner in 1977, admits that the closing was bittersweet.
“My wife, Myra [secretary/treasurer of the business], and I have tried for several years to find someone with the same commitment to equipment, service and the community to purchase the business. A recent offer on the real estate prompted us to sell the property and discontinue business operations. I turned 71 on Nov. 25, so it was time for me to retire,” he says.
Looking back, Van Vorhis says the most rewarding part of his time in the rental business “was helping people solve problems and find the proper equipment to do the job efficiently and safely. Working with this equipment has provided a lifetime of opportunity to learn and share that knowledge with employees and customers. It also offered constant learning. I told everyone who came to work here that they will learn something new every day. You never have it all figured out. Every day is different and a learning experience. I liked that.”
Bee Gee Rental and Sales was founded in the mid-1950s by Isaac and Marian Loose. When Van Vorhis started working in the business at the age of 15, he was on the event side of the business, preparing party rental orders, cleaning returns and repackaging returned orders. Within the year, he began helping on the tool side of the business as well. He was drawn to the power equipment and the many tasks that could be completed more quickly and easily with the proper tools and equipment.
When the Looses retired in 1977, they provided Van Vorhis, a 10-year employee at that time, the opportunity to assume ownership. “My wife and I felt we would never have that opportunity again, so we gave it a shot,” he says.
Under their ownership, the company “embraced technology that allowed us to have better information, the ability to track the availability of products and the uniform application of rental charges,” he adds.
Van Vorhis also moved the business to primarily equipment rental. “The first number of years, we continued to operate the party side in the same manner. It was so labor-intensive. I decided for us, tool and party did not match up, so we focused more on equipment — offering everything from towable lifts and mini excavators to household fans, electric heaters and small power tools. On the party side, we retained only tables, chairs and just a couple of canopies,” he says.
The business eventually migrated to include sales. “It kind of just happened. We found a Stihl sales rep calling and educating us on two-cycle engines. We tried some of the cutoff saws and chain saws and found that everyone wanted to buy them because they worked so well. We became a Stihl dealer in 1977. It became one of our biggest product lines, resulting in us selling nearly 13,000 Stihl power units,” he says.
In 1983, Bee Gee Rental and Sales ventured into Snapper mowers, and over the years the business has represented Troy-Bilt, Husqvarna, Simplicity and Exmark, resulting in the sales of more than 3,600 mowers, tractors and snowblowers.
The company went through some major renovations over the years. After a fire in 1970, the facility was rebuilt. When Van Vorhis took over the building, he leased it from the original owner. After a facelift of the building in 1981, the business received its first President’s Image Award from the American Rental Association (ARA).
After another fire in 1995, “the whole experience made me think that I needed a building of my own,” he says. “In 1998, we moved into a 14,000-sq.-ft. property — about a half-mile from our other building but still on the north side of Bowling Green. It included our warehouse, showroom, offices and such.” That project resulted in the business receiving another President’s Image Award.
Throughout the years, Van Vorhis became involved in ARA, first at the local level, being on the ground floor of establishing the Northwest Ohio Rental Association in 1993. He even served as president from 1997-1998.
In 1997, he started serving as a director on the ARA of Ohio board, which he continued to do through 2015.
Van Vorhis received so much benefit from volunteering. “I liked to know that I could call another rental operator and ask questions, such as what brand of this were they using, etc. The whole idea was supporting each other and being resources for each other. We were all in this together and could all learn from each other and share information. That was pretty valuable,” he says.
Van Vorhis credits the business’s success to family, employees and its many customers.
“We would not have existed without our employees and our customers, who have relied on us for their rental needs, power products and repair needs,” he says. “We have met many wonderful people and formed many relationships, and we hope that we have made their lives a little better and their work more productive and easier through the years.”
Now that they have closed the business and moved on to retirement, the Van Vorhises plan to relax and spend time with family — something they never really had time to do before.
“We have not even taken vacations to make sure everything was running correctly. I had to be in here making sure things were right. I was too much hands-on instead of standing back. Now we don’t have to make sure the place is manned or the cash draw is checked out. We have the freedom to go when we want to visit our sons and their families,” he says.
After all those years running a rental operation, it wasn’t easy to close this chapter. “This business has been my life. I miss my employees and customers, but I would like to thank everyone who has trusted us to provide their equipment needs, encouraged us and made this career possible,” he says.