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Before and after the acquisition – one family’s frank take

By Brock Huffstutler

August 11, 2023

The Sneed family (with Carson, left, and Adam, right)

The Sneed family (with Carson, left, and Adam, right)

On February 22, 2023, Sunbelt Rentals acquired Big Sky Rents, Kalispell, Mont. The Big Sky Rents brand was established in 2012 by native North Carolinian Chuck Sneed. The enterprise was launched two decades after he relocated his family to Montana and following experience in rental operations dating back to 1999.

“My dad, Chuck, moved us to Montana when I was 18 months old and my brother, Adam, was three,” says Carson Sneed, who co-owned Big Sky Rents alongside Chuck, his mother, Becky, and Adam prior to the Sunbelt transaction. “He wanted to bring us out here to raise us in the place where he came to hunt all the time. He loved the openness, the people, the surroundings and the mountains.”

By 2022, Big Sky Rents maintained a successful operation from a brand-new, 10,000-sq.-ft. facility on 10 acres with a fleet of aerial and earthmoving equipment that delivered just what contractors and DIY homeowners in its market needed to meet their residential construction and improvement needs. The company landed on Rental Management’s list of equipment rental Market Movers in 2022.

With the company running on all cylinders, what was behind the Sneed family’s decision to accept Sunbelt’s offer of purchase?

“It was the hardest decision we have ever made as a family,” Carson says. “Selling was not even on our mind. But with market trends and uncertainty in the economy, we felt it was in our best interest.”

Adam Sneed agrees that it was a hard choice to let go of what was a longtime labor of love for the family.

“You build a business from nothing and turn it into such an amazing machine, and handing the reins over to someone else is hard,” he says. “But it was the absolute best decision as a family we could have made. There is so much thought that goes into [deciding to sell] regarding the employees that we treat like family — how would they take it? We also had to ask ourselves, do we want to make this business a legacy and hand it down to our next generation? Carson and I are still young, and we both have many years left and there are always irons in the fire.”

The new building Big Sky Rents moved into in early 2022

The new building Big Sky Rents moved into in early 2022

Carson and Adam have remained on board with Sunbelt since the acquisition as profit center manager and operations manager, respectively, but both acknowledge that after calling the shots as owners for so long, it was initially a bit awkward to transition to the role of “corporate man.”

“Life was rocky at first,” Adam says. “Little did we know that signing on as management would be the toughest four months of our lives, between the adversity we had between employees and us having to abide by rules. Times are getting better as days go on. I am still not going to guarantee that I’m cut out to be a corporate man just yet, but I am giving it my all.”

“Not much has changed day to day [since the acquisition], but I feel like my workload has increased,” Carson says, adding that he enjoyed independent business ownership because “our family built our business off gut and intuition — we knew when to make strategic moves based on what we heard from our customers. But man, do I sleep much better at night now!”

Six months into the new ownership structure, both Adam and Carson are finding perspective and an appreciation for what Sunbelt has brought to the table, as well as opportunities that can happen when the weight of an organization is not on your shoulders 24/7.

Adam, for instance, was able to take part in the International Rental Business Leadership Program — a combined effort between the American Rental Association (ARA) and the Hire and Rental Industry Association (HRIA) of Australia that links young professionals from the U.S. and Australia with rental companies in the opposite country. “Along with my Australia trip, it is always fascinating to see how other people operate their businesses,” he says.

“Sunbelt was keen on knowing that me and Adam knew the market and has let us take the lead in where we see the direction to go,” Carson says. “With the other stores Sunbelt has, we can pull equipment virtually from anywhere and that has helped us get some more deals. When you are in this industry, whether you are family-owned or under the Sunbelt umbrella, you still take pride and ownership in your store. You want what’s best for your employees and company and you always want to see growth.”