Everything seems to be in motion at BlackOak Equipment Rental, Sumter, S.C., as rental orders go out on rented trailers, excavators are being prepped for the next user, and calls come into the office from contractors and homeowners.
It’s busy. Nothing remains static. All this has happened over five years on a once quiet area near U.S. Route 378.
Go back to 2017 and Bentham Reed, Black Oak Equipment Rental’s owner, had recently retired from the military after spending 23 years in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Back home, he invested in real estate and small businesses. But rental was something he wanted to do, and he decided to take the plunge.
As a startup business owner, Reed first attended The ARA Show™ in 2017. He always liked equipment, although he had no prior rental background.
“Everybody says they never heard of doing this without a rental background,” Reed says. “I previously owned a granite countertop business and the thing I brought from that business was that it was a construction-oriented business. Different set of people, but still the same kind of sales approach. I figured I could do it, plus I did have the location from the granite business. I’ve been a real estate investor for years. And, I’ve always had equipment. I added some of my equipment, a tractor and excavator, to my fleet when I started. It all kind of lined up for me.”
Today, business is booming.
Asked if he foresaw the growth that he has at his business, Reed says, “No, but we have just had so much customer demand. I was just trying to meet their needs. We’ve grown quick.”
Black Oak Equipment Rental has equipment rented out as far as two hours away. The equipment ranges from concrete and compaction equipment, attachments, lifts and earthmoving equipment, among other items. A good rental item has been Reed’s roll-off containers.
He currently uses about 3.5 of his 84 acres and plans call for future expansion.
As Reed walks through the rental store, he is surrounded by an assortment of equipment. Out back in the rental yard, his head mechanic, Jerry Price, is working on a lift. Nearby, high-school student Dustyn Bethea is cleaning an air filter with an air hose.
Mechanic Jerry Price
Price, also a military veteran, is busy, like the rest of the six-employee crew. He has 30 years of experience working on various machines.
“Very rarely is it the same thing day after day,” Price says. “It’s usually always something different. One day, it will be a bad O-ring, and the next day I’m having to drive all the way out to Bishopville, about 40 minutes away, because of an electrical issue.”
Bethea is working after school, washing equipment, cleaning radiators and making sure the machines are full of fuel. At school, he’s taking welding classes, acquiring a skill set for a potential future in the equipment rental business.
“The students get general maintenance skills, and they work with our mechanics, too,” Reed says. “They learn a lot.”
Besides the expertise of Price and a few others at his business, Reed says another key to success is trying to be self-sufficient. For example, Reed uses a hose crimping machine to make and repair hoses and fittings. They do their own tire and track work also on equipment from installation to repair.
When delivering or picking up equipment, Reed says, “we can haul our bigger stuff, the telehandler, the excavator. We can haul about 35,000 lbs. worth of stuff. We can haul everything we’ve got.”
Reed estimates about 70 percent of his business is commercial with professional contractors and the remainder homeowners and do-it-yourselfers (DIYers).
“I have been very fortunate finding good employees. Black Oak couldn’t have been successful without them,” Reed says. “We have been busy since we started five years ago. We are constantly focusing on the customer. We have seemed to successfully match our product mix to the local demand.”