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Clark’s Rentals honors the past while looking to the future

By Brock Huffstutler

December 12, 2023

Dave Hertz, Clark's Rentals

Dave Hertz on-site at the future home of Clark’s Rentals

The feeling of history is palpable in Yankton, S.D.

Signs and landmarks around the town inform you that you have arrived at an important stop along the route of Lewis and Clark’s historic expedition of 1804-1806. In 1861, Yankton was established as the capitol city of the newly-formed Dakota Territory. A decades-old livestock auction market has earned the town the nickname “Cow Capital of South Dakota.”

Yankton may be steeped in history, but something brand-new and progressive is about to hit town thanks to Clark’s Rentals — an equipment rental business that has served the community since its establishment in 1993.

The business is nearing completion of a new, 25,000-sq.-ft. building on 15 acres of land on the rapidly growing north side of Yankton, an area that has become a commercial hub of not only the city but also the region at large.

“I bought Clark’s a year ago, on July 1, 2022, with the stipulation that I could get this ground from the city,” says Dave Hertz, owner/operator of Clark’s Rental.

A new facility was a must-have for Hertz. When he purchased Clark’s Rentals, he brought along a pre-existing fleet of inventory from another business of his that — while complementary to the smaller tools Clark’s Rental was known for — meant he almost instantly outgrew Clark’s current, 1.5-acre location in the center of town. “With the excavators, dozers, trucks and bigger equipment that we have, I just didn’t have enough room at that location,” he says.

In addition to Clark’s Rentals, Hertz owns Midwest Ready Mix & Equipment, based in Vermillion, S.D. — 30 miles down the road from Yankton. Hertz’s experience with this enterprise laid the groundwork for his entry as a rental owner.

Historical attractions are plentiful in Yankton, S.D., home of Clark's Rentals

Historical attractions are plentiful in Yankton, S.D., home of Clark’s Rentals

“I was a contractor back in the ’90s, then I started a ready-mix company,” he says. “A lot of the guys who worked for me started doing their own concrete work and I supplied them with the ready-mix, so a lot of my employees turned into my customers. Then they were all borrowing my equipment. I said, ‘This has got to change; I can’t just let you borrow it.’ So, I started renting it to them, and that’s how I got into [rental].”

With the merging of Midwest Ready Mix & Equipment and Clark’s Rentals, Hertz says, “We have two locations now, so customers can either pick up stuff in Vermillion or Yankton.”

When it opens in early 2024, Clark’s Rentals’ expansive new facility will provide much-needed space for its own equipment plus a whole lot more.

“We’re going to have spaces available for lease in the building,” Hertz says. “This will be a great location for an HVAC guy, a landscaper, a plumber, an electrician — and maybe even another spin-off that rents out stuff for weddings and parties.”

The field of opportunity is wide open for businesses looking to set up shop alongside Clark’s Rentals in the new facility.

“This area pulls in traffic from 90 miles around,” Hertz says. “You’re getting a lot of exposure, room and accessibility to get in and out. That was the whole reason I bought this. We have an easement around the backside, so I can bring trucks and semis in and out easily.”

That kind of maneuverability is critical as construction projects abound in the area.

“This year Yankton has broken records with the number of building permits issued,” Hertz says. “Residential and commercial building is strong. Right across the road from us, they are putting up a big gun and ammo factory. The whole area is booming right now. After COVID hit, a lot of people realized that they don’t have to live on the East or West Coast, and they’ve moved here to the Midwest.”

Clark’s Rentals’ new footprint represents another big step in its evolution from humble beginnings.

Clark's Rentals' longtime location — soon to be vacated in favor of a new, modern facility

Clark’s Rentals’ longtime location — soon to be vacated in favor of a new, modern facility

“My father, Larry Clark, started this company,” says Carl Clark, manager, who has been with the business since 1997. “He was a motorcycle mechanic, so he had a lot of specialty tools. His friends would come over and borrow tools. Eventually it clicked in his head that he could get a few dollars back out of them borrowing his tools. Not only would it pay for the tool, it would help him get more tools. We started running stuff out of a garage, then he started his first storefront in a little building that was an old bait shop.”

Two more moves to bigger spaces followed as the company grew over the years.

Larry Clark retired in 2017 and sold the business to local businessman Marlin LaCroix, who ran it for five years before selling it to Hertz. Despite the relocations and the changes of ownership, one thing has been a constant for Clark’s Rental in its 30 years of operation: its identity as an independent, locally-owned business, which means a lot in a small town.

“Marlin had his brother, sister, nieces and nephews working here, so it’s a family-run deal,” Hertz says. “Marlin wanted to keep it locally owned and operated and not sell out to a big chain, so he approached me about buying it. We’re a small town; I think Yankton is 17,000 and Vermillion is 10,000 — everybody knows everybody, and what makes our business stand out from the other guys is that we are locally owned. Carl [Clark, founder Larry’s son] has been here 26 years and his heart and soul goes into the business. I think he’s pretty happy with somebody local buying it and keeping it.”

Carl Clark

Carl Clark

Hertz also keeps the company’s profile high locally by supporting the booster club and other charitable endeavors, and through an annual open house-style celebration.

“We throw a big party every year at a local bar. We put it on the radio, invite whoever wants to show up and give them free drinks all night long. I DJ it — I’m kind of a DJ on the side. There are games, prizes and we play bingo; we sell bingo cards and all that goes to charity. It’s a lot of fun and if someone comes who is not a customer, they might become one,” Hertz says.

As Clark’s Rentals is poised to enter a new era in a new building in a different part of town, how do its longtime employees feel about upping stakes and relocating from its historic presence in the city center? “A lot of my longtime customers have asked me that same question,” Carl Clark says. “I’m really excited to move into a shiny new building. But as I look around at all of our inventory that’s going to have to be moved into said new shiny building, that’s where some trepidation comes in!”