Equipment, hot rods and movies — all essentials at Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals
By Connie Lannan
November 7, 2023
Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals, the Sacramento, Calif., rental company owned by Tom Butts, has developed fans on several fronts.
Many know the company through its Instagram posts. The business has gained notoriety for its lively and humorous videos that parody everything from famous movies like the “Star Wars” trilogies and “The Wolf Man” to classic television specials such as “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Construction equipment, many times uniquely wrapped to go along with the theme of the video, is a staple. All are written and produced by the Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals team and have become an integral part of the company’s branding, attracting a large fan base from across the country.
Others follow the company through its sponsorship of the No. 12 NASCAR Craftsman Truck driven by Spencer Boyd. Butts, who couldn’t get enough of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars as a kid, is today a fan of hot rods and other equipment. As a sponsor since 2021, he is living out his dream.
“I don’t think many [other rental operations] are doing this. This is a bucket list item for me,” Butts says, adding that at the end of 2025 “the truck I part-own will be coming to our business for display.” Until then customers can visit Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals and see the restored 1929 Chevy Rat Rod he has in his shop.
Both endeavors, along with all the promotional swag of shirts, hats and stickers they give out, are part of showing his customers Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals is not your run-of-the-mill equipment rental operation.
“I want people to have a different experience when they come to us. I bring stuff I like and bring it into my world [of rental]. I always wanted to be in movies or make movies, so we are bringing that in. I love Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Sr. My dream scenario, while we aren’t there yet, is to have a couple of hot rods in the shop that you can take your picture with. We have the merchandise you can grab and it all wraps into what we are trying to do: be the best in our area. We want to expand the rental experience,” Butts says.
That “different experience” has paid off. The company was named a Rental Management Market Mover in the magazine’s June/July 2023 issue. In 2020, the company achieved $4.3 million in rental revenue. By 2022, that had jumped to $8.4 million — a 95 percent growth rate.
Butts attributes that growth to being a family-owned operation with an intense focus on customer service and the right fleet mix.
“For us, what customer service means is responding quickly on the phone, via text, email or voicemail. When we help them and we are honest, that is what our customers want. Then a lot of the money the company makes goes right back into the company to expand our fleet. We go down to weed eaters and other lawn equipment all the way up to Caterpillar D6T dozers and Caterpillar 315 excavators. We run more than 40 excavators — 4,000 lb. to over 30,000 lb. Our skid steer fleet is just a little under that. Our fleet mix is successful and we have some unique pieces. We won’t have a fleet like one of the big companies, but when you come to us it will be an experience. You get a handshake and more than ‘Here’s your receipt.’ If we don’t have an item our customer needs, we help them find it. There is a good vibe here and people want us to succeed and be part of it. It comes down to that,” he says.
Butts says it is all about his 20-plus employees, including his three sons, who make it all happen. “Customer service and a loyal crew have gotten us to where we are at. We have a lot of people who wear a lot of hats. I am so lucky to be working with such incredible people, including having the opportunity to work with my kids. My oldest son, Zach, started in the yard and is now our lead sales counterperson handling a lot of responsibility. All are great and work hard. We all take pride in our equipment and try to make sure we back up our success so we have continued success,” he says.
As way to brand his business and his dedicated staff, he started doing videos for the business in 2015. “We started with basic things, such as with ‘Star Wars.’ We do a video every May 4 [highlighting ‘May the Fourth be with you.’] My son, Drew, did it. It was awesome. We put it up and people loved it. I said, ‘Let’s do Evel Knievel, let’s do Halloween and other holiday videos.’ The videos help us with our branding and help us stand out. They are us showing who we are and us having fun with what we do. We spend a lot of time and money with it. It is an advantage. Most people don’t have the desire. We do,” he says. To see the latest Halloween video, click here.
The videos have developed a diverse and loyal following. “The response has been through the roof. After one video, I had the head people at Dynapac North America reach out to us because one of their rollers was in it. They wanted to help spread the word. Caterpillar shared one of my [equipment] wraps. I talk to people who sell equipment who are in LA and they say, ‘Those are the guys with the videos.’ Some of the people who follow us have nothing to do with Northern or Southern California. I am blown away by this. One gentleman reached out to me. He wanted some hats, shirts and stickers. He lives in Michigan. I thought we must be doing something right that he is a fan of ours. I have had people come in who see our equipment and say they want a piece of equipment that was used in our video,” Butts says.
The notoriety is a long way from where Butts established the business in 2004 after working for another rental company since graduating from high school. “We had a humble beginning. People said there wasn’t a need for another rental company in Sacramento. I had a relationship with a big contractor in town. It was baby steps for a long time. Now we have a huge following of big, medium and small contractors as well as homeowners. They like our experience and that we give away hats, shirts and stickers. Having a business and the team around me has made that happen. It just blows me away,” he says.
As Butts comes off a record year of growth, he is looking toward the future. “If we can be within 20 percent of last year, we will be doing really well. We have three months to go and it looks like we will blow away our record from last year. I am very optimistic. We have a range of customers and there is still a lot of construction in Sacramento. If our purchasing is within reason and we continue to buy the right equipment, I feel we will have continued success. As we are getting older, we are becoming seasoned and making better decisions on a daily basis. Our service and mechanical staff are excellent. There are a lot of great things happening. I want to keep our creativity going. I want to be true and continue to build our business and thank our customers. I am excited to see how far we can go,” he says, adding that, no matter what, the videos of his team and equipment will be arriving in your Instagram feed for a long time to come.