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Family pulls a rental rescue

By Connie Lannan

November 7, 2023

Bruce Jones, sitting, and his brother, Larry

Bruce Jones, sitting, and his brother, Larry

The love of rental runs deep in the Jones family of Burton, Mich. When they saw their family equipment rental business falter after their father, Chester, sold it in the early 1980s, brothers Bruce and Larry joined him not only in resuming ownership but also in bringing the business back. That was 1984, and the business, Allied Rent-All/Allied Equipment Rental, has been thriving ever since.

The family’s rental connection began in the 1960s, when Chester and his brother, Ernie, wanted to leave their jobs at an area box manufacturing company. They began looking at an equipment rental franchise.

“They saw that these franchise businesses dealt with machinery. Having grown up on the farm and being used to driving heavy equipment, they both gravitated to the industry,” says Bruce, company president.

The two brothers went to the bank to see about receiving a loan to purchase a franchise. “The banker, who was about to retire, asked them. ‘Why don’t you just do this on your own? You have to pay them so much for the franchise fee.’ After more discussion, the banker said my father and uncle looked like a couple of good guys and decided to loan them the money. That is how they started Allied Rent-All in 1961,” Bruce says.

Brothers Ernie, left, and Chester Jones in 1967

Brothers Ernie, left, and Chester Jones in 1967

Chester and Ernie ran the independent store together until around 1970, when Ernie wanted to leave Michigan and start a rental operation in California. “My dad bought him out and then operated solo until 1980. Then he sold it (on contract) to a new owner,” Bruce says.

At that point, Chester returned to farming — “his way of relaxing,” Bruce says. He also kept noticing that things weren’t going well with the rental business he had sold.

“The people who were operating it let it go. They took revenue from this store and helped out another location in Detroit. They weren’t paying attention and chased away all the customers that my dad had built up over the years. They also were having other people use different parts of the store. He wasn’t getting any money and let them out of the contract,” Bruce says.

In 1984, Chester and his sons took over the business he had started more than 20 years before. Because of an argument with the Michigan unemployment office about unemployment rates, Chester formed a new corporation — Allied Equipment Rental. “So our official name is Allied Equipment Rental, but we go by Allied Rent-All,” Bruce says.

At that time of the transition, “Larry was still in high school and started working afternoons. He was part of a co-op education program at school. I was a senior in high school that year. I came in after school. I went to college part time, studying to be a mechanical engineer, and then worked here at the store. I did that for three years and eventually couldn’t do both, so I stayed with rental,” Bruce says.

Soon thereafter, Bruce and Larry were taking over the day-to-day operation of the business, with their father offering guidance when needed.

The brothers grew the business and both became very hands-on owners. “I went to school and became a certified welder. I learned how to drive a truck and got my over-the-road truck driver’s license. I help with all the deliveries and go to the job sites. My wife refers to me as a walking geography map as I have been everywhere. She asks me how to get somewhere and I know exactly where to go,” says Larry, company vice president.

Business in the early years

Business in the early years

A member of the American Rental Association (ARA) since shortly after their father first started the business and continuing that membership when they regained control of the operation, Bruce even became a member of the ARA of Michigan board, serving from 1996-2012. “At the time I was one of the youngest members on the board. I took in a lot,” he says, adding that they continue to take advantage of ARA of Michigan offerings, including the Winter Conference and RenTech trainings.

The brothers, who have kept their operation at the same location where their father started it, purchased some surrounding property so they are now sitting on 3 acres. This works well for their customer mix.

“Our business caters primarily to the small- and medium-size contractors and homeowners. Homeowners are about 35 percent to 40 percent of our business. Our biggest piece of equipment is a 42-ft. telehandler. We also have skid steers and mini excavators. We go down to the smaller items, too, including a metal detector,” Bruce says.

With a staff of eight full-time employees, including some who have been with the company for eight to 24 years, the brothers are proud of the fact “that our customers tell us that we don’t treat them like a number. We are the little guys and focus on relationships and customer service,” Bruce says, adding that he attributes his business’s success to his employee’s hard work and commitment to building a customer-centered business.

Bruce and Larry also are proud of the impact they have had on their community and their customers. “I can drive around town and see all the different projects our equipment has been on — see that we helped build that. I also love it when a customer comes back and says, ‘You really helped me out. I am glad I took your advice and didn’t do this how I was thinking of doing it and did it how you suggested,’” Bruce says.

Of course there have been challenges over the years. The recession in 2008 “really hit our area hard. We were feeling it even before that time. We relied on our dad to help us foresee what was coming in the future. We stopped purchasing as much equipment and held off on selling equipment. We made money where we could to stockpile it for a rainy day,” Bruce says.

They also endured the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. “We reduced our hours and did a two-month layoff. We had a lot of people calling us, but we held off because they were saying that it has to be for emergency use. Once they lifted the ban on construction, things took off,” Bruce says.

Like other rental operations, they have had difficulty with supply chain issues and labor challenges. “I would love to hire more people, but we are having trouble finding them,” he adds.

Some of the current crew

Some of the current crew

An ARA Peer Advisory Group has been particularly valuable at helping their business get through these challenges and has made Bruce feel more comfortable in reaching out to other rental operators.

“I joined a peer group in 2018. It has been very helpful. My dad always told me to call someone to see what to do about a problem. Before, I didn’t feel comfortable bothering someone. Since joining the group, I have no hesitation to call or text someone with a question,” he says with a laugh.

With their father’s passing seven years ago, the brothers have become an even stronger team to keep their operation thriving. Rental is an integral part of their lives.

“Getting to drive all this big equipment, like how we did on the farm, is a big plus,” Larry says. “It just gets in your blood.”

Bruce agrees. “Rental has been a good business for us. It has been hard work. I won’t deny that. You have to really like it to do it. After working here all this time, I knew I couldn’t just sit behind a desk. I would have been very unhappy being an engineer. I am used to being able to work outside and getting my hands dirty. It is part of my nature,” he says.