Member profile: Chance meeting turns into rental opportunity and new life for couple
By Connie Lannan
Mark and Katie Ridenhower, owners of M & K Rentals, Sheridan, Wyo., didn’t plan to own a rental business in Wyoming. Both were working in Montana, Katie at a credit union and Mark at WBI Energy. But a chance meeting at a drag race with the owner of Wyocarb Tools & Equipment in Wyoming became the impetus that dramatically changed the Ridenhowers’ lives.
“Technically, we weren’t even looking to own a business, let alone a rental business,” Katie says. “Mark’s hobby is drag racing. He was racing his ’49 Chevy coupe in Sturgis, S.D. At that race, he met Frank, the owner of Wyocarb Tools & Equipment. Apparently, Frank, who said he was semi-retired and wanting to retire, was planning to get a car ready for racing. Well, they started talking and Frank gave Mark his business card. That was in September of 2018. A week later, Mark called Frank and the next thing we knew we came down to Wyoming to visit with Frank. We came down about three times prior to December and then we met with a banker, wrote up a business plan and found an apartment in Sheridan, Wyo. At the end of December, we bought Frank’s business. It took time to get all the paperwork done, so it wasn’t until Feb. 1, 2019, that we took over ownership of the business.”
If that wasn’t enough of a whirlwind, Mark and Katie decided to get married before they left Montana for their new life in Wyoming. “We had dated for four years prior. At Thanksgiving in 2018, we decided to get married on Dec. 22. Between Mark and I we have six kids. Now we have four grandchildren,” Katie says with a hearty laugh.
While Mark had grown up around equipment, Katie had not. She knew nothing about equipment or rental. Neither thought they would own an equipment rental business, but as they were looking at their careers back in Montana, they decided it was time to work for themselves instead of someone else.
“As we looked into this opportunity, everything seemed to fall in place at the right place, at the right time and with the right people. It was a true blessing. We had a lot of family support. It was, I think, God’s will to put us where we were at the time. At that time Mark had had three back surgeries. It was time to re-evaluate what he and I needed to do,” Katie says, adding that “it was truly a good thing. We have been growing every year.”
Their first act as rental business owners was trekking out to Anaheim, Calif., to attend The ARA Show™. “We had learned about ARA [the American Rental Association] from Frank. That was a great tip as ARA has been amazing. We have ARA Insurance. Anytime we have had questions or need assistance, the folks at ARA and ARA Insurance have given us answers and direction. I also love the different articles that run in Rental Management,” she says.
Going to the show for the first time was “overwhelming,” she says. “We went to all the classes we could to learn and met people who were just starting out like us and others who had been in the business for many years. It was cool to visit with everyone. It was a buying show for us, too, which was great.”
Full of excitement from what they learned, saw and purchased, the Ridenhowers returned to Wyoming ready to make their business a success. In the beginning, it was just Katie and Mark. Then Mark’s youngest daughter, Brooklyn, worked with them during her summer break from college.
The business was beginning to flourish because “we pulled our strengths together to make this work,” Katie says. “Mark’s background included working at implement dealerships, and his knowledge of motors and equipment has made him a natural to work with the equipment. My background is in customer service at financial institutions, such as the credit union, and retail. I work directly with the customers, but I had to learn more than Mark when it came to the equipment as I had never run a piece of equipment. I could drive a truck and trailer, as I have done that when we have gone snowmobiling or going to races, but I didn’t know how to operate or instruct someone on the equipment. I learned. We are now starting our fifth year and I can run the equipment and know how to instruct others how to use it,” she adds with a sense of pride in her voice.
Over the years, they have learned so much, Katie says. “I don’t know how to describe it. It was a whole 360 for me. Every day we learn new things through our customers. Every year we keep learning more and more. Personally, I have learned to be patient, more knowledgeable and aware of everything I have and rent to customers before the customer comes to get it. I need to know it, learn it and feel comfortable with it before I rent it.”
To help them, Mark’s oldest daughter, Anna, came to work with them in June 2021 — the same year the Ridenhowers officially changed the name of their rental business from Wyocarb Tools & Equipment to M & K Rentals. “We made it our business, making M for Mark and K for Katie. We also created our tagline as ‘Make life easier with M & K Rentals.’ That is what we are all about,” she says.
In July 2022, a friend of the family, Trevor Clark, who had been a CDL truck driver, came to work for the operation. Now the four of them are handling the rentals to their homeowner and contractor customers. “Trevor can drive, is a mechanic and can weld. He helps Mark with the mechanical end. Both Anna and Trevor take care of lot of deliveries for us. It has been a true blessing to have these two young folks working here. We all work together to make it happen,” Katie says.
Over the years they have expanded their inventory mix to include dozers, trailers, telehandlers, skid steers, excavators, scissor and boom lifts, rollers, trenchers, augers, compactors, jumping jacks and other smaller equipment and hand tools. “We work with our customers. We even offer half-day rentals, and if you pay for four days, you get three days at no charge. If you pay for three weeks, you get the fourth week free. That has worked out well for our diverse client base,” Katie says.
The business had been a U-Haul dealership, but they have decided to eliminate that service. “Our business has grown so much. It (U-Haul) is only 3.6 percent of our business and takes up 60 percent of our time. We can no longer handle both U-Haul and all our other rentals, so we are letting this part go,” she says.
Like other rental operations, challenges have occurred. That first winter they realized they had to budget carefully to make sure they were prepared for the “quiet months,” Katie says.
Then the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit. “That gave us a little bit of a scare, but we found that a lot of homeowners were using this time to do projects at home. Our business really blew up. We did everything we could to help our customers, even making house calls, if necessary,” she says.
Other than that, “we just went with whatever came our way and ran with it. We have not let anything put fear in us. We pray about everything. It has worked out for us,” Katie adds.
Their business has grown substantially since they took ownership in 2019, almost doubling every year. “This has basically come through word of mouth,” she says. “That is still our primary way of getting new customers. We have customers refer others to us. We are really focused on personal service and our customers appreciate that.”
The Ridenhowers have no regrets concerning their decision to buy a rental business five years ago, moving from Montana to Wyoming and creating an entire new life without the safety net — vacations, paid time off, retirement accounts, etc. — that they had when they were working their previous 9-to-5 jobs. They have found that rental is the right business for them.
“We really like this industry and working with our customers. Both Mark and I are kind of ‘Chatty Cathies’ [referring to the pull-string ‘talking’ dolls that were manufactured by the Mattel toy company in the 1960s] and really pride ourselves in offering great customer service. We believe in providing that personal touch and making sure our customers understand and feel comfortable with our equipment so they can complete their jobs successfully. We are also invested in our community and even sponsor the local Sheridan Speedway, providing equipment to help with the track. We also help a lot of other community organizations,” she says. “It truly has been amazing. Everything has fallen into place and the entire journey has been a true blessing.”