Employee Jozalyn Hughes behind counter
When business is popping, you’re running on all cylinders and you cater to rural, modest, hard-working folk, you don’t give much thought to ceremonies of patting of yourself on the back. Maybe that’s why the 30th anniversary of MHR Equipment and Event Rental (MHR), New Wilmington, Pa., initially came and went without anyone knowing — even its founders.
“My parents started the business, but they didn’t realize the anniversary,” says Anna Yohman, MHR’s marketing and sales coordinator who also serves on the ARA of Pennsylvania board of directors. “I was preparing our marketing for the quarter, and I said, ‘Uh, Dad, it’s been 30 years.’ He didn’t believe it and when I told him we started in December ’92, he realized it really had been 30 years. So, we missed it.”
Even after the MHR team discovered they had a milestone birthday on their hands, they opted against any sort of shindig. “Our community is very low key in that sense,” Yohman says.
MHR is a hardware retailer under the True Value franchise banner and offers a variety of equipment rentals for the DIY/homeowner as well as event rentals. The company was launched by Don Miller with his wife, Lee Ann, in 1992 strictly as an extension of Don’s family heritage in the feed business.
“My father is a fifth-generation owner; his mother’s side had a feed mill — they started in wool first — in Claysville, Pa. He and my mother met at Westminster College here in New Wilmington. My father saw a need for feed in town, so he started [a business] in 1992. Then he realized there was a hardware store need, so he added that in 1997. He bought out another hardware store in town in 1999, built a new facility in 2001 and then he added small tool rental in 2003,” Yohman says.
Today, rental accounts for more than half of MHR’s overall revenue and while tool retail and rental remain staples, event rental is where the real action is. “1,000 percent,” Yohman says. “Event has taken over and surpassed the hardware store. We do some small tool rental like snakes, and the U-Sander is big for us, but our main demographic is the backyard party or weddings.”
Logan stands guard outside MHR
As big as the segment is for them today, MHR got into event rentals with just a toe in the water at first. “After starting with tool rentals, my father saw a need in the community and added just some small tents for graduation parties,” Yohman says. “But then he realized there was more of a need because we are rural, western Pennsylvania Amish country, so there’s not much by us.”
Event rentals only grew from there for MHR. The scarcity of other event rental houses in the area, combined with a major acquisition three years ago, have positioned the company as the premier go-to for event rental needs in the vicinity.
“We bought a second location — Presque Isle Tent and Table — in Erie, Pa., in 2020, and event has just blown up and controls all rental for us,” Yohman says.
That kind of success is even more impressive considering the company eschews splashy public-facing displays and big marketing spends.
Backyard party and wedding rentals account for the majority of MHR’s business today
“We don’t even have a storefront for events,” Yohman says. “I don’t like putting money into marketing if we don’t have to, so we have basically grown by word of mouth. Our money goes into our website and the SEO [search engine optimization] side.”
Being an independent rental operation in a rural setting is not without its challenges, but there are advantages to MHR’s structure that sets the business up to thrive and reach even more big milestones in the years to come.
“It’s hard nowadays when big box stores like Lowe’s or Walmart are able to charge such a small amount [for equipment]; we can’t buy large quantities to get a lower rate,” Yohman says. “But being family owned is a big deal in New Wilmington. Also, our staff is amazing and that’s what keeps people coming in. We get reviews solely based on our staff and how nice they are, how they help people and how, if they don’t know the answer to a question, they figure it out. For example, we had a belt break on a concrete saw last week and the customer just said, ‘I get it. I can’t finish my project, but get the belt in and call me. I know you guys are good for it.’ He just ‘got it.” Our community is awesome in the sense that it has a very small-town feel.”