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Raymond Gardner — Rental Management's 2023 '12 to Watch Under 40'

By Connie Lannan

August 23, 2023

Raymond Gardner

For Raymond Gardner, 22, building a career at Rent Smart, his family’s equipment rental business in Grant and Sparta, Mich., was always the plan. “Ever since I was born, I went to the rental store my family was involved in. I actually started working in the industry when my parents started Rent Smart in 2007, when I was 6 years old. I always knew I wanted to be a part of this in some way,” says Gardner, who now serves as manager of the Sparta location. Gardner and his team of nearly 10 employees offer smaller equipment, from hand tools to small skid steers and mini excavators for their homeowner, small contractor, landscaper and excavator company customers. What attracted Gardner to his family’s rental operation was that every day was different.

It was “the fast pace and uniqueness from day to day — what I do on Monday is vastly different from what I do on Friday — and being able to serve my community in a way no other job can,” he says. Those traits make rental the perfect fit for his generation — Gen Z, Gardner notes. “My generation has the attention span of a squirrel, me included. My generation doesn’t want to be stuck with the same mundane tasks all day, every day. Rental is a fast-paced and dynamic field. That is why it is a great fit for Gen Z folks,” he says.

For Gardner, the best part of his job is “seeing my equipment being used on new construction, the remodel and rejuvenation of local homes and businesses. It’s awesome knowing that I played a part in making this community better for everyone,” he says. Just as rental has always been a mainstay for him, so has involvement in the American Rental Association (ARA). “I got involved in ARA very early on. I was always brought to events as a kid. Right from then, I began building relationships and connections that have benefited me immensely. My involvement has helped me so much, learning from all the classes and training — and just hearing stories and gaining advice from my peers. It’s awesome having a group of people who actually understand what you go through in rental,” he says.

Earlier this year, he took his involvement to the next level by joining the ARA of Michigan board. He was very familiar with the board and the state chapter’s offerings as his mother, Lori, had been a member of the ARA of Michigan board since 2017. She stepped down in February and the board invited him to fill the vacancy, which he was honored to do. As he builds his career in the industry and looks toward what is coming, he sees “telematics, asset tracking, alternative energy such as electric, hybrid and battery-powered equipment” as key elements of the industry’s future. But he is also of the firm opinion “that the future of rental will always be the people,” he says, noting that the relationship between the rental operator and the customer is and will continue to be the industry’s primary driver.