Member profile: Service Rentals & Supplies still thriving after 50 years in business
By Connie Lannan
January 10, 2023
Ryan Ouye, president, Service Rentals & Supplies, Kahului, Hawaii, doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t helping out or working in his family’s rental operation.
“The rental industry has always been a part of my life, maybe even a part of my DNA,” he laughs. “I remember being at ‘the shop’ almost every day, waiting for my parents. While my friends were playing sports and after-school activities, I was at the shop playing with equipment. At a young age, my whole life revolved around Service Rentals. Even during my college days, when I attended school at Long Beach State in California, my dad would bring me back home during Thanksgiving break to work for three days and then send me back to school. It was all about the work ethic. He was going to ride me the hardest. He didn’t want any of our employees — many of whom were family or had been with us a long time and were considered family — to think that I wasn’t putting in my time. My dad wanted me to understand what hard work was. When I came to work here full-time, I started as the wash guy, portable toilet assistant, parts person, service department worker, salesperson and then made my way to general manager and now president.”
That work ethic and dedication have paid off. Service Rentals & Supplies, which was established by Ouye’s late father, Richard, in 1972 as an offshoot of the family’s small construction company, now has six locations. Besides the original and continued home base operation in Kahului, the business has branches in Kauai; Lahaina on Maui; Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii; Oahu; and most recently Hilo, also on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Since its inception, the business has focused on serving small- to medium-size contractors and homeowners as well as large contractors. The company also offers limited party inventory for backyard parties at the Kona branch. “Our inventory covers the gamut, from boom lifts to skill saws and portable toilets. We don’t specialize, but we have a good mix of equipment that works well for our customers,” he says.
Besides the commitment to hard work, Ouye attributes his company’s success to key factors, including reliance on family and the values that instills, plus dedication to customers’ needs.
“Ohana means family in Hawaiian. It is a term that we have all grown up using and know its meaning — that family is more than just our blood relatives. It also is our close friends and our support systems. I consider all my 52 employees part of my Ohana. We are all Ohana,” he says.
Service Rentals & Supplies “has survived and thrived because of the work from our employees, whether they are blood relatives or not,” Ouye adds. “We have generations of families who started working with my dad. Their families are still working with us to this day as well as many longtime employees. I do have direct family members who are working for us today, including my son, Rysan, who works in our Kauai branch with my cousins, Guy and Andrew. My cousin, Kim, is our human resources director, and my cousin, George, is one of my mechanics.”
That inclusive concept of family was a saving grace when his father decided to open a second location on Kauai after the island took a direct hit from Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
“The hurricane left the Island without power and water for weeks on end. We were receiving a lot of calls from there to send generators for rental and sale. We decided to open a location there, first working out of a tool shed in a dirt yard. We were really lucky to have relatives and friends on Kauai who helped us gather employees, find a location and get the word out that we were open and ready for business. Through that experience I learned that with the help of family, friends and hard work we can continue to build a strong foundation for Service Rentals and our employees. Opening the location on Kauai gave us the formula and self-assurance to open more branches when the time presented itself,” he says, adding that “my goal was to move Service Rentals across the island chain, which we have done.”
That experience also taught him adaptability and flexibility — traits that have come in handy when other challenges have arisen, such as the influx of national equipment rental companies to the island and even the recent health pandemic.
“The national companies brought in more competition. We had to change our model from ‘fix’ to ‘buy new and replace our fleet,’” he says, adding that those changes have made his operation better and more efficient.
Those skills were put to the test when the worst of COVID-19 hit. “Living on an island, our resources are very limited, especially when it came to finding masks, gloves and cleaning supplies. Also, we have only one hospital, so we did everything we could to keep everyone safe. In Hawaii, we have a lot of families who live with Kupuna (grandparents) and parents, so we scoured everywhere and started making masks for our team. We took ARA’s [American Rental Association] Clean. Safe. Essential. training. We also had 99 percent of our employees get vaccinated and boosted and didn’t have to lay anyone off. We take care of family. That is important in our culture,” he says.
During the height of the pandemic, his portable sinks were in high demand, “but we couldn’t get sinks. We adapted and had to create our own rental sinks. It didn’t look pretty, but our customers felt better,” he says.
Like other rental operators, he is trying to find workers and dealing with supply chain issues. “While we didn’t lay anyone off, we did have some employees leave to go back to the mainland because of the high costs and not enough family support here,” Ouye says. “It’s also been a challenge obtaining parts for certain pieces of equipment as shipping takes three to four weeks to get here from the West Coast and shipping inter-island has been a challenge with only one carrier. We have had to book weeks to months in advance just to get our equipment to another island. But in the end we try our best to make it work. Now we are stocking more parts, similar to what we used to do back in the 1990s before UPS and FedEx were big and could ship anything to you quickly.”
These and other challenges have made Ouye push harder because he knows his customers depend on him for their equipment and service.
“We strive to give our customers great service. Our mission is ‘to be our customer’s first choice when renting equipment in the state of Hawaii,’” he says.
Striving to be the first choice also means providing customers with the most up-to-date equipment. That is why he has invested in new equipment and more models that are battery-powered. “We have added battery rammers and battery plates. We also got into large robotic mowers for landscapers and homeowners. Landscaping companies have challenges with the high labor costs. That has made a lot more people interested in these models,” he says, adding that the savings on repair costs is also a draw.
Ouye also invests heavily in the community as he sees that as another way to take care of his customers. “Part of the Service Rentals ethos has been giving back to the community,” he says. “Whether it’s light towers for the county fair or generators for a graduation party, we always give back to the community that raised us. The backbone of Hawaii is our local family businesses and local community. Our company is dedicated to fostering this. I sit on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Maui, the Family Business Center of Hawaii and Feed My Sheep. We also get involved with our local and state contractor associations as well as help the youth who are interested in getting into the construction industry. We even have reached out to our local college about creating skilled-trades partnerships.”
As Service Rentals & Supplies celebrates its golden anniversary this year, Ouye says his business has become part of the fabric of the community. While the company has not had a formal celebration yet, it recently was honored with the Maui County Lifetime Achievement Award for businesses that have been in operation for more than 20 years.
Reflecting on his company’s history, Ouye admits “it’s been fun trying to stay progressive and keep up with the latest forms of equipment technology. It is so gratifying to see our team offer high-quality customer service and education on how to use the right piece of equipment to get our customers’ projects done. Our equipment serves a purpose. My hope is to make every customer feel like we’re more of a partner — that we’re like family who meet our customers at the door, take care of their needs and walk them out safely until they come back again,” he says, adding “we would like to continue to expand our service to our communities for many years to come.”
For 50 years, ARA has been a valued resource for Hawaiian rental operator
Service Rentals & Supplies in Kahului, Hawaii, has been a member of the American Rental Association (ARA) since Ryan Ouye’s father, Richard, established the operation in 1972. Being a member of the association for the past 50 years is a true milestone — a relationship the team at the rental business is grateful to have.
“When I started in the business full time in 1992, I remember seeing all the binders with sheets of how to do things. Later, I started using the ARA tools, including the videos, to train my employees. I believe training is very important. I want my employees to have knowledge on the equipment as well as in how to strengthen their leadership skills,” he says.
In addition to the training resources, Ouye, whose operation is covered by ARA Insurance, relies on ARA “to keep abreast of what is going on with the rest of the country. That is huge knowing there are other members out there I can call to ask questions regarding what I should do about a situation or to see what is coming down the pike for Hawaii. Sometimes we are stuck in the operation and can’t see the whole picture. That is why I go to The ARA Show™, too, to see the products and gain a whole-picture perspective,” he says.
Ouye is a member of two ARA Peer Advisory Groups. “The first one I joined is for smaller companies. The second one I joined is for multilocation groups. Both give me different perspectives. That is very valuable to me,” he says.
Because ARA has been such a strong part of his rental life, Ouye was thrilled when Tony Conant, ARA CEO, came to Hawaii in July and visited his operation.
“It was great to see him. As I showed him our main operation in Kahului, we had a good conversation about the industry and such. It was wonderful to have him come to Hawaii and visit us over here,” he says.