Trending Content

Thompson Rental Services & Sales delivers to its customers

By Steve Elliott

August 23, 2023

William “Monty” Thompson Jr.

The inventory is vast over its three stores in South Carolina, and with the equipment comes knowledge and expertise available for customers arriving at Thompson Rental Services & Sales.

With locations in Columbia, Lexington and Irmo, S.C., the rental stores serve contractors, builders, arborists, landscapers and homeowners throughout the state.

Customers receive a choice of options and assistance, such as an advanced reservation system along with experienced staff. Full-time mechanics at each store work on equipment and make service calls, and a time-friendly atmosphere is designed to get the customer in and out, and back to work.

Equipment includes aerial lifts, mini excavators, wheeled and track skid steers, compact loaders, concrete tools, generators, dump trailers, landscaping equipment and power tools. The rental stores carry some of the industry’s leading brands. And, the stores are using technology to improve visibility and evolve in the equipment rental industry.

Like many successful businesses, Thompson Rental Services & Sales has used a number of strategies through the years to create a solid customer base. The story’s humble beginnings started in 1982 when William “Monty” Thompson Jr., went into business with his father, the late William Thompson, in Florida.

“We bought an old storage trailer company, and that’s where we started with 100 over-the-road trailers,” Monty says. “We kind of grew up in the garbage business. That’s what my dad did, and I worked as operations manager in my younger days all over Florida. We were just about everywhere you could live except the Keys.”

Monty says over a period of years, their business grew to almost 200 storage trailers and more than 100 office trailers in three states. Monty’s brother, John Thompson, came on board in 1985 and within a few months, began working with the company full time. He retired in December 2020.

To this day, John Thompson is fond of reminding people about the early days where a 1948 Fruehauf Trailer was their first repair and tool storage shop.

“As we grew, I always liked looking down at that rusty hulk as a reminder of where we came from. In those days, Monty and I were also the trailer set up guys. It didn’t happen overnight,” John Thompson says.

In 1987, the company entered the portable toilet and restroom trailer market with John handling the day-to-day management. Eventually, the inventory grew to more than 1,100 portable toilets, multiple restroom trailer units and more trucks than they can remember. Acquisitions of several portable toilet companies followed.

“It was a great business, and we made a lot of money over the years. I had great guys and most of them worked for me 10 or 15 years, which is unheard of in that industry. You’ve got trucks running 70 stops a day,” Monty says. “But, there’s a lot of liability in it, and nobody likes the porta-john man until you need to go.”

Monty says he and his dad decided in 1993 to look into another rental idea. In February of 1994, they opened a store called Grand Rental, a Division of Service Star.

“They had a floor plan and all of that,” Monty says. “It was a learning curve.”

Eventually the two built up the business. Thompson co-owner Benji Glover came onboard in 1995. Monty’s son and fellow co-owner William (Bill) Thompson III grew up in the rental business working and learning under Monty’s tutelage.

In 2005, Thompson Rental Services & Sales became its own entity after buying out their owner at the time, HSS RentX. Event rental was part of their inventory for years, doing events in Columbia and surrounding areas.

“We were moving to bigger and bigger equipment, telehandlers and stuff like that, so we subsequently moved out of party and are continuing to do equipment,” Monty says.

The company’s niche is one day and one week rentals on the bigger equipment.

“As soon as you get into a month long rental, the big guys are quoting it, and we can’t compete with it,” Monty says. “But we’ll go with the bigger stuff pretty much anywhere in the state.”

Rental and sales complement each other, Monty says.

“When you’re renting a piece of equipment, and if the customer has an interest in it, you can get a sale out of it,” Monty says. “Also, if you sell a piece of equipment to a guy, and it needs repair or he needs another one, he can come in and just rent one. They both (sales and rental) feed off each other.”

Glover got into the business about the time Monty opened his first store in 1994.

“I was renting equipment from him,” Glover says. “I used to do a lot of cutting of firewood, so I would come in and rent a log splitter, and everything he had was brand new at the time. And, we had this one log splitter, and it would run for just a few minutes, and it would shut off.

“So, I brought it back to the store one day, and back in the shop, I was tinkering with it with Monty. We couldn’t figure it out. I spent the whole day, literally with Monty in the shop, trying to figure this log splitter out.

“He calls me about a week later, and says, ‘Hey, I got the log splitter up and running. Why don’t you come back by and get it. I went back up there, and I was like, ‘Hey, I don’t really like what I’m doing. If you ever have any positions, let me know. I might be interested in doing this.’”

Glover laughs at the memory 29 years later.

Monty told the young protégé, “Anybody dumb enough to sit back here and work on somebody else’s piece of equipment all day long, I need you to work for me!”

Glover says that’s literally how he got started in the equipment rental business.

“I would service the equipment, clean the toilet, write a contract, deliver the equipment,” Glover recalls. “We just did it all.”

Glover has never looked back.

“I’m a people person; I can talk to anybody,” Glover says. “I don’t meet very many strangers, and so every day, you’ve got somebody new coming in. I really enjoy that. A lot of it with rental is you’re having to solve people’s problems and make sure they have the right piece of equipment.”

From left to right, Marjorie Gates, William (Bill) Thompson III, William “Monty” Thompson Jr., and Benji Glover.

“My dad (Monty) showed me the basics, where to oil, grease the fittings,” Bill says. “He actually let me work as a kid, and he would buy me lunch every single day. And, at the end of the week, when I was getting paid, he deducted my lunch out of it. He said, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch.’”

Bill says he’s grateful for the lessons Monty taught him.

“It was pretty much if I wanted anything, I had to work for it,” he says. “He was a really good dad. He helped me buy my first car, stuff like that, but I had to work for it. At the end of the day, that’s a compliment.”

Today, Bill uses that experience growing up to help guide him in the equipment rental business where he has spent the past 13 years of his adult life.

“I was willing to do everything we paid our guys to do,” he says.

Monty, Bill and Benji all say the times are changing, and the ability to create content and use social media has resulted in successful growth for their equipment rental stores. Technology is under the realm of marketing manager Marjorie Gates.

She worked for an agency and had Thompson Rental Services & Sales as a client for 10 years, before joining the equipment rental company about a year ago.

“As far as my job goes, I moved from an agency to working directly with a rental company,” Gates says. “I like the fact that I get to be inside the stores versus with the agency, where I mostly worked from home. I get to interact with customers and employees.”

Gates says technology is becoming a key component of the equipment rental industry.

“I work on SEO content,” she says. “Google’s been around since I started, so that hasn’t changed much. But, the algorithms are always improving. So, I have to stay up to date on that. We’re always having to upgrade the website and add content to the website.”

Gates makes it easier for customers to access equipment, and as a result, reach new customers.

“It seems like with rental customers, the main thing is communication,” Gates says. “If you’re not communicating with them and letting them know what you have, then, they’re going to ask their friends and go where their friends go.”

Gates is a big picture marketer, understanding technology is both complex, and at times, simple.

“The Little Mermaid was one of my favorite cartoons,” Gates says with a smile. “And, there’s a song, ‘I want to be where the people are.’ And where are the people? They’re on their phones all the time on TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook. So, you just have to start showing up.

“I would encourage any small local business to just start getting on social media. Start doing your blog post. Even if it’s not perfect. Even if it’s not gaining any traffic or any traction. It’s going to get seen by somebody, and it will drive a little bit of business. A lot of it takes time,” she says. “The people who are getting millions of views on YouTube and TikTok, that’s because they’ve been there for years. You’re not going to get a million views the first time you go to something.”

As technology paves the way for the future, Monty says the foundation for success is still old-fashioned customer service.

“The small guy, which I consider us with our three locations, it’s doing service for the customer,” Monty says. “It always starts there. You do what you say you’re going to do. We’ll take a piece of machinery and clean it up, and get it right back out there.

“Being in the south, we’re blessed with a pretty good climate,” Monty continues. “You know, it’s been good for us, the locations, the people overall. It’s good to be in the rental business. We’ve been very fortunate.”