Top Gunn Equipment Rentals puts a different spin on rental
By Connie Lannan
Listen to the on-hold message at Top Gunn Equipment Rentals in Austin, Texas, and you instantly know this is not your typical rental operation.
You hear the deep, silky baritone voice of Brandon Marrs, company president, inviting you to visit Top Gunn Equipment Rentals, where the “mission is to not only exceed the quality of services provided by our competitors, but in fact to exceed any and all expectations of our customers” over the guitar riffs of ZZ Top’s classic hit song “La Grange.” You are immediately pulled in, wanting to learn more about what this company can do for you.
It’s a message that grabs your attention. “Yes, I have gotten a little famous for that and have had customers want me to do their voice-overs. I even have had customers call and say, ‘Put me on hold as I want to hear your message.’ We try to have a good time with it. It’s a way to differentiate ourselves from the more normal, mundane message,” says Marrs, who also serves as the Legislative Committee chair on the Texas Rental Association (TRA) board.
Making the rental experience a little more fun and laid-back is all part of the way Marrs operates Top Gunn. “We keep it pretty simple. My big thing is the Golden Rule — treat others as you would want to be treated. It works out nine times out of 10. If you make a mistake, you own it and make it right,” he says.
For Marrs, “it is all about relationships — the relationships we have built with people. We love the people and thoroughly enjoy dealing with all our customers and vendors. We hope they enjoy doing business with us as well. We make mistakes like anyone else, but folks are more forgiving if they love you. If they genuinely love you, and we love them back and treat them with respect, it works out. It is not a complicated recipe, honestly,” he says.
Marrs has always operated this way. It was also the philosophy of Jay Gunn, who founded the business with his two brothers.
“Jay was loved. I am just following his lead,” Marrs says, adding that Gunn “passed way too soon” in 2016.
Marrs is proud to continue the tradition that Gunn started. “He started by renting trailers and selling furniture on the side of the road at a busy intersection in southwest Austin. They had a trailer and people asked if they could borrow or rent the trailer for their furniture delivery, so they started renting trailers,” Marrs says.
“The business morphed into Three Gunn Trailers. They moved to a location, which we still use as our south Austin location. They also set up satellite trailer sites at hardware and convenience stores, and other similar businesses all over Texas. They would leave a few trailers there and the business would rent them out with Jay and his brothers getting a cut, but it became too much to manage. They wound up consolidating everything into Top Gunn Equipment Rentals and added some small homeowner equipment. They also did vehicle inspections. So, the business evolved from a few trailers to a bunch of trailers to small general tool stuff and now our operation has more than $6 million a year in equipment rentals and outdoor power equipment sales,” he adds.
Marrs came on board in 2010. “I was with a competitor, starting in the yard, loading and unloading equipment, cleaning and servicing and then kind of running things. I was there 11 years before Jay and I joined forces. Over the last 13 years, I bought the business piece by piece. In September 2020 I was able to finalize the purchase of the entire business, buying the business and assets from the Gunn family. I am going to keep carrying the torch that Jay and his family started,” he says.
One way to keep the tradition going is to nurture what is already a family atmosphere. “It’s a family operation through and through,” Marrs says.
Members of his family work in the business. His wife is the office manager and serves as vice president. His sister is one of his counter leads. His brother-in-law is the lead driver.
But at Top Gunn, family encompasses more than blood relations. One of Marrs’ best friends growing up is now the manager of the north Austin store. Then there are the three Gonzales brothers, all working in either service or sales. Three members of the Rosales family also work at the business. One is the customer service manager with his nephew and cousin working in the yard.
It is an attitude toward all his 27 employees, not counting himself or his wife, and their customers, Marrs notes. “We are very family-oriented here. Many employees are long-term. Some have been with us more than 10 years and many are creeping up on that. We also have a really loyal customer base. Our goal is to see both our employees and customers succeed and better their families because of the help we provide,” he says.
It is a way of operating that works. “By working together, we keep our customers’ jobs running. We have in-house finance and have rolled the dice on occasion and took risks on people who don’t have great credit or a lot of credit. The majority of the time it works out for the better. We also try to have a good time. While we are technically incorporated, we pride ourselves in not always acting like a corporation,” he says with a hearty laugh.
Since Marrs came on board, the business and inventory selection have grown. “We serve everyone from homeowners to small- and medium-size contractors. Landscapers and arborists also are huge for us. Outdoor power equipment is about half of our business. We serve some of the big boys [large contractors], too, but that is not our niche. We also sell equipment and service everything we offer,” he adds.
His inventory ranges from pressure washers, sewer augers, jackhammers, pumps, chain saws and the like to 9,000-lb. excavators and up to 9,000-lb. skid steers. “We stay under 10,000 lbs. so we don’t have to worry about CDLs for our drivers and big rigs,” he says.
Supply chain issues have been a challenge. “We have had to get aggressive with purchasing — ordering more than normal and purchasing way far out. We try to forecast up to two years ahead instead of a year ahead. We also have purchased more ‘gently used’ rental equipment to fill the gaps,” he says.
While he normally sells his rental equipment, that has been put on hold. In typical Marrs fashion, he takes a humorous spin on the situation. “We need to milk those cows [current equipment] a little longer. We don’t want our cows to go dry, though,” he says with a laugh.
Right now he serves his customers through two locations in Austin. “We have our north Austin location that is a 10,000-sq.-ft. building on 1 acre of land. Our south Austin store is about a third of the size — a 1,500-sq.-ft. building on a third of an acre. We are looking to move that location to a larger one,” Marrs says.
More growth is definitely in the future. “We want to add locations strategically. I am not in a huge rush to grow, but at the same time, if there is an opportunity I want to take advantage of it. We are looking at a third location now. We would love to expand throughout Central Texas,” Marrs says.
It is just expanding the footprint that Gunn set forth when he started the business in 1996, Marrs notes. “It has worked out so far, knock on wood,” he says, adding that he will continue to do it by striving “to exceed any and all expectations” — just as his on-hold message says.
Mentor encourages ARA involvement at the state level
Brandon Marrs, president, Top Gunn Equipment Rentals, Austin, Texas, credits the late Fred Dupy, who passed in May 2022 and was president of American Party Rental, also in Austin, for helping him become involved with the Texas Rental Association (TRA).
“He recruited me,” Marrs says. “He was a mentor of mine coming up through the industry back in the day. He was a competitor, but he was always as nice as he could be. We would even send business back and forth to each other. After I came to Top Gunn and got into the ownership side, he called me and said, ‘You young bucks have to pick up the torch eventually. I am getting a little old.’”
That is how Marrs chose to run for a seat on the TRA board in 2019. He joined as a board member and soon became a member of the TRA Membership Committee and then chair of its Legislative Committee. He is still chair and just participated in TRA’s State Legislative Day. He also is a member of the TRA Finance Committee.
He is grateful Dupy nudged him to become more involved in the state chapter as he has gained a lot from this experience.
One of the integral benefits of involvement is “the networking and just learning from people,” he says. “I have been in rental for 25 years, but I am still learning stuff day-in and day-out. It is great to talk with folks who have been there and done that. That has helped me out a lot. Again, it is building those relationships.”