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Johnson Concrete Enters Equipment Rental Business

Thu September 08, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Mary Reed

If you rent it, customers will come.

Such has been the experience of Johnson Concrete Company, headquartered in Salisbury, N.C.

In essence, the company saw a new market, entered it and now offers its clients rental machinery with a focus on equipment used for hardscaping (landscaping) work.

As a result, hardscapes have become an increasingly large component of its business over the last couple of years. It has hired a team of hardscapes-focused designers and transformed three of its locations into design centers, complete with outdoor living displays that better help customers envision how the product looks installed.

Starling Johnson, corporate sales manager, Johnson Concrete, explained the reasoning behind the start of this new rental equipment venture by the 65-year-old company, whose lines include Versa-Lok retaining walls and Eagle Bay and Silver Creek concrete pavers.

“We figured that our trucks are already delivering products to job sites, so we may as well include a piece of equipment on the truck,” she said. “We already have the customer base, so let’s expand the services we can offer. Our initial rental equipment purchases were saws, pressure washers, compactors, aerators, splitters, hole diggers and other items that our hardscapes installers would frequently use on the job site.”

To further this end, the company purchased six machines from James River Equipment, located in Charlotte, N.C. All the equipment was manufactured by John Deere and consisted of a pair of 17D compact excavators, a pair of 35D compact excavators and two 323D skid steer loaders.

Jeff Fink, territory manager, James River Equipment, said his company was pleased to be able to help Johnson’s rental company get started.

The two companies have conducted business together for five years. Johnson Concrete became a client of James River Equipment when its sister company, Carolina Stalite, purchased three front-end loaders —models 844J, 644J, and 824J — for its manufacturing facility.

Thus, said Johnson, “when we decided to purchase equipment for our rental fleet, turning to James River was a no-brainer. They have been a great resource for us, helping us learn the rental equipment business and providing guidance, product training and answering endless questions.

“It has been a great relationship; our companies are both family-owned and founded in local roots. We operate similarly, and business decisions can be made more quickly and cleanly than in a lot of companies,” she added.

The new rental equipment is being used to handle hardscape work such as scooping and transporting landscape material, moving pallets of pavers and retaining wall blocks, digging trenches and foundations, grading and demolition as needed.

How are Johnson’s clients reacting to this opportunity?

The response has been very positive.

“We have done little advertising thus far and we’ve already had days where five of the six John Deere pieces are rented out,” Johnson noted. “Our prices are competitive, our machines are brand new and we already have a proven relationship with many of our customers, so it was a natural transition.”

Following the successful launch of Johnson Concrete’s rental arm, Executive Vice President Charles Newsome is considering expansion of the service. The company has block plants near Fayetteville and Concord, N.C., and he is also contemplating starting rental operations at these locations. If the volume of equipment Johnson Concrete is able to rent continues to grow, he will consider obtaining larger equipment that the company’s commercial masons and grading contractors could use.

Johnson agreed that in the current business climate renting machinery makes economic sense for more than one reason.

“Hardscapes have become so trendy over the past couple of years that many of our customers are relatively new to the business and haven’t had time to build up the capital needed to purchase large pieces of equipment,” she pointed out. “Other customers are more established and have the means, but prefer the convenience of having someone else maintain and deliver it.

“Our goal is for our customers to think of us as their one-stop shop for all their product needs and their preferred source for the level of service and quality of the products they receive,” Johnson concluded. CEG

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