Success Stories

Yellowstone Rental & Sports learns to diversify and go where the business is

It's so interesting to see what other successful rental business operators are doing to develop more income streams. Some of them diversified before the latest recession and it has served them well.

As an example, Gary Baxter, owner of Yellowstone Rental & Sports Inc., an equipment rental business in West Yellowstone, MT, started his business in 1997 in a town with a very small population - fewer than 1,000 people. Although the population has grown a little, it still is a very limited population base.

His rental business in West Yellowstone had been averaging business growth of 10% to 15% per year. But from 2008 to 2009, the business there has seen a drop of 60% to 65% due to the economy.

In 2000, he started YES Services (which stands for Your Emergency Support Services), a division of Yellowstone Rental & Sports Inc. His emergency support business is designed to assist in the event of natural (and national) disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and forest fires.

His company rents power generation (mostly in the 70 to 85kw class); heating and cooling; portable toilets; hand wash facilities; showers; laundry facilities and much more. His equipment and facilities can be rented with or without full-time attendants.

One of the largest portions of his emergency support business is providing and equipping command tents for offices and other needs. For example, Baxter's company provides enclosed tents for inmate fire crews.

Baxter relates that there will always be forest fires, hurricanes, tornados and other emergencies that require the rental equipment and other services that his company provides. Customers for his emergency support business include FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the military and the forestry service.

Even though his emergency support business serves mostly the Western states (west of the Mississippi), Baxter states "We'll go anywhere they need us."

Baxter claims that mobility and readiness are keys to this business. "Everything is not only portable and ready to go around the clock," he explains. "But also working in conjunction with other emergency companies, we can have a complete town set up in 16 hours."

Being ultra-responsive to the urgent and varied needs of his customers is what Baxter believes sets his company apart. One of his corporate mottos is "Just say YESS."

"When you're dealing with a natural disaster, you need to be able to do whatever it takes - without saying it can't be done," he says. "You just find a way."

According to Baxter, "I'm not concerned about competition. It's a tough business. It's a 24-7, 365 days per year, on-call business. But, I like the challenge of it. It really keeps my adrenaline pumping. You never know what to expect. You never know if you'll be home for dinner and sometimes I'm not home for two months."

While doing a follow-up call with Baxter in August, I learned that he was traveling through Utah and had not been home for well over a month. He had just taken a call from one of his employees back in Montana and arranged for several light towers to be rented to a small airport for the anticipated evening arrival of President Obama. One never knows where additional rental business will come from.

I want to hear from you

All of our businesses are challenging in their own way. It's inspiring to all of us to hear how some of you are using your creativity to deal with the challenging market conditions you face.

Please contact me if you have used a creative approach that works well for you so I can share it with other readers. I hope to include these "success stories" as a regular part of this column.