The group of 21 rental business owners that gathered together during March 1955 in Moline, IL and created what today is the American Rental Association (ARA) knew they could gain knowledge from each other and improve their own rental companies with their new wisdom. As ARA prepares to honor its 60th anniversary with a celebration at The Rental Show 2016 in Atlanta, the two rental leaders who will become the latest inductees into the Rental Hall of Fame have built long, influential careers based on sharing the knowledge they’ve gained to help others create their own business success.
Lew Hudson, chief executive officer of Lew Hudson Sales, Lawrenceville, GA, and Gene Rahll, Dalhart, TX, retired from ABC Rental Center and Rabern Rental Center, will be formally inducted during The Rental Show’s keynote session.
ARA created the Rental Hall of Fame in 2000 to foster an appreciation of the historical development of the equipment rental industry and the leaders who have made the industry what it is today. Each year, nominations are accepted to recognize individuals who have made a substantial impact on the industry at the national or international level. The 2016 keynote session will be Monday, Feb. 22, from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Here is more on the two newest inductees.
Lew Hudson first got involved with construction equipment on the sales side in 1966, working in Mississippi and later Texas. He discovered he had a passion for the industry, and his sales and management skills allowed him to enjoy success. In 1977, he and his wife, Wanda, decided to move back to Georgia to be closer to family and Hudson opened his own company.
He founded Lew Hudson and Associates, a manufacturer’s representative business focusing on the growing construction equipment rental market. The business quickly took off, and he expanded both his territory into the Southeast U.S. as well as the product lines he represented. His philosophy was to learn everything about a rental owner’s business, to help guide the owner into new products and new markets. Hudson also has advised many manufacturers that came to him to sell their products to the rental industry, helping them to determine if their products fit the rental channel and would be a successful rental item. His rental knowledge has benefitted many throughout the industry.
The company continued to grow and, in 1980, opened an office in the Atlanta metropolitan area with an inside sales department for providing customers with answers quickly and easily – a first for a manufacturer’s rep agency. They also looked for additional ways to better serve their customers, which included offering marketing pieces for rental stores to use for promoting their businesses. As the company grew, Hudson moved into a full-time management role and his son, Darrell, took over his sales territory. Today Lew is the CEO of Lew Hudson Sales, while Darrell is president. The company has an inside sales staff, an outside sales force of 13 and serves 17 states throughout the Southeast and Southwest U.S.
Hudson promotes new and existing products to his customers to keep them on the leading edge of what’s happening product-wise. He’s also adamant about service to customers after a sale, and encourages manufacturers to provide product training to help rental owners more effectively and safely rent a manufacturer’s product.
Hudson has been actively involved in the rental industry, as well as in his community by supporting a number of causes. A testament to his leadership philosophy is the low turnover of employees at Lew Hudson Sales. The mentoring and time he has invested in his people is apparent in how they present themselves within the industry, and how they touch those outside the industry in other walks of life.
Gene Rahll began his rental industry career in 1968, when he recognized a need for a general rental store where he lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area. He first opened an A to Z Rental Center franchise but, by the early 1970s, decided to open his own business, ABC Rental. In doing so, he also began to utilize the leadership and management skills that have earned his induction into the Rental Hall of Fame: developing and motivating the individuals who work around him.
As Rahll began ABC Rental, he started forming business partnerships. His guidance helped influence the rental market growth in the Baltimore area. Two of those Rahll influenced – his nephew, Lee Lightner, now president of ABC Equipment Rental, and Steve Berner, now president of Rabern Rental Center – started working for him as teenagers, and were the source of referring new employees when Rahll needed to hire additional staff. Eventually Rahll oversaw the opening of nine locations for ABC Rental in the Baltimore area, and eight of the employees he helped mentor later partnered with him to start their own rental businesses – including Lightner and Berner. As these businesses grew, the new owners purchased Rahll’s interest in the rental stores.
Knowing the value of business contacts and networking, Rahll was one of those involved in creating the Maryland Rental Association in the mid-1970s, in which he served in every officer position through the years. He also became actively involved with the American Rental Association after attending his first ARA convention in 1972. He served as Region Two Director on the ARA board as well as on the General Tool Council and show seminar committee. He received ARA’s Distinguished Service award at The Rental Show in 2009.
In the early 1980s, Rahll and his wife, Louise, relocated to her hometown of Dalhart, TX. After visiting a rental store in nearly Amarillo, he knew the area needed a better operation. He called one of the employees he mentored in Baltimore, Steve Berner, to see if he’d be interested in moving to Texas to open a rental business. He was, and Rabern Rentals began in 1984 with four employees and $200,000 in inventory.
His unique approach to mentoring young employees and helping these rental entrepreneurs build their own businesses by providing both advice and financial assistance has led to a Rahll “rental family tree” of 31 rental locations that are in business today. Even in his retirement, he still holds active roles in 13 companies and inactive roles in seven others.
Rahll also have been active within his community, serving as mayor of Dalhart from 1989 to 2005. He and Louise also developed the Louise and Gene Rahll Scholarships in the early 2000s, which have provided college scholarships for more than 75 students graduating from Dalhart High School.