Rental Snapshot: Rachel O’Brien of J&F Reddy Rents

Rachel O’Brien, ECP-SM/MM, president of J&F Reddy Rents, in St. Louis Park, Minn., gives an in-depth look into goals for 2023 and what the industry could use more of.

Rachel O'Brien (left) with other women who participated in the American Rental Association's Women in Rental event.
Rachel O'Brien (left) with other women who participated in the American Rental Association's Women in Rental event.
American Rental Association

Rental: How did you first get your start in the rental industry?

My business was started by my father in 1963, and we’ll be hitting 60 years in 2023. I never figured I would stay in the family business. I did a few things after college and then decided to return to our party rental company. From there, I managed the party division, helped sell it and transitioned to our tool store. My sister, Maureen Fitzgerald, and I bought the St. Louis Park, Minn., store in 2005. I’ve been president since that time.

Rental: Can you give us some insight on your current company?

We are a community equipment rental store. We service contractors, landscapers, DIY enthusiasts and everything in between. We have a fleet of rental trucks that range from vans and pickups, to 15-foot box trucks and 24-foot straight trucks. We rent skid-steers, jack hammers, mini skids, excavators and ride-on floor strippers, as well as hand tools. We pretty much stock everything you need to build or remodel a home or commercial space.

When we started, we had about 1,500 square feet of retail space on a heavy retail street. That exposure was wonderful to grow the business. We started with small tools, added party rental to have winter rentals and added trucks over the years. The business kept growing by renting warehouses to store party equipment and parking spots from neighboring businesses to park trucks. We split the party and tool rental in 1989, which made selling the party business easy. We’re now in an industrial area on an acre and a half of property, and we’re able to fit everything in our building and lot. We’re still in the same community as when we started, which means we have many long-term customers.

Rental: What have been some of the challenges and successes you’ve had over the years you've been in business? 

Over our 60 years, we’ve seen pretty much everything: inflation, recessions, dotcom crash, Y2K, the Great Recession and the pandemic. My two biggest challenges were surviving the downturn of 2007/2008 and the COVID pandemic. Thanks to our diversification in inventory and customers, we survived both and are actually thriving. Those challenges taught me that we can’t be in one rental segment. In fact, 2021 and 2022 have been banner years for us, and our team has been great. They’re working hard and not letting our short-staffing or long hours slow the business. We couldn’t do it without them.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we had a very scary two weeks when landscapers were not allowed to work. Because of that, we had an early spring and no landscaping business, but our truck rental and homeowner rentals remained strong those two weeks. Once the landscapers started again, we had a very busy summer. The homeowners in our area went to town on landscaping and home improvement projects, and we had a high number of stump grinder rentals. Everything was renting! We even brought in patio heaters to rent for all the small, outdoor gatherings in the fall of 2020 up through today. We built the business on reacting to needs, and that’s what we’re still doing today.

Rental: What are your business goals for the New Year?

We’re projecting another great year for 2023 and are looking to keep expanding our rental truck fleet. We’re exploring more of the battery-operated equipment and zero-emissions products as well. And like every business, hire more good people!

Rental: What is one thing you'd like to see the rental industry do more of in 2023?

I’m really excited to attend ARA’s Rental Show and the Future of Equipment Rental program in February 2023. Seeing the new trends and equipment in person is so valuable to building our business. Other than that, I would like more manufacturers to have telematics as standard equipment on machines included in the purchase price. I’m not impressed with companies that want to charge extra for subscriptions or access to my information. I’m also eager to learn how to use more technology in our business for interacting with customers.

Rental: What are some of your favorite hobbies?

I love hanging out with my husband and dog. Thanks to my husband, I can call myself a golfer too! I love to read, travel, dance and be with my family. I love volunteering for the ARA. I’ve had the privilege of being Region 6 Director and on the board of directors for the association. One of my biggest accomplishments was being the first female chair of the ARA Insurance Services board of directors. Also, I am a founding member of the ARA Women in Rental committee. That’s another accomplishment I’m proud of. I just love talking rental with people, so I love networking at rental events.