Women in Rental Profile: Mary Crosslin and Kara Longmire, Co-Owners of Alert Rental

Mary Crosslin and Kara Longmire, co-owners of Alert Rental, discuss what it's like to be fellow co-owners of a business in a male-dominated industry, how the industry can add more women and more.

Kara Longmire (left) and Mary Crosslin (right), co-owners of Alert Rental
Kara Longmire (left) and Mary Crosslin (right), co-owners of Alert Rental
Alert Rental

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

Mary Crosslin: I applied for a job as a project manager with a software company that I knew absolutely nothing about, and before they interviewed me, I had never walked into a rental store. Since then, I’ve probably been in thousands of rental stores. It was such a refreshing change. We couldn’t ask for better clients and a more supportive industry in general.

Kara Longmire: I answered an ad in an actual newspaper for an accountant at this rental software company (Alert Rental). I was one of 70 applicants, so I was delighted to have been chosen. I had been an accountant my whole career up to that, and I worked my way up from senior accountant to controller to CFO, and then Mary and I bought the business in 2016.

Rental: Can you talk to me more about Alert Rental being female owned and the initiatives that help promote more women in the rental industry?

Longmire: So we teamed up to buy the business in 2016. I had been with the company for eight years by then, and Mary had been with the company for 18. We’re hugely proud to be sponsors of the American Rental Association's (ARA) Women in Rental events. We sponsor the breakfast every year. We love supporting women in rental that way. In our own organization, our senior management team is mostly women.

When we bought the business, all of the changes we made were internal changes for our staff. When we were spending money, we were spending money to help them do their jobs better. We were increasing vacation time, and we have a 32-hour four-day work week. We know that if we keep our employees happy and productive, that’s going to improve our bottom line and show through to our clients.

Crosslin: We face a lot of the same challenges as other women owners or managers in rental operations. We are women in a predominantly male industry, which is why things like ARA's Women in Rental are so important because it gives women an environment to share like experiences and talk through things that’ve happened to us.

We’ve had instances where we’ve had an accountant mansplain something to us in a way that he probably wouldn’t have if we were male.  We get asked to speak to a technical person when we get on the phone instead of someone understanding that we are the technical person. Kara has 15 years of experience, and I’ve had 25 (with the company).

We also approached ownership completely different than the prior set of owners, especially in our approach to handling employees. Kara and I have really opened up opportunities to people in a lot of different ways in diversity, and not just female diversity. We're both really proud of that. We've implemented things that other business owners think are terrifying. We knew what we wanted to do with the company, and we knew what we wanted to do for our people. We have just gone with our own ethics and our own values and haven't worried how that fits into a traditional mold. A lot of that comes with experience and being in the business long enough to value your own gut instinct.

Rental: And what are some of the ways you’ve combatted the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field?

Crosslin: It would be by empowering each other, empowering other women and empowering our team, regardless of gender, and not letting people get into your head. When you’re in competitive sports, you don’t let people’s trash talk get to you, and same thing here, you can’t take things personally. Unfortunately, women are sometimes trained to take things personally. The other big thing is holding people accountable and letting them know when they way they speak to someone is unacceptable.

Sometimes, younger women come into the business or into the industry, and they seem to think that they've never encountered chauvinism, that they’ve never encountered mansplaining, that they've never been held back or been paid less. At my age, you just want to have say, ‘Of course you have, and if you haven't, you have a lot of women to thank ahead of you.’ So, I think it's just really being honest and keeping your eyes open.

Longmire: The other struggle we have as women business owners is we tend to not give up on people. We want to nurture everyone, even if someone doesn’t seem to be working out. So, we have learned some difficult lessons, and we had to realize that sometimes people have to learn things the hard way.

Rental: How can the industry as a whole encourage more women to join?

Longmire: Mentoring is huge. That doesn’t have to be official of formal, but we do that a lot informally in our own organization.

Crosslin: We have a lot of resources within the ARA, and a big way for women to bridge that gap is to get certifications and make themselves more marketable. 

Rental: Building on that, what advice would you give other women just starting out in the industry? 

Longmire: Find every opportunity to connect with people in the industry. This industry is so unique in that people are so wiling to share what they’ve learned and will give you outstanding advice. Then, the more people you connect with, the more knowledgeable you're going to become and the more you bring to the table in whatever position you are aspiring to have, whether that's an owner or a coordinator or a tech crew leader.

Crosslin: With mentoring, a lot of today’s women, especially ones just entering the workforce, are social on savvy and they’re finding women and other people in the industry to talk to, get advice from and learn from.