Dan Morris, General Manager, Kennebec Equipment Rental, Kittery, Maine
Rental: How did you first get your start in the rental industry?
Morris: In September 2000, I started my career in the rental industry at our Auburn branch as essentially a grunt doing the dirty work: loading/unloading, cleaning equipment, doing minor repairs, check-ins and doing, basically, a crash course in all the equipment that we have to offer. I wasn't planning on it being a career at that point, just a stepping stone to something else. In the fall of 2006, I was offered a branch manager position at our Woolwich location, and in February 2013, I was asked to be the general manager of our six locations.
Rental: Can you give us some insight on your current company?
Morris: Kennebec Equipment Rental was founded in 1964 by Raymond Wilson, a general contractor in central Maine. The home office is located in Fairfield, Maine, and the three branches were subsequently opened: Bangor in 1970, Auburn in 1973 and Portland in 1977. They were strategically placed, at the time, near the mills of the booming papermaking industry. At the retirement of the senior Wilson, his son, David, took over, then opened branches in Kittery in 1981 and Woolwich in 1987, which were near nuclear power plants and shipbuilding operations. Over the years, the mills are all but gone, along with the nuclear power plants, so we’ve shifted our focus toward the small and midsize contractors and the DIY crowd. We are still a family-run business, serving contractors, the industry and homeowners throughout Maine.
Rental: What have been some of the challenges and successes you’ve had since being in business?
Morris: Some of the challenges I’ve run into in this business have been the generational differences in work ethic between Baby Boomers and Gen Z. Not that one is better than the other, but simply the differences in the approach to learning, adapting to technology and embracing change, without losing the quality of service we offer. I myself fall into the gap between Gen Xers and Millennials, where I try to utilize the best qualities of both to help bridge the gap. I think New Englanders are a stubborn breed anyways, and the farther north you go, the more stubborn it seems to get, but without change, there isn't growth, and without change and growth, you won't survive in today's world. Also, being a people pleaser, I find I struggle with holding both customers and employees accountable, and that’s been a major area I’ve tried to work on personally.
Some of my successes in the industry have been in the promotions I’ve received, not by asking for them, but being recognized for the work I put in. Being tasked to make sure the business not only survives, but thrives, isn’t easy. Being recognized and remembered by my peers at industry events is also a success for me. Helping usher in some of the changes I mentioned above by adding equipment lines back into our fleet, bringing down the average age of our fleet and increasing our footprint online and on social media were important goals I wanted to accomplish.
Rental: What's one tool/technology that's completely changed your business for the better?
Morris: It’s definitely hard to pick out one specific tool or technology. Finding the right vendors for the right equipment is a big deal and then providing the proper instruction for our customers to best utilize the equipment is key. Having the amount of information we have now available right at our fingertips is a huge plus from when I first started in the industry. In recent years, the amount of exposure we’re able to get on social media for advertising at a very cheap cost has helped us reach people quicker with new items we’ve added. Also, having a very user friendly training program available to our employees through Rental U has been a great addition!
Rental: What's the best piece of advice you've received? What's one piece of advice you'd like to give other rental businesses out there?
Morris: It’s amazing what kind of "nuggets'' you can pick up at industry networking events as we’re all sharing our struggles with certain situations. It’s comforting in a way to know we aren't alone. I was told it’s OK to fire a customer. The adage of “the customer is always right” isn't true. If they don’t care to follow policies, treat our equipment and employees with respect, then it’s fine to let them know they can go elsewhere.
One piece of advice I like to give anyone I meet is to get involved in the industry. Be it through networking events or online forums or groups, just put yourself out there to meet people. You’ll often find your peers are the best sounding boards for all kinds of ideas. I’ve met people who have become great friends, just by sharing a little piece of information or business tips or ideas.
Rental: What is the one side at a summer BBQ that you can't get enough of?
Morris: Being from Maine, I am privileged to have either surf and/or turf at barbecues. On the surf side, steamed clams are a favorite "side" to lobster. On the turf side, a well-made potato salad will not last long around me!