Rental department carves out niche in huge hardware store
A rural Ohio rental store has a steady demand for Bobcat compact equipment, including a newer compact tractor and 3-point hitch implements
Keim Lumber, Ohio
For years, locating the rental department at Keim Lumber was quite a challenge. A few local contractors knew they could go around to the back of the store and rent what they needed. Tens of thousands of other customers had no idea that tools and equipment were available for rent.
Further complicating the visibility of the rental business is the size of the store, located on a 40-acre site in Charm, Ohio (population 100). The 100-year-old, full-service building material supplier occupies 700,000 square feet, including a 125,000-square-foot showroom. On a Saturday, 2,000 to 3,000 people will come through the door; a sale day will bring in 3,000 to 4,000. The one-of-a-kind store, with 370 employees, regularly attracts customers from Columbus, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Skilled craftsmen produce hardwood trim, doors and custom millwork. More than 120 different species of wood from around the world are available. The store carries items that most building materials suppliers do not handle and Keim is seldom, if ever, out of stock. There is even a Carpenter’s Café on site.
“We have had a rental department for a number of years, but it wasn’t until recently that we got a little more serious about the rental business,” says Marion Miller.
Although rental is not a major part of the fourth-generation business, Miller points out that it is a key contributor to overall customer satisfaction and helps bring in business for other parts of the store.
“Our customers are pleased when they need a tool and doesn’t want to make the investment to purchase one, that we have it for rental,” he says. “For example, a customer who buys hardwood flooring is going to need a nailer. Most people aren’t going to purchase a $500 flooring nailer just install one floor at his house. So he rents a nailer. We frequently see the relationship between material purchases and rental items.
“We are a one-stop store and our rental department is just another part of how we can better serve our customers.”
The compact equipment in the store’s rental fleet fits in very well with other products sold at Keim. Bobcat® skid-steer loaders and compact excavators are popular with contractors and homeowners. And the newest addition to the rental department — a Bobcat CT450 compact tractor — has exceeded expectations.
“We thought it would just be a weekend item,” says Miller, “but it’s frequently rented, especially in the spring and summer. The tractor and 6-foot, 3-point tiller have been rented frequently by customers to install gardens and some even use it for work on small farms. The public has also discovered how much can be accomplished in a day with the CT450.”
Keim’s rental department looked at other brands of compact tractors for a couple of years.
“Even though Bobcat Company is fairly new in the tractor business, we thought they (Bobcat) has always done a great job with the other equipment that we have owned in the past, so we didn’t think twice before buying the Bobcat CT450,” he says. “Once we had another brand of skid-steer loader, but keeping it maintained was tough. So you don’t see it around here anymore.”
In fact, consistency of maintenance is an important factor in making Bobcat the preferred brand of compact equipment at Keim Lumber.
“Having machines from the same manufacturer makes maintenance much easier,” Miller says. “We can make one trip to the dealer to pick up all of the service items we need, put them on the shelf and have them available for use when needed.”
His dealer, Leppo Equipment in Wooster, Ohio, plays an important role in helping Keim Lumber meet the attachment needs of customers.
“Leppo is very gracious in allowing us to rent anything they have on hand, if we have a customer that needs an attachment that we don’t have available,” Miller says. “They even bring the product to our store when necessary.”