More than a rental center

Black Hawk Rental emphasizes sales and service capabilities to attract customers.

Jeff Bresson, owner, Black hawk Rental

“If I am a dealer, I can get the right pricing for the equipment, which helps me be competitive with rental rates.”

-- Jeff Bresson, owner, Black Hawk Rental

Matt Ohrt and Jess Bresson, Black Hawk Rental
Matt Ohrt, general manager, (left) and Jeff Bresson, owner, work together to train new hires in the “Black Hawk Rental way” that emphasizes greeting customers as they come into the showroom as well as being knowledgeable about the equipment they rent or sell.
Black Hawk Rental store front

Black Hawk Rental owner, Jeff Bresson, also owns Bobcat of Waterloo. New equipment sales is an important part of the operation.

Boom and scissor lifts
Black Hawk Rental also rents aerial and scissor lifts in a variety of sizes and configurations.
Black Hawk rental showroom.
The Black Hawk Rental showroom is bright, organized, modern and clean. It’s part of the wow factor Bresson wants when customers first enter the facility.
Mahindra tractors
Black Hawk Rental also rents and sells Mahindra Tractors, which Bresson reports is the largest tractor company in the world.
Black Hawk Rental store room
Black Hawk Rental stockrooms are bright, organized and clean, making it easy to find parts and equipment quickly.

Jeff Bresson, owner of Black Hawk Rental in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Iowa, looked at the rental business a little differently when he exited the automotive repair field and entered into the equipment rental business 16 years ago.

At his two rental locations in north-central Iowa, he focuses just as much on sales as he does rentals. Plus, unlike his competitors that won’t offer repair services to equipment owners, he readily offers repair services.

“Many rental centers only want to rent equipment and won’t sell equipment to customers. I’ve found that if a customer wants to buy a skid-steer loader, for example, they will buy it from someone if they don’t buy it from me. I’d rather keep them as a customer,” he says.

“We rent anything from a cordless drill to an 80-foot boom lift,” he says. He estimates his equipment inventory value at $20 million.

“I would say dirt moving, dirt equipment, skid loaders, backhoes and lifts are our biggest rentals. We do a lot of aerial and scissor lifts,” he says. While 80 percent of his customer base is in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, he offers rental, sales and service across the state of Iowa.

Rental center and dealer
If Bresson rents a piece of equipment, chances are extremely high that he’s also a dealer for that brand. “I don’t rent anything that I can’t become a dealer of that brand. If I’m going to compete with other people that are selling the product, I have to buy at the right price. If I am a dealer, I can get the right pricing for the equipment, which helps me be competitive with rental rates. It also allows me access to parts, which is key because service and repair are a big part of our business.”

Unlike the equipment rental chains in the area, Bresson welcomes the opportunity to offer repair and equipment service to customers, even on weekends. “We’re open seven days a week. We have full-time service available 24 hours a day, so when customers are out making money with the equipment they rent from us and it breaks, we will be there to fix it. Customers greatly appreciate that and because we are locally owned, contractors like that as well,” he says.

A different approach
From his first day in business back in 1978, Bresson has taken a different tack toward rentals. His showrooms look more like an automobile dealership than a construction rental and sales floor. In fact, his Cedar Falls branch is a former Chrysler dealership that he completely remodeled to meet his diverse product offering and customer base.

From the gleaming ceramic tile floors to the bright and warm overhead lighting, the neatly organized showroom is welcoming and helps assure customers they are working with a first-rate company. Outside, he made a promenade of sorts of patterned concrete to tie the front and sides of the storefront together, effectively increasing his showroom area. The complete equipment lot is concrete, making it easier to keep equipment clean and ready for rent.

“My philosophy is that when somebody walks into your business, it better have a good appeal. That’s the first thing that people look at when you walk into any business, and that’s curb appeal. The wow factor is as important as good customer service in business today and it all starts when they walk in that door. It shares the business’s attitude,” he says.

In most rental centers, customers usually must come up to the counter if they have a question; at Black Hawk Rental, employees walk up to the customers and greet them. “My policy is that you should come out from behind the counter and greet them when they walk in the door. That way, they’re noticed. There are too many businesses that are help yourself, do it yourself. People want to be noticed when they walk into a business, they want to be helped,” he says.

Black Hawk Rental also stocks a wide variety of retail items in its 3,600 square-foot showroom. “We sell a lot of retail. It ranges from safety gear to tools and supplies,” he says. Extending inventory past new equipment and rentals to tools and supplies allows customers to get most everything they need for the job at hand.

Finding, training and keeping employees
Bresson says finding, training and keeping good employees is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of this business. When asked about expansion plans, the conversation quickly turns to staffing issues.

“It’s hard. You’re not going to find anybody that knows everything about equipment. Instead, you start training them, and it seems every employee develops a special niche. It’s a learning process every day, every time you bring a new piece of equipment in, we have to study it, learn it and know how it works. That way, we can explain to our customers how to use it,” he says.

One of the key traits Bresson looks for in new employees is a positive attitude. “We are looking for individuals that have a positive attitude in life. It shows in how they present themselves. There are many things going on behind hiring people. You can look at their application and even with a phone interview you can often find out if they are a candidate. Some work out, some don’t, but the positive attitude is a great place to start,”
he says.

New counter persons are trained on-the-go. “Basically, we shadow them and show them how to do things. When they make a mistake, we explain to them how we do it and the reason why we do it that way. There’s a reason why we meet people at the door, there’s a reason why we keep the equipment clean and dusted. Most of the training is done by Matt Ohrt, our general manager, and me,” he says. Shop mechanics go through the equipment manufacturer’s training and certification process. They become experts on those types of equipment.

“Usually, in their first week, you can tell if somebody is going to catch on. In this business, you have to be very organized. You need to have a good memory and you have to be very organized and know where everything is at and how things go to be able to serve customers efficiently and professionally,” he says.

Upward price pressure
Bresson is well-aware of the continuing price pressure coming from the supply side of the business and he has little choice other than to pass those costs on to customers. “We have seen 10 percent increases in prices on some lifts and trailers in the last few months. I think wages in factories are driving it up and metal prices are going up. We’re seeing metal increases on aluminum and steel on our trailers, so it tends to keep falling to the end user,” he says.

However, he doesn’t necessarily see it as a competitive disadvantage. “We are seeing some of our competitors’ rates and pricing and they are like us; the cost of doing businesses is going up and we must pass that on to our customers.”

However, on the sales side, he is seeing a shift toward leasing instead of outright equipment purchases. “We’ve been seeing more contractors leasing equipment, especially skid steers and compact track loaders. They used to buy it and own it, but now there are more leases. I think it’s because of the overhead cost and maintenance of the equipment,” he says.

Trend toward online
The Black Hawk Rental website,, by general rental center standards, is informative and helpful, but Bresson has designs on making it more interactive and order-friendly in the near future.

“We’re in a process of updating the website. I believe a website needs to be updated every couple of years. We want to be able to allow customers to place orders and buy online. We’re getting to that level. It’s a growing business; it just keeps growing. It’ll grow as big as you want it to get,” he concludes.

Photos: Lil’ Angels Photography

This article originally appeared in the July-August 2018 issue of Pro Contractor Rentals magazine. All rights reserved.