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Rental Center -- Franklin Equipment -- Reinventing the rental experience

Franklin Equipment aims to change the equipment rental and buying experience.


Franklin Equipment looks to grow to 40 rental centers in the next five years. While that’s an ambitious target, its partners believe it’s entirely doable, following the playbook the management team has developed.

Franklin Equipment management team
Franklin Equipment’s management team, left to right: Gary Gabriel, Troy Gabriel, Tony Repeta and Tom Richardson. They plan to aggressively expand locations throughout the eastern Midwest and mid-south, aiming for 40 stores in five years.Franklin Equipment’s super store and home base are in Groveport, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. The company, across 16 present stores, carries more than 10,000 pieces of equipment valued at more than $250 million.
Franklin Equipment Super Store
A modern showroom with a get-to-work feel is part of the brand image of Franklin Equipment. Large monitors share messages about specials and what makes Franklin Equipment different. 
Franklin Equipment inventory
A modern showroom with a get-to-work feel is part of the brand image of Franklin Equipment. Large monitors share messages about specials and what makes Franklin Equipment different. 
Franklin Equipment Super Store entrance
Franklin Equipment’s super store and home base are in Groveport, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. The company, across 16 present stores, carries more than 10,000 pieces of equipment valued at more than $250 million.
Phone sales training

Inside sales associates’ conversations with customers are regularly monitored and scored on their ability to answer customer questions. They are coached on phone skills; part of their compensation is tied to their phone skills.

The company, based in the Columbus, Ohio area, is managed by four key players: founder Gary Gabriel and his son, Troy, who is CEO; Tom Richardson, president, and Tony Repeta, general manager. Presently, it operates 16 stores in major metropolitan areas in the eastern Midwest and Mid-south. 

“We’ve been adding four locations per year for the last three years and we have a plan that puts us at 40 stores in five years. Our strategy is from the upper Midwest through the South. We plan on staying east of the Mississippi for the foreseeable future. From a strategic standpoint, we like to have our locations at most two and a half hours from each other. That helps us with sharing our fleet and servicing our mobile customers,” Repeta says.

Franklin’s $250 million fleet of more than 10,000 pieces of equipment is made up of about 50 percent various types of aerial equipment and telehandlers followed by compact equipment such as skid steers and track loaders and smaller equipment. “We are also growing our heavy equipment rental fleet. There is a demand for it,” says Troy.

“Our expansion from central Ohio is simply the product of following customers and listening to their needs. We have noticed that as we’ve expanded our footprint, our business has increased in large part from serving present customers in multiple markets. For example, we have a customer based in Indianapolis that is also doing jobs in Milwaukee, Chattanooga and Nashville. We are focusing on regional customers. We’re a little different than our national competitors that are looking for customers doing business from coast to coast. We’re looking for regional, mid-sized companies, which seem to be the fastest growing companies as well. We can offer our services to them in multiple markets and take care of all their equipment needs,” Troy says.

Being a combination equipment rental store and dealer offers distinct advantages to customers – and to Franklin Equipment. “We get acquainted with customers first through rentals. When they are in the market to purchase equipment, they come to us because we have built a level of trust. We also service other brands of equipment a customer may have. They appreciate that,” Troy says. 

Franklin Equipment sells New Holland construction and agricultural equipment in two locations as well as Wacker Neuson equipment in all locations. It also represents Skyjack aerial equipment, Chicago Pneumatic compressors, Gatormade and Felling trailers and other equipment from Edco and Paladin. 

Expansion play book
Franklin Equipment’s ambitious expansion follows a deliberate plan, but it is by no means a cookie-cutter approach. Instead, it’s more like a series of best practices that are modified to match the unique challenges and opportunities a new market presents. 

“We have what I would call a leading marketing and advertising campaign that’s very well thought out and timed,” says Troy. “For example, when we entered the Milwaukee market, we started pre-marketing in advance of the opening of the store. We used extensive radio and digital marketing to gain awareness. We also used some billboard marketing and we procured customer lists and telemarket to those customers. We followed up with three week-long sales blitzes with our experienced sales people from our other stores before the Milwaukee store opened. We generate leads off of those sales blitzes that go into our customer databases. We follow up with additional telemarketing, direct mail and email blasts. We heavily invest in marketing upfront of all our new store openings,” Troy says.

The process works. “When we were doing our blitzes in Milwaukee, we had one receptionist at a contractor who seemed a bit taken aback when we showed up,” says Troy.  “She said, ‘I can’t believe you’re here already.’ Our guys were confused by what she meant with that comment, but it turns out that she had heard our ad on the radio that morning and she had been served a digital ad and had just spoken with one of our telemarketers who asked if she would like one of our catalogs and a credit application. She said, ‘Yes.’ and just then, our blitz team walked in the door with a catalog that had a credit application attached to it. So it all came together,” says Troy. During the blitzes, manufacturers also provide personnel to assist with calls. 

Heavy advertising and marketing also pays off in employee recruitment, Troy adds. “Today’s employment market is very tight and the advertising and marketing helps us have some early brand identity. Many times when we’re recruiting people in a new market, they’ve already heard of us because of our ads on the radio or they’ve seen our billboards.”

Data analysis
Troy believes that Franklin Equipment’s overall brand recognition and top-of-mind awareness is a big piece of the company’s secret sauce. “I think the second piece of our secret sauce is the data analysis we do on our customers and their buying habits. We are constantly looking at ways we can increase our volume of business with them. We have a very robust analytical department that analyzes each salesman’s activity every month. We look at each customer in detail. I consider our company to be a small business, but the software and the business intelligence we have clearly outpaces what our general competitors are doing,” Troy says.

The company uses Genisys 2 AlphaRental software as its business backbone. All of the locations are tied together, so any store can access equipment, parts, service and a host of other information in one place. “We download data daily and work with it in Excel. It ultimately ends up in Microsoft Tableau to make charts, graphs and reports we feed back to the stores and sales people,” Troy says. “We’re very clear with our staff about what their objectives are and how they’re performing. It’s all in a dashboard they see on their screen.”

“We firmly believe we have the best compensation package in the market for our outside sales force. The salesperson’s dashboard tracks their commission, which is based on what rates they’re charging, how much fleet they have on rent, their ongoing training, how many new customers they’re developing and other factors. Their monthly commission rate floats depending on how well they perform on their dashboard,” Troy says.

”They know where they’re at on a daily and weekly basis. We produce reports about fleet and rate performance on a daily basis. We also subscribe to Rouse Services Analytics, which is another tool we use to analyze the market,” Troy says.

Throughout the company, a commissions structure rewards employees for a job well done. “We have incentive programs for our inside rental sales associates and our technicians that are also dashboard-driven. We’re trying to push what we know are the right levers to be an efficient shop; the right levers for inside sales associates, who I think the industry has generally forgotten. We spend a great amount of time on training, which is one of their dashboard measures. If they complete 10 hours of training a month, they get points that go toward their bonus opportunity. Our technicians and our rental counter associates have the ability to earn a bonus every month, and it’s a meaningful bonus. We’re having great success with that,” Troy says.

Customer call coaching
Franklin Equipment uses phone call monitoring to help improve employee interactions with customers. Part of the training team’s job is listening to calls between employees and customers. “We use a scoring system from one to five with one being bad and five being, ‘You did everything perfect.’ The scoring from the telephone review makes up 35 percent of the rental counter associates’ bonus opportunity. We go back and we coach on those calls. It makes a real difference,” Troy says. 

“One of the challenges we have is that we are growing rapidly and we have inexperienced inside sales people in our stores. To combat the inexperience, we know we have to over-train, so we can take someone coming onto the rental counter with zero experience to being proficient on the job within six months,” Troy says.

Training is an important part of the company’s ongoing commitment to employees. “We have a dedicated training group. The first thing we do with all new stores and employees is what we call Franklin Culture training. We want our staff to understand who we are, what our expectations are and what Franklin Equipment is all about. Tony and I participate in each of those classes. Some of our new employees come from competitors and our competitors likely have a certain way of doing business. We believe that ours is different, so we want to make sure we train our people in what that difference is,” Troy says. 

Rental counter and outside sales associates also go through extensive online product training through a program called Franklin Focus. 

“We’re taking content that our manufacturers have developed and have the associate follow a training guide we developed,” he says. “Customers look to us to help guide them to the best piece of equipment for the job. For example, there are 12 sizes of mini-excavators. When our customers talk with our sales associates, they will find our associates are knowledgeable and capable of making recommendations for the right piece of equipment.”

Building the brand
Franklin Equipment’s stores, equipment and even employees’ workwear have a consistent look. The Franklin Equipment logo is prominently displayed and the stores feel modern, yet rugged and work-ready. Large monitors in all stores reinforce the Franklin Equipment brand message: Changing the equipment rental and buying experience.  

“With every presentation I do, whether it is with a vendor or banker or finance person, I start and end the presentation with the message of changing the equipment rental and buying experience,” says Troy. 

“We take the McDonald’s approach. When you walk into a Franklin Equipment store, whether you’re walking into our Columbus superstore or the Milwaukee store, you know you’re at Franklin Equipment. We work hard to make sure our signage and even the video marketing in each store is consistent. If fact, all of the monitors in the stores are controlled by our IT department in Columbus, so we are assured that the messages are timely and consistent across all stores.”

Success by the numbers
Franklin Equipment managers measure everything and keep their hand on the pulse of the numbers, constantly looking at factors that can change that pulse. 

“All of our growth has been organic growth and we’re growing at better than three times the rate of the industry. Our same-store growth is better than two times the industry norm. Our revenue growth isn’t coming just from opening new stores. It’s coming from continued existing store growth. Even our most mature store is growing at two times the industry pace. That means we are taking market share. 

“We measure our pricing through Rouse Services and our pricing is meaningfully higher than our competitors. We’re not getting market share by being the cheapest. We’re focused on getting extra share by delivering excellent customer service. 

“Rouse reports on everybody; all the big guys and regional players subscribe to it. Consistently, our fleet age is about half the average fleet age of our competitors. That’s something that we can market and sell. We have better uptime, which is critically important to our customers. We often find that in new markets customers experience too much rental equipment downtime and poor service response time from our competitors. 

“If there is an equipment issue, we make sure we’re on the customer’s job site in less than four hours. If we can’t fix it immediately, we switch it out. Our customers tell us this far exceeds their expectations based on the service they normally get from our competitors,” Troy says. 

--PCR--

This article originally appeared in the Spetember-October issue of Pro Contractor Rentals magazine. © 2018 Direct Business Media. All rights reserved. Contact Clair Urbain at curbain@directbusinessmedia.com for reprint/reuse permission.

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