Two lakes area independent equipment rental centers merged last week.
Brainerd General Rental acquired the business and inventory of Johnson Rental Center. Both companies, roughly the same size, have lengthy histories in business here. Johnson Rental, on Novotny Road, has been in business 30 years. Brainerd General Rental, along Highway 371 North, is in its 15th year.
Steve Mau has owned Brainerd General Rental for about six years. He said talks of a business merger between the two companies have been ongoing for a couple years. Thor Wicklund, Johnson Rental Center owner, will assist as a consultant during the transition.
The acquisition was finalized Dec. 31.
Steve Mau, owner of Brainerd General Rental, recently acquired Johnson Rental Center's business and inventory. The merger, finalized Dec. 31, doubles Brainerd General Rental's inventory.Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"We've doubled our equipment and inventory overnight," Mau said.
Brainerd General Rental customers range from people who need a garden tiller each year or an appliance dolly to assist in a move to large construction firms seeking equipment that retails for $40,000 and lifts 8,000 pounds 40 feet in the air.
Mau said the move is aimed at bringing the best of two independents together with the intention of continuing to provide service for both residential consumers and professional contractors. Brainerd General Rental offers both retail sales and rental services.
"The combination provides a lot of years of experience and community support and involvement," Mau said.
Wicklund purchased Johnson Rental Center nine years ago. He said the business started in 1978 as a small engine repair shop and gradually worked into the rental business in the 1980s. Wicklund lived with his family in the home on the same site as the business. And finding a place with a yard for his kids and a little distance between work and home was part of the decision to sell. Wicklund said his tentative plans are to work with Ziegler Cat, the Caterpillar equipment and power systems dealership, which is building in Brainerd.
Wicklund said they are aggressively seeking a buyer for the Johnson Rental Center site.
While he'll miss the friends and regulars he came to know through his business, Wicklund said he's also looking forward to a new chapter in his life.
"Overall I think it was the right move for me and my family," he said.
For independent companies, Mau said the challenge is always to make sure people - both residents and visitors - know they exist with a quality operation that has equipment and service to meet their expectations while being competitive in prices. For a rental company, Mau said a premium is placed on having knowledgeable staff who can recommend the right tool for a project.
The timing of the merger - which comes during the offseason for the equipment rental business - allows the integration of the two operations before the busy season begins in April. Mau said he has been looking for additional locations for his business and while offers have been made nothing has been finalized to date. Now he'll have the challenge of assimilating the additional equipment. But Mau said he didn't want to pass up the business opportunity presented with Johnson Rental by waiting until a land deal purchase was completed.
"We'll continue to make that a priority," Mau said of a land purchase, most likely along the Highway 371 strip. Mau said even though people will seek out equipment rental companies, it's hard to convince him that he doesn't benefit from the visibility of the highway.
"Obviously being on (Highway) 371 provides a lot of exposure for us," Mau said.
Brainerd General Rental has a 188-unit mini storage facility on Crow Wing County Road 3 north of Brainerd, which could be helpful in storing some of the new inventory so not everything will need to be on site at the rental yard.
A sign on the Johnson Rental Center door now refers business down the road. A key staff member from Johnson Rental Center joined Mau's staff. He said other employees went back to school or made other plans before he acquired the business. Brainerd General Rental employs eight and will add staff members in April.
Mau said he will continue to look for growth opportunities in businesses that are complementary to the rental operation. He's invested, along with a college roommate, in a moving company. The company places containers with a customer who is moving so they can fill it as they pack before the actual moving day. The company also provides office and job trailers.
Mau said the acquisition of Johnson Rental is a commitment to the marketplace and he'll continue to look for opportunities to expand.
"This is an investment by us in our business and in the community and we are happy to be able to do that," Mau said.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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