06/07/2021 - 10:00

New facility opens doors for Rentco

06/07/2021 - 10:00

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As Rentco embarks on its next chapter, Bob Shier reflects on its journey to becoming a national business.

New facility opens doors for Rentco
The Shiers inside their new High Wycombe facility. Photo: David Henry

Kewdale was a prime location for Rentco’s transport rentals business for the best part of three decades.

Growth has been steady since the company started in 1994, and particularly strong during the past 10 years.

And it was this trajectory that prompted managing director Bob Shier to seek new premises.

Four years ago, Rentco bought a 20,000 square metre plot in High Wycombe’s industrial estate: a holding Mr Shier had considered purchasing almost two decades ago.

At that time, however, the business was much smaller and the asking price was too steep. Eight weeks ago, after a 12-month build on the High Wycombe plot, Rentco opened its purpose-designed mechanical workshop and national headquarters.

The state-of-the-art facility was well suited to the scale of the company’s operations, Mr Shier said, and featured a 2,500 square metre workshop to better deal with service turnaround times. Mr Shier ran a trucking company before he took on Rentco in 1994.

He told Business News he recognised a gap in the market and saw the business had great potential for national expansion.

He operated the two businesses together for several years before making the transition to rental only; instead of running a transport operation, he would be supplying one.

“I knew transport was a good field to be in, but I had a vision to go national,” Mr Shier said.

“We set about finding more money and establishing ourselves elsewhere.

“At the time we started, no-one else was really doing it.

“It required perseverance.” Rentco, which Mr Shier runs alongside his brother John, now operates in every state in Australia, having assembled a fleet of more than 3,000 trucks, trailers, forklifts and refrigerated units to service industries from mining to food delivery.

Transport companies and logistics providers deliver about 4 billion tonnes of goods across the country annually.

This figure has grown four-fold during the past four decades and is expected to grow at a rate of 2.5 per cent over the next three years.

Meanwhile, the growth of e-commerce has driven an increase in the delivery of small personal or business goods, with the strength of Western Australia’s resources sector having underpinned the company’s growth.

Steadily rising demand drove Rentco’s expansion east, into Queensland, with the business establishing a branch in Brisbane in 1999 and Townsville three years later.

Bob Shier (left) and his brother John have been running the business since 1994. Photo: David Henry

Since then, it has established locations in Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, and Adelaide, with Tasmanian operations run out of Victoria.

Rentco’s reputation and national presence attracted the attention of mining equipment business Emeco Holdings in March 2015, which announced an agreement to buy Rentco for $75 million.

The Shier brothers were forced to walk away from the Emeco deal several months later because the company’s shareholders could not finalise a position.

The failure of that deal did not disrupt Rentco’s growth, however.

Although he would not be drawn on which companies Rentco supplied within the mining sector, Mr Shier said it was responsible for servicing “all of the majors”.

It was that growth that cemented the Shiers’ decision to expand the business and build the new headquarters.

Determination

Mr Shier acknowledged that, while his commitment to diversification and growth never wavered, there had been challenges, and doubters.

“You get a lot of push back, people telling you it won’t work,” he said.

“It’s about getting out there and making sure you have a good product that is up to standard.

“We went through a couple of tough times, but I would sell my house first if I had to. “I would never lose the business. I would always keep the business going.

“I’m not about failing, and that’s what keeps me going.”

Mr Shier said a key element of Rentco’s growth had been finding quality staff, many who had remained with the business for more than a decade and been rewarded with career progression opportunities interstate.

Mr Shier oversees between 80 and 100 staff nationally, a number that varies depending on the workload.

“That’s your biggest hurdle … getting the right people,” he said.

“It’s been luck, too. Australia is a great place to do it [business].”

The two principals aside, family plays a significant role at Rentco.

Both Bob and John Shier have recruited their sons (four in all) to work for the business.

Like many of Rentco’s major moves, the decision to purchase the High Wycombe property was made quickly; and it was one made during a meeting of the six of them.

“We put our heads together, we sit down, and we make a decision,” Mr Shier said.

“I don’t run this business to run it; everyone here has a say and we make a group decision.”

Challenges

Fortunately, Rentco has been shielded from much of the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with those operating in the broader general freight sector, the company has faced shortages in vehicle parts from Asia and parts of Europe.

Those shortages have been exacerbated by the increase in demand for trucking services as mining projects across WA ramp up, buoyed by the soaring price of iron ore.

“What we’re experiencing is parts, including engine parts for trucks, from overseas being delayed because there are shortages,” Mr Shier told Business News.

“We’re hearing that, as far as trucks go, the situation may get better by the end of the year, but we don’t know for sure.

“Trailer gear is getting worse.

“Manufacturers are doing what they can, and we ordered about 200 units last year.

“This year, we will do that easily.”

With lengthy delays for parts and business strong, Mr Shier said the company had been forced to harness its restoration capabilities and set about giving its old equipment new life.

But that’s not possible for all equipment.

“You can give trailers new life, but with trucks you can’t,” he said.

“You can do so much with them, but ultimately they need to be renewed; and then you run into issues with getting parts.

“The rates are going right up on spare parts now because it all has to be flown in.

“We’ve grabbed what stock we can to keep ourselves rolling.”

Despite these challenges, Mr Shier maintains that he is confident in the business and the potential to embrace new opportunities.

Among these is a plan to branch out into the waste transport market.

“I reckon I’ll be doing this for another 10 years because I just love the work,” Mr Shier said.

“I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

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