There’s a small town feel in Clarksville, Ind., with maybe a touch of apple pie and a fireworks show during the summer, or a monthly outdoor movie to take the family to.
There are families and friends that grew up together, names of businesses that people recognize and come to when they need a hand.
Kyle Cristiani, owner of A.C. Equipment Rental in Clarksville, grew up in this environment.
Clarksville, with a population of approximately 21,500 people, is a nine-minute drive north of the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky. Cristiani says his store, like his other facility in nearby Corydon, Ind., population 3,160, are a part of the southern Indiana community.
And, like many in the equipment rental industry, Cristiani grew up with the business. His parents, Dan and Anne Cristiani, have instilled in their son the lessons of life through the prism of equipment rental.
Anne started the business in 1998. Dan ran an excavating company nearby and has been in the construction business most of his adult life. Kyle, 32, watched and listened to his parents, acquiring a familiarity with anything from excavators to post hole diggers and picking up on the interactions between customers and store employees.
“My dad, he’s a genius when it comes to business,” Cristiani says. “My mom, she decided to start this business. She’s also been around construction. She was wanting to retire, and I could see a future here,” Cristiani says, who now lives in nearby Sellersburg, Ind.
He says the two stores cater to different clientele. “We rent dozers, then we have concrete equipment,” he says. “I’m only 25 minutes from my other store. It’s a totally different atmosphere there. That’s more of a rural community and a majority of people renting are homeowners. This store (Clarksville), the majority we rent to are contractors. Here, we keep the dozers, the big excavators and stuff like that. There’s a lot of building going on right now. A lot of basement work. It’s real rocky around here, so all of the time, they need to get the rock out.”
As Cristiani speaks in his office, one of his employees is welding out back on a mounting plate for a hammer attachment. On this day, much of the inventory has been rented out. Cristiani says that’s a good problem to have.
“You have to be diverse,” Cristiani says. “We have guys who rent equipment all of the time, and they rent different stuff all of the time depending on their job. Rental’s tough, because you have to accommodate everything.”
Cristiani says there are a few national rental companies nearby. To stay competitive, he stands by some basic principles.
“We treat people fair, our price is good and you can’t beat our service,” he says. “In today’s world, the customer service is going to the wayside. People come in here, we’re family. We’re a family company. You’re not a number here. When you spend money with me, I’m the same guy that sponsors your kid’s baseball team, your kid’s football team. When you spend money with me, it stays in the community. That’s how it’s always been here. If you call here, you can talk to me. That’s the thing, you can put a face with it. I take pride in that I’m the last family-owned outfit in town. I feel the world is getting away from that, big corporate and all of that,” he says.
Cristiani says part of the beauty of his stores is that everyone is willing to lend a hand.
“If they need me to go on service runs, I go on service runs,” he says. “I don’t sit here with my dress pants on. It’s not uncommon for me to be here and my mechanic says, ‘Hey, I need your help.’ When they realize the boss isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with them, then I think you earn their respect at that point.”
Cristiani says he grew up that way. One of five siblings, he says everybody had responsibilities. His parents instilled a work ethic, along with spreading hospitality in their community by way of just making everyone welcome.
“My dad, he doesn’t know a stranger,” Cristiani says. “Someone showed up at our door, it was, ‘Come on in, eat dinner. What do you want to eat?’ That’s how I grew up. The world needs more of that. Treat everybody the way you’d like to be treated.”
In his back lot sits a skid steer, with five or six in inventory along with mini excavators. Inside the shop is a new addition, a Link-Belt excavator. Cristiani says it’s a strategic buy. He listens to customers and what they want to rent. He sees different combinations. Lately, a mini excavator and skid steer have been in demand.
“They’ll rent both of them before they rent a backhoe,” he says. “You have to have something for everybody. Guys we run into a lot, they have a mom-and-pop construction company, maybe with 20, 30 people. They can’t afford to buy all their equipment. It works out good with rental. We all stick together.”
Tim Fetz, general manager, was a former equipment operator. He adds to the knowledge needed on what equipment to rent.
“As far as renting, some people call that don’t know what an excavator is sometimes,” Fetz says. “One machine they think they need might not even be needed.”
Fetz is able to put himself in the customer’s shoes, Cristiani says, which helps the business.
Cristiani has his own family now with his wife, Alli, and three-year-old son Sterling. He wants to keep his business in the family and in the area where he grew up.
“Once you own something, you live and breathe it. It’s your baby, you know,” he says. “It’s a team effort here. I like coming to work every day. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”