Bunce Rental, a fixture in the greater Tacoma/Puyallup, Wash., business community, celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
A legacy of business diversity and leadership engagement in the industry it serves has fueled the company’s march to reach this milestone, which began Sept. 26, 1946.
The operation was established as the American economy was transitioning from a wartime to a civilian footing and the supply of new equipment — for both construction and farming — was sorely lacking. Sensing the need for alternative sources of supply, tractor and equipment salesman Frank Bunce founded the company initially as a sales operation. Bunce soon began responding to customer requests to rent his equipment, including tractors, tools and small contractor items.
A healthy rental fleet was developed over time, but Bunce was not keen to fully commit himself to rental as a business model. He felt he was best suited as a used equipment specialist.
“Frank was a ‘horse trader’ — a salesman at heart,” says Mike Blaisdell, Bunce Rental vice president/general manager. “Rental wasn’t his thing. His partner, Norman [Greenfield], saw the tremendous potential of rental and took over that side of the house. In 1959, Bunce became two separate companies: one exclusively rental led by Norman, and the Bunce Equipment Co., which was located 30 miles south in Lacey, Wash., as a used equipment and parts company.”
Norman’s management of the business began two years earlier, in 1957, with $5,000 worth of inventory. He continuously added new lines of equipment, including medical and guest equipment, bulldozers, large tractors, vacation trailers, and party and event supplies.
By the 1960s, Bunce Rental operated out of two locations in Puyallup and Tacoma. As the company continued to grow, Norman demonstrated his commitment to the equipment rental industry by joining the American Rental Association (ARA) in 1960 and serving as ARA Region Eight director from 1973-1976.
Other members of the Greenfield family who went on to serve ARA in several capacities include Norman’s sons, and current Bunce Rental owners, Jack and Mark Greenfield. Jack served as a member of the Construction Council, as Region Eight director from 1985-1988 and then in 1994 as ARA's 33rd president. Mark served on and chaired the Mobile Equipment Council during its tenure, was a member of and chaired the Home Health Care Shared Interest Group until it was realigned and served as Region Eight director from 1997-2000.
In the late 1970s, Bunce Rental’s medical rental segment branched off to a new division, American Medical Rental & Supply, specializing in the rental and sales of home medical equipment. The stand-alone division is housed in its own location with a division manager and departments that handle billing, customer service, inventory/purchasing, repairs, sales and delivery.
Blaisdell began working for Bunce Rental as a high school student in 1978. He attended his first ARA convention in Dallas in 1984, the same year he graduated from college. “For me, that was an incredible experience that sold me on the rental business,” he says.
Blaisdell is credited with co-developing the first software program for the company's general rental side as his college major was business and computer science.
1984 also saw Blaisdell become branch manager of Bunce Rental’s Tacoma location. In 1985, a new branch was opened in the South Hill area of Puyallup, and in 1989 the company purchased an existing local rental business, City Rents, which included two general rental locations and one medical rental location.
Further diversification took place in 1995 when Bunce Rental’s event rental segment branched to a new division called American Party Place. It also was in 1995 that Blaisdell was promoted to general manager. In 2001, he was promoted to vice president and became a minority owner in the business.
Following the precedent of industry leadership set by the Greenfields in earlier decades, Blaisdell served as ARA Region Eight director from 2009-2012 and in 2013 became the 51st president of ARA.
“I wanted to blend my experiences serving ARA at all levels — on local, state and national committees — and my diverse background in all segments of our industry, including general tool, construction and party rentals, to give back to our association and ‘raise the bar’ for our customers and our industry,” says Blaisdell of his volunteer service.
The spirit of volunteerism in the organization didn’t stop with the Greenfields and Blaisdell. Loree Durham, CERP, general manager of American Party Place, has served on the ARA of Washington board of directors since 2015 and was a member of ARA’s Events & Tents Task Force from 2016-2018; and Shawn Blaisdell, Bunce Rental branch manager, is a member of the ARA Young Professionals Committee.
Reflections on 75 years of rental success
On the 75th anniversary of Bunce Rental, Tacoma/Puyallup, Wash., Mike Blaisdell, vice president/general manager, looks back on the elements that have enabled the enterprise to survive and thrive for three quarters of a century.
In Your Region: What are your thoughts as you reflect on 75 years of Bunce Rental?
Mike Blaisdell: When we look back 75 years to our beginnings, it is incredible how our core values of being responsive, reliable and focused on our customers and team members continue to reflect the thoughts of our founder, N.J. Greenfield. I believe we are celebrating this anniversary because we have remained faithful to those values. Upon reflection, you realize that the corporate culture that Norman established 75 years ago is still working fine. It’s a long time for a company to survive and an even longer time for one to remain successful. It is something that all of us together have achieved and we take great pride in that accomplishment.
In Your Region: What advantages does Bunce Rental offer to customers that have enabled you to endure for 75 years?
Blaisdell: Our commitment to listen to our customers, understand their needs and challenges, help them solve their problems and create a positive experience. We strive to provide our customers with the right equipment for their projects, along with a safe and cost-effective solution. Our team also “knows rental” — most of our rental coordinators have worked with us for several years and our managers have been in the industry 10-plus years. Our customers know they can rely on our experience to help them get their project completed on time and within budget.
In Your Region: What have been the greatest challenges confronted by your company and how did you overcome them?
Blaisdell: Navigating the past 75 years in business has come with many challenges, learning moments and successes. Our 75th anniversary year is no exception as we transition out of the pandemic and face hiring and supply challenges that have been unparalleled. In responding to challenges, we have always been committed to understanding the cause of the problem, overcoming the short-term impact, creating strategies to solve the long-term problem and turning the problem into opportunities. No matter the crisis or challenge, our commitment and willingness to adapt never changes. While we have grown over the past 75 years, our focus has always been on “getting better, not bigger.”
In Your Region: How are you planning to celebrate the achievement of your 75th anniversary?
Blaisdell: Due to the pandemic, we have delayed any type of celebration to date, focusing on business as usual. As we continue to transition out of the pandemic, we will look at opportunities for a celebration to commemorate our anniversary. As we celebrate, I want to thank the Greenfields, who have led the company the past 7 1/2 decades and have acted as mentors to many at our company, myself included. Above all, I thank all our team members through the years who have contributed to the success of Bunce Rental.