Linda Jones, CERP, can’t remember when rental was not part of her life. But this past March, after 59 years of serving the greater Westminster, Colo., area, Jones and her husband, Bob, decided it was time to retire and sell the business to Arapahoe Rental.
“The store has been my whole life, but it was time to retire. Bob is 73. I will be 70 this year. It was hard getting employees during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and is still hard to find good employees. This March was the perfect time,” says Linda, president of the company.
Her rental path began early when her parents, Ronald and Dorothy Kiely, and her grandparents, Loren and Velda Stark, opened S&K United Rent-All in 1962.
“My aunt and uncle came out here to Colorado and started a hobby shop. My grandparents came out to be closer to them. They looked at businesses and decided on rental, going with United Rent-Alls. My grandparents had the seed money and my parents did all the work,” she says.
Linda’s store experience began at a young age. “I started on the wash dock when I was 11 years old. Then I started doing repairs and moved my way up to working in the office, doing the billing when I was in high school. While in college, my parents started traveling more. I would open the store, go to school, come back and close the store and then had a job working at a theater at night,” she remembers.
Even though rental was such a large part of her life growing up, Linda wasn’t sure she would make a career out of it. “I planned on going into recreation. I had a background in gymnastics. For years, including during college, I also worked at recreation centers,” she says.
“I realized that I wasn’t going to be Julie on the ‘Love Boat,’ then I married Bob and we decided to start a family,” she says, noting that rental was the best option for their future.
They weren’t wrong. In the early years, while her parents traveled more, Linda and her brother ran the operation. Her parents incorporated the business and changed the name to Area Rent-Alls in 1985. Her brother then decided to pursue a different career, so Linda purchased the business from her parents in 1986.
From the beginning, the business catered to the equipment market, primarily to small contractors. “We had some party, but we were mostly general tool and some construction,” she says.
Linda expanded her party offerings significantly in 1994 when she started a costume shop and moved all her party inventory and costumes to the building next door, which she named Area Party and Costumes.
Why costumes? “Because Colorado was so cold in the winter. If we had a big Halloween and Christmas with the costumes, that would get us through the winter — help me pay down my debt,” she says.
This was a rather risky venture since there were three other costume shops in the area, but “we outgrew them all and outlasted them all as well. I attribute that to our upkeep and quality of our costumes, and we kept our prices reasonable. I ended up buying out another costume shop as well,” she says.
Taking risks is nothing new to Linda. “I have always been a woman in a man’s business. I never thought that I was a trailblazer, but I always have done things that push me. For instance, if I think I am afraid of something, I will go for it, wanting to prove to myself that I can do it. That goes all the way back to high school when I was so shy I could hardly talk. I took speech class. I took a lifesaving class because I couldn’t swim. I had to prove that I could do these things,” she says.
She carried that persistence into the business. For instance, Linda will never forget when she wanted to purchase a dump trailer. “My husband and son said, ‘No. It will never pay for itself in three or even five years.’ I said I would take either bet. It was paid off in the first year,” she says with a laugh.
That drive also propelled her to become involved in the American Rental Association (ARA) at both the state and national levels. She began volunteering with the ARA of Colorado in 1994, an effort that rolled into several years of service, including being president from 2011-2012. She was elected to serve as ARA Region Seven director from 1997-2000. She served on the ARA national board as director-at-large from 2001-2003 and served as the Government Affairs chair from 2003-2004. Her volunteer efforts were recognized twice, first in 1996 and then again in 2008, when she was named Region Seven Person of the Year.
“I was really embraced by those on the state and national boards. I have dealt with men so much that I don’t feel that I am not part of the group. I never felt I was the odd-man out, per se. When I have gone back and looked at photos and saw that I was the only woman there or the only one besides Pam McKenney, I see that, but I never felt like I didn’t belong,” she says.
Volunteering was especially important to her. “When you volunteer, you always get more out of it than you put in. Once you start, it is easy to say yes. It doesn’t take as much time as you think. If you prepare and be ready, you are set. You learn new things, meet new people. There are so many people who are now friends that I would never have known if I hadn’t volunteered,” she says.
Of course, Linda and her team have dealt with a lot of challenges and changes over the years. “I have gone through three recessions and have watched 13 rental stores go out of business during that time. All were close to me. What helped us survive is that I didn’t take on a lot of debt. We brought in rental trucks and also moved into small engine repair on the equipment side. That brought in a lot of business. My son, Shaun, has such a huge following on the repair side. When the recession hit, people were repairing stuff and not buying new. That really helped,” she says.
Even though she had a small operation, Linda made sure she kept up with technology. “I think we were above the curve on this for my size of company. When I was looking at computers, one guy said I was too small to worry about computers. I hired a local guy. He built a system for me. I had computers in 1986. When my parents came back, they said they couldn’t help me anymore because I was computerized,” she says.
Linda also believed in giving back to the community. That is why she has become a significant supporter of the Special Olympics.
“We never had a relative in or any connection with Special Olympics, but we decided in 2000 that we had done so well that we wanted to give back to our community. We researched different groups. I fell in love with the Special Olympics. They were excited to talk with us and created a real connection with us. Our first fundraiser was a Halloween bash. I am still helping them. We had a virtual event last year. I wasn’t in charge as much as I was before, but I am still one of the main sponsors for it,” she says.
Linda says that what made her company stand out for all these years is “our customer service and well-maintained equipment. We would hear so many times that customers would never get anything from us that didn’t run. They said our equipment works, we have a better price and we are friendly.”
Looking back, Linda is proud of what she has been able to accomplish.
On the volunteer front, she is grateful for the experience at the state and national levels, including working with ARA’s Ash Can Club, which she did while serving as ARA board director-at-large, and her legislative advocacy.
“I know that ARA has been a very large part of my life. My first convention was 1973. Shaun went with us. He was only 6-months old. He was the first baby on the show floor, I believe. I have met so many wonderful people in the rental industry, and the ARA staff are the nicest people to work with. I have so many wonderful memories from all the meetings and social events. It has helped me have a great life,” she says.
As far as the business, she remembers a great compliment her father gave her several years ago. “He said that he thought he never could have gotten where I did. He was proud of me,” Linda says, adding that she was encouraged to grow her business with the support of her family and rental peers, including those who were part of her Peer Advisory Group.
While retirement offers its own perks, she admits to “missing the people, for sure. The people are the big thing. We made so many friends in the rental industry and with our customers. My son, granddaughter and grandson still work there. People keep coming in the store and asking about us. I really liked helping solve people’s problems,” she says.
That is why she plans to attend The ARA Show™ in October “to say goodbye to everyone. That is my plan. I want to see all my friends at least one more time,” she says.