If you told John Forrest a decade ago that mini skid steers would be a major part of his three stores’ equipment rental fleet, he would have thought you were crazy.
But today the machines make up the bulk of the Farrer Brothers rental fleet based in Nashville, Tenn. Forrest will likely be adding more mini skid steers in the near future, expanding the services the company can provide its customers and growing revenue as well.
So, what’s behind the mini skid steer boom for Farrer Brothers?
Nashville is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. Residential growth is measured on a daily basis; while it’s fallen slightly in the last two years, growth as recently as 2018 was around 100 residents per day, and the city remains one of the most sought-after locations for corporations and residents in the nation. That’s meant a lot of new construction and remodeling of older homes, both of which sometimes require a high-capacity machine with a small footprint, according to Forrest, whose company manages stores in Nashville, Dickson and Hendersonville, Tennessee.
“We’ve seen the greatest advances with mini skid steers in Nashville because of all the building. They’re sometimes tearing down a house and building three on the same lot. So obviously we can’t get a bigger machine in and out of these tight spaces,” Forrest said. “They’ll go through a pretty small gate, and we can get access to jobs we otherwise wouldn’t be able to without them.”
Meeting Specific, Diverse Customer Needs
Around 60 percent of Farrer Brothers’ customers are businesses, ranging from general and plumbing contractors to landscapers and arborists — the kinds of customers for whom mini skid steers are a good fit for the diversity of jobs they do. To better meet demand from those smaller businesses and residential customers, Forrest said Farrer Brothers now has 23 Vermeer mini skid steers across its three locations. It took some time for customers to get comfortable with the myriad of jobs the small machines can handle on a jobsite.
“It takes people a little while to grasp what they can do. When we had four mini skid steers between our three stores, customers sometimes didn’t even know we rented them, so they didn’t know how they could use them,” Forrest said. “As they start using them, they fall in love with them. So getting them in front of our customers has been a big step.”
Much of that use has been driven by the multitude of attachments available for Vermeer mini skid steers. Given the variety of jobs on which contractors and homeowners use them, different attachments such as augers and trenchers help broaden the pool of potential customers for mini skid steers.
“To me, the auger attachment on these machines works better than a larger skid steer on many jobs,” Forrest said. “One of the main reasons is visibility. Customers like being able to just hop off the machine instead of climbing out when they change a bit — it’s just simpler. And in most cases, unless you’re boring a huge-diameter hole, a lot of our customers prefer the mini skid with the auger attachment as well.”
Providing More Business Consistency
Beyond the ability to meet a wide variety of rental customers’ needs, Forrest said his company’s growing fleet of Vermeer mini skid steers has helped him better maintain a more consistent profit center. A major component of that is the durability and longevity of the machines; with fewer ongoing maintenance issues and work disruptions, rental volume is more consistent over time. More time on the job, with fewer disruptions, means each machine is making more money for Forrest’s rental store.
“As a small independent company, we value quality — because a high-quality machine that requires less maintenance over time enables us to operate with fewer mechanics. It can cost us double what it costs a big-box store when we aren’t running,” he said. “And when we do perform regular scheduled maintenance, we get excellent dealer support. Our Vermeer dealer will come in here, check on us, bring parts and help us stay on top of any maintenance needs. We really value the relationship we have with our dealer. It means these machines will last.”
While the mini skid steers have provided a real boost to the Farrer Brothers’ business, Forrest admits there was a time when he was concerned about adding too many machines too quickly. And though he anticipates they’ll stay in high demand for the foreseeable future — he anticipates buying more mini skid steers in the next two years — Forrest said his cautious approach paid off early on and continues to do so as he seeks to better serve his customers.
“We have always added machines based on direct demand. Two years ago, we bought 20 Vermeer mini skid steers and have kept them busy — but there’s always a little bit of fear when expanding quickly like that,” he said. “Whenever we get to the point where we feel like we are missing out on rentals, we add more, usually two or four at a time. It’s been a good way for us to grow.”
Growing in the Future
That kind of growth has happened thanks to the relationship Forrest has with his Vermeer dealer. Between the revenue potential created by the durable mini skid steers and the service his dealer provides, Forrest sees major upside to this growing part of Farrer Brothers in the years to come.
“I can remember about three years ago when we had promised two customers mini skids for a weekend and we didn’t have two machines on the lot. I was afraid I was going to have to let two customers down, and I never do that,” Forrest said. “I called our dealer and he said he could have two of them here first thing in the morning. He drove to Kentucky from Nashville, then delivered them. And we kept those customers. People like our dealer are a huge part of why we work with Vermeer.”