The 4 owners of Franklin Equipment spent most of their careers in the rental industry before purchasing the dealership in 2008. They’re using that experience to transform the typical purchase and rental experience at the dealership’s new location in Columbus, Ohio — a 65,000 square foot “super store” situated on 13 acres.

Their solution was to combine sales and rental in a way that lets them compete in both markets. “We want to operate as a dealer and a full-line rental company, renting everything from small portable generators to 135-foot boom lifts. We’re changing the industry. You don’t have to go different places to buy and to rent,” Repeta says. About 75% of the dealership’s business is to small contractors and rural lifestylers. Municipalities and large contractors make up 25% of their business. The dealership also has locations in Dublin and Lancaster, Ohio.“We came from the rental industry and lived through the consolidation efforts of United Rentals and Sunbelt Rentals. We also knew what the traditional Caterpillar or John Deere dealer was all about. If it had rental, it was an afterthought,” says Tony Repeta, general manager and partner. Franklin’s other partners include Gary Gabriel, Troy Gabriel and Tom Richardson.

Technology Sells

Franklin’s approach borrows from the techniques of car dealerships and adds point-of-purchase technology to attract and educate customers. “Our building has a glass facade, a nice clean and organized showroom, is well lit and has nice signage,” says Repeta. Prices are displayed on each piece of equipment and an iPad is available for customers to check specifications or view videos. Big screen televisions are situated throughout the store running educational and promotional videos as well as news and weather reports. Other screens display where their team is delivering equipment that has been purchased or rented. “We have GPS tracking on our trucks and we show how our trucks are moving throughout the city to get things done,” Repeta says. The dealership’s parts and service teams also use iPads to help make service more portable.

Franklin Equipment’s management team: Tom Richardson, Troy Gabriel, Gary Gabriel and Tony Repeta.

The dealership’s website is also infused with new technologies. For instance, they offer a “live chat” opportunity. They’ve contracted with an outside company for the technology and trained them on their equipment and dealership. “It’s really taking off. It’s amazing how many people will order a piece of equipment online through a chat. Or, they reserve a piece of rental equipment. I’m very surprised and excited to see where this can go,” Repeta says.

Franklin Equipment builds value for customers by sharing technology when a purchase is made. “We include GPS on equipment for free — you can equate that with Chevy and OnStar, that’s a car dealership thing. We, as an equipment dealer, are including it on everything we sell,” he says. “For a small company, we have the ability to stay on the edge of technology. We strive very hard to make investments in technology.”

Marketing Everywhere

Franklin Equipment also invests in marketing and advertising tactics, again similar to the wide reach of a car dealership. “We believe in a large amount of advertising. We’re advertising on the radio all year long. We sponsor a lot of events like fairs and concerts and we attend a lot of trade shows. We give away almost 10,000 t-shirts a year. We keep pounding our message,” Repeta says. “All our vehicles are fully wrapped with our name and logo. It’s a loud message when we’re driving down the road.”

Relying on the Team

Repeta also credits their approach and their new location off a 4-lane highway for their new customer count being up more than 30% this year. “Our visibility is huge, 25,000 cars pass by our door every day,” he says. He describes the local economy as stable, which also helps business. “As times get tough, Columbus remains steady and in good times, we see steady growth,” he says.

Repeta also credits his team for the dealership’s success. “With the growth we’ve seen in business, we know that our plan is solid and can breed more success. One of the biggest pieces, though, is our team. If you don’t have great people, it all falls to the ground. We’ve put together a team that has worked together for 20 years. These guys believe in what we’re doing and we have a culture that is strong,” he says.

The Franklin team is always selling, even during the off hours. “We believe in building relationships with our customers and we have a lot of them as friends. When we’re away from work, we’re still working, like having cookouts for customers,” he says. “We’ve truly created something that is special and hard to beat. Our competitors are struggling to create this kind of environment. We believe the future is to be a regional company,” Repeta says.