A mainstay of the Twin Cities’ equipment rental scene for six decades, A1 Rent It is operated today by third-generation owner Chad Wagner. On the strength of a notable acquisition made recently, Wagner now also carries forward the legacy of another renowned family-established rental brand. The successful streamlining of the long-standing organizations is a hit, earning the company a mention as one of the fastest-growing entities in Rental Management’s June 2022 issue spotlighting equipment rental Market Movers.
“It’s 100 percent attributable to the acquisition we did,” Wagner says of his company’s 200 percent-plus revenue growth since 2019. “We went from a single location to three overnight, and from about 10 staff members at our single location to all of a sudden having over 35. I’m happy that we are able to represent both family brands — A1 and Broadway — going forward. That was important to me.”
In 2021, Wagner closed the deal to purchase Brooklyn Park, Minn.-based Broadway Rental and Broadway Party Rental from retiring owners Guy and Terry St.Martin. Broadway was established in 1956 by Guy’s father, and the acquisition ensures the continuation of a brand that has been trusted by customers through decades — just like the Wagner family’s A1 Rent It.
A1 Rent It was founded in 1963 in Wayzata, Minn., by Chad’s grandfather, Frank Wagner who, prior to setting up the business, worked in Moline, Ill., as a safety engineer for John Deere. During his time in Moline, the location of the American Rental Association (ARA) headquarters, Frank “befriended some of the founding members of ARA,” Chad says.
Through those relationships, Frank was able to procure several pieces of equipment to stock a hardware/rental business he had purchased back in his native Twin Cities area. “My dad [Steve] recalls making multiple trips with my grandfather in a 5-ft.-by-8-ft. open trailer bringing equipment from these rental guys in the Moline area to supply his store,” Chad says.
The business, a single location that offered general tool and a small amount of event rentals, grew under Frank’s guidance until 1978 when he transitioned out and Steve took over full time, serving as owner/operator through the 2000s.
“I came into the business around 2006, working summers through 2014,” Chad says. “I was teaching high school math at the time and along the way, my dad handed me responsibility over the event side of the business. It worked well with my summer schedule, and it was an area of interest for me, so we spun off another brand, Lake Minnetonka Party Rental, in 2011, all out of the same location. Then, in 2014, I came into the rental industry full time.”
What was it about rental that lured Chad away from a 10-year teaching career? “There are similarities and some unique opportunities in rental,” he says. “In the rental business I feel like I am teaching all the time. A new customer comes in, they are trying to do a project and you teach them how to use a piece of equipment and guide them through that process. Second, I saw an opportunity in rental to pave my own way as an entrepreneur, as opposed to education, which is a union-based structure. I wasn’t going to become a principal or administrator, so I had plateaued there. This [rental] opportunity was there, my dad was in his 60s and looking to transition, so the timing and the opportunity just lined up.”
Seven years later and with the Broadway acquisition under his belt, Chad has learned that blending one legacy business into another is no easy task but, after much effort, he is pleased with how things have turned out.
“It was a challenge, for sure,” he says. “The first question was, ‘Are you going to change the name?’ Our situation was that we had four brands between the two businesses, and there was no way we were going to be able to navigate and capture our customer base using four separate brands, so we had to make some tough choices. We had everything to change: signage, employee uniforms, decals on equipment. There was a seemingly endless cycle going on in the second half of last year, trying to get that stuff updated to what we wanted to be. The leadership team helped with that, and advice from a marketing firm or two and from my peer group helped along the way, too. We are really happy with the two brands that we are operating under right now. It’s been an exciting transition.”
Guiding Broadway’s longtime customers through the transition has been another factor to contend with among all the change. “There has certainly been some confusion along the way,” Chad says. “It still says ‘Broadway Rental’ in some people’s phones, and when they call and we answer as ‘A1 Rent It,’ they think, ‘Am I calling the right place?’ We created a little script for our counter staff to be able to answer that, and they are all doing a great job. One of the things that we have been complimented on, particularly at the Broadway Equipment store, is just how nicely the place has been freshened up, how great it looks with the new branding and so forth.”
With the consolidation of the A1 and Broadway entities settled, Chad describes the organizational structure today as “three locations and two brand divisions: The A1 Rent It side is two of our three locations — general tool and equipment rental, focused on homeowners, small contractors, equipment up to 10,000 lbs., a variety of skid steers, aerial, trailers, hand tools, etc. Our third location and second division is Broadway Tent and Event. That is our party and event rental store, serving homeowners, business to business and corporate work. We also have the capability to do larger events — community festivals and things of that nature.”
|Chad Wagner with members of his Peer Advisory Group outside the Brooklyn Park, Minn., location
The Broadway acquisition was a giant step, but Chad says the A1 Rent It team doesn’t plan to stop there.
“We are definitely looking to continue to grow here in the Twin Cities market via acquisition. That is part of our plan over the next three to five years,” he says. “We are in an early phase of establishing a strong, strong culture just with the acquisition we did. There are so many new people in the organization, and we have made great strides this first year getting our arms wrapped around it, but I think that the next year is really going to be an amazing year for us.”