Photo courtesy of Peggy Wilke Photography
Beth Hoff Blackmer, president, Aspen Rent-All, Basalt, Colo., will become the American Rental Association’s (ARA) 58th president at the conclusion of The ARA Show™ 2020 in Orlando. Hoff Blackmer will be the second female president in the association’s 64-year history. Pam McKenney, former owner with her husband, Joe, of The Rent-All Shops in Columbia, S.C., was elected as ARA’s first female president in 1997.
Hoff Blackmer, a second-generation owner of Aspen Rent-All, grew up in Aspen, Colo., and was involved in ski racing for most of her youth.
“When I was young, I figured I would become a physical therapist because of all the injuries I experienced in sports and felt I knew the field, firsthand. Then I went to college and participated in a Semester at Sea, which involved traveling on a ship around the world while taking classes. After that, I wanted to work overseas in international trade,” she says.
She attended the University of Colorado, earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing. After college, she moved to Seattle to work in international trade for five years.
“I realized I wanted to be outside more, so I found a job in the active sports industry and worked there for 10 years as an independent manufacturer’s rep. I moved back to Colorado in 1995, but continued to travel extensively until 1998, when I decided I needed to find a new career that didn’t require me to live on the road 75 percent of the time,” she says.
Left to right, Beth Hoff Blackmer, Aspen Rent-All president; Nick Berbenchuk, customer relations manager; Justin Gish, operations manager; and Matt Osier, customer sales associate.
“In 1999, when my dad was selling the business, some influential family friends prompted me to take over Aspen Rent-All and I jumped in,” Hoff Blackmer says.
Outside of work, she and her husband, Kent Blackmer, enjoy the mountain lifestyle, riding their horses and bikes in the summer and then skiing in the winter.
“We enjoy our Labrador retrievers — George and Abbey — who go everywhere with us, including to work every day. For vacations, we love to travel domestically and internationally to ski, cycle or scuba dive,” she says.
Hoff Blackmer recently talked with Rental Management about becoming ARA’s second female president, the state of the industry and more. An edited version of that conversation follows.
Rental Management: You’ve been involved in ARA leadership in a variety of ways over the years and Aspen Rent-All has been an ARA member since 1968. Why is this important to you and to Aspen Rent-All?
Beth Hoff Blackmer: In August of 1999 when I started, I didn’t know anything about the business nor any equipment in it other than the mowers. I quickly learned after attending events with rental people that they were very knowledgeable and were willing to talk with me. Their help was priceless. So, when I was asked to volunteer, I jumped at the opportunity to connect with more people. ARA is critical to my operation from networking at events, having the opportunity to learn new things at educational sessions, participating in online learning and attending The ARA Show. Every time I am around my peers, I return and implement new things into my business.
Rental Management: What have you learned during your year as president-elect?
Hoff Blackmer: Being part of the executive and officer team has afforded me the opportunity to learn so much about the internal operations of the association. I have an even stronger appreciation of the ARA staff for all they do to make this organization so great. I have really enjoyed watching the strategic plan initiatives come to life.
Rental Management: You are a second-generation owner of a rental store. What advice do you have for those taking over a family business as the owner?
Hoff Blackmer: I would not be the best to answer this since I never worked with my father. He wasn’t working day-to-day any longer when his manager needed to leave the high altitude due to health reasons. That’s when my dad decided to sell the business. Very early on, I was told that 75 percent of second-generation owners run the companies out of business. I researched why this was and learned the reasoning behind it was trying to change things that weren’t broken and moving too quickly on decisions. My advice would be to take it slow and realize the generation ahead of you knows a lot. Listen and learn from others. The best advice my father ever gave me was that I needed to purchase the business for the asking price from him so that I would not be involved with siblings who were not involved in the business. This has alleviated a lot of stress that I have seen from countless rental colleagues who are connected to their siblings in the business, even when those siblings don’t work there.
Rental Management: How would you describe Aspen Rent-All?
Hoff Blackmer: Aspen Rent-All is in the middle of a 40-mile-long corridor that makes up the Roaring Fork Valley. There are roughly 35,000 people living in that area. With Aspen/Snowmass being a famous resort area, there are many expensive homes and commercial businesses in the area. We are fortunate to be part of the building and property management that constantly is going on here. We focus on general tool and construction equipment with only tables and chairs for 50 people in the party segment.
Rental Management: How has your business evolved? For example, what prompted you to move to a new location a few years ago?
Hoff Blackmer: The business was located on a half-acre for more than 40 years and in a business park where we were in a land lease. The rent kept increasing and there was no room for growth there, so I felt I had to find a new home for Aspen Rent-All. I purchased two acres on the highway that goes the entire length of the valley, which has great exposure and has been a great move for us. We have been able to expand our rental fleet here in similar products we carried before and it has opened new markets for us like ranching and more homeowner business.
Rental Management: What is the company’s inventory mix these days?
Hoff Blackmer: About 55 percent of our revenue comes from construction equipment, 45 percent is general tool and very little comes from party and event. We carry everything from carpet cleaners up to 8,000-lb. telehandlers and other construction equipment, including excavators, compaction equipment, scaffolding, skid steers, demolition hammers and more.
Rental Management: What are the greatest challenges facing your business today?
Hoff Blackmer: Employees. We have been experiencing a lot of turnover in our drivers and service techs. We have a great team, but it drains all the others to have people who don’t show up or have a poor work ethic when they do. My business is very seasonal, which strains the cash flow, and we also have about 400 pieces of equipment, so that’s a lot for a new employee to learn about each piece. Also, the cost of business keeps going up. Health care is a huge thing in our area. We have a 35 percent upcharge compared to the Denver area, apparently because mountain people are active and get injured more. I’m excited for a time when we can be part of a national plan.
Rental Management: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing the equipment rental industry?
Hoff Blackmer: Getting and keeping qualified people who can learn all the details about all the equipment we provide. The cost of doing business also continues to rise, which strains profits, especially for smaller businesses.
Rental Management: When you complete your year as ARA president, what do you hope to have accomplished? What, in your mind, will make it a successful year?
Hoff Blackmer: My main goal is for there to be more engagement from our members. I am excited for our new learning management system that will help make it much easier for our members to educate their staff members. ARA has so much to offer and my goal is for that to be more evident to the members.
Rental Management: You have been heavily involved since the inception of ARA’s Women in Rental Committee. What is the purpose of this group and why is this important for the equipment and event rental industry?
Hoff Blackmer: Our goal is to have a place for women to come together for networking, education, mentoring and leadership training. More than 12,000 women are engaged in the rental industry. Our first Women in Rental Breakfast was held at The ARA Show 2019 in Anaheim, Calif., and was sold out at 300 attendees.
Rental Management: What can this group do?
Hoff Blackmer: We are excited for women to connect and to know that we are “better together.” We will have another breakfast in Orlando, and we are planning to have a conference in late 2020. We also plan for events at the state associations. We want people to get involved and we also have created a Facebook page — ARA Women in Rental.
Rental Management: Why, in your opinion, should people attend The ARA Show?
Hoff Blackmer: The ARA Show is incredibly important to attend. The networking with others can help anyone become better at their business. The education is great. There is something for everyone. Having all the equipment in one place so you can look at and compare products is fantastic. Plus, you can find new items you would not have thought about renting. We always take advantage of the Show-Only Special offers. Buying my excavators at the show can save me up to $10,000 per machine.
Rental Management: What ARA products and services do you use?
Hoff Blackmer: We use ARA Insurance and put all employees who go on our insurance through the ARA Professional Driver Education Program. We purchase the Ready to Rent tags. We have participated in every Cost of Doing Business survey since I started. When training new staff, I will have them watch some of the employee training videos. We also use the suggested safety topics for our monthly meetings. We attend education sessions at both the ARA of Colorado and at The ARA Show.
Rental Management: As the incoming president, what do you want to say to your peers?
Hoff Blackmer: I am honored to be the second female president elected, and the first in 21 years, of ARA. I am thankful to my peers for embracing having more women in the board room and now as president. I have learned so much from others and hope others will do the same to become better leaders and businesspeople.
From sales to rentals — how Dave Hoff founded Aspen Rent-All
In 1967, Dave Hoff was working for Bombardier Snowmobiles as a traveling salesman, but as his children were getting older and involved in more activities, it was time to find something that would keep him closer to home.
“He went to Denver, looked in the Yellow Pages, saw rental and thought, ‘That sounds great,’” says Beth Hoff Blackmer, the second-generation owner of Aspen Rent-All, Basalt, Colo., and the incoming president of the American Rental Association (ARA).
Beth with her father, Dave Hoff.
“He called one of the rental stores and the person who answered turned out to be one of his fraternity brothers at the University of Colorado who became his rental mentor. He started Aspen Rent-All in April 1967,” Hoff Blackmer says.
In the beginning, the rental store included general tool, medical equipment and party and event, but Hoff decided to focus on tool rental as Aspen Rent-All was the only general tool rental store in the area.
In 1999, Hoff’s manager told him he had to move for health reasons because of the altitude. That’s when he told his family he planned to sell the business.
“We never had a family discussion about succession planning, but I had moved back to the area and was working in the active sports industry when he announced his plans to our family,” Hoff Blackmer says.
Soon after, on a bicycle trip with her father in France, Hoff Blackmer was approached by two influential family friends during one of her rides.
“The two came up alongside me on the road and said, ‘We’ve been talking and we’ve decided you need to take over Aspen Rent-All. You can do it.’ I had a sleepless night and talked it over with my husband, Kent. While we were on a ferry ride on the Brittany coast, I pulled my father aside and we talked about it. He had never thought of me doing it, but when I told him, he said, ‘Great!’ A few minutes later he said, ‘You have to buy it. You don’t want to be partners with siblings who don’t work in the business.’ That was the best advice he ever gave me,” she says.
“I paid full price for the business so that there would not be any family squabbles about it. He helped me figure out the banks and the financing of the package and I started at Aspen Rent-All on Aug. 1, 1999. The manager had given 18-months’ notice, so I had him for a year of training and the sales transaction was effective in January 2000,” she says.