Sully’s Tool & Party Rental, Bunce Rental and Tates Rents surpass 75 years in business
By Casey Bowden By Brock Huffstutler and Connie Lannan
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Sully’s Tool & Party Rental, Bunce Rental and Tates Rents surpass 75 years in business

Amanda Withee, CERP, and her father, Richard Saunders. 

Over the last year, there were at least three equipment and event rental companies that celebrated their diamond jubilee, meaning they each have been in business for 75 years.

This includes Sully’s Tool & Party Rental, Akron, Ohio; Bunce Rental, Tacoma, Wash.; and Tates Rents, Boise, Idaho. Each has a unique, yet similar, story of how they started, evolved and grew over more than seven decades, and shared their history with Rental Management.

For example, Sully’s Tool & Party Rental, Akron, Ohio, had humble beginnings, starting in 1947 when Amanda Withee’s great-great-grandmother began renting her great-great-grandfather’s tools out of the garage.

Over the years, the business evolved into Sully’s Tool Rental. In 1992, her parents opened Sully’s Party Rental, and since 1999, the business has been providing both aspects of rental out of the Akron location Withee’s parents built in the 1990s.

For the past eight years, Withee, CERP, chief facilitator, and her brother-in-law, Brian Molnar, director of operations, have been overseeing the day-to-day duties with the off-site oversight of Withee’s father, Richard Saunders, president.

Withee always knew the family business was her destination. “I grew up in the business, doing the dishes as a kid and working up to the counter. This always has been a passion of mine. During college, I would come home on the weekends and each summer to work here, but Dad said I had to get another job to make sure this was truly my passion and what I would want to spend the rest of my life doing. After college, I was an analyst for an insurance company. I was there exactly two years and 355 days before I came back,” Withee says.

Molnar, on the other hand, had been a high-voltage electrician. “I spent a lot of time away from home and needed a change. I joined the business in April 2012,” he says, adding that prior to joining full time, his only rental experience came “when I was recruited when there was a catastrophe with a tent after a tornado came through the area and blew some tents down. It was quite a learning curve. Everything was totally different than what I was used to doing — and so many different variables involved,” he says.

“My dad always told me that people do business with people they know, like and trust. My grandparents and parents always have been actively involved in the community. Our community knows us. People were trying to give my grandmother money to pay her back for something my grandfather did for them, including giving them money to get them back on their feet. That is what we want to continue to instill — that we know our community, we are part of our community, and we are here for our community. We want to build on that legacy of having them know us, like us and trust us with their business,” Withee says.

Bunce Rental, a fixture in the greater Tacoma/Puyallup, Wash., area, has a legacy of business diversity and leadership engagement in the industry it serves since the company was founded on Sept. 26, 1946.

The operation was established as the American economy was transitioning from a wartime to a civilian footing and the supply of new equipment — for both construction and farming — was sorely lacking. Sensing the need for alternative sources of supply, tractor and equipment salesman Frank Bunce founded the company initially as a sales operation. Bunce soon began responding to customer requests to rent his equipment, including tractors, tools and small contractor items.

Bunce Rental in 1961.

“Frank was a ‘horse trader’ — a salesman at heart,” says Mike Blaisdell, Bunce Rental vice president/general manager. “Rental wasn’t his thing. His partner, Norman [Greenfield], saw the tremendous potential of rental and took over that side of the house. In 1959, Bunce became two separate companies: one exclusively rental operation led by Norman, and the Bunce Equipment Co., which was located 30 miles south in Lacey, Wash., as a used equipment and parts company.”

Greenfield’s management of the business began two years earlier, in 1957, with $5,000 worth of inventory. He continuously added new lines of equipment, including medical and guest equipment, bulldozers, large tractors, vacation trailers, and party and event supplies.

“When we look back 75 years to our beginnings, it is incredible how our core values of being responsive, reliable, and focused on our customers and team members continue to reflect the thoughts of our founder, Norman Greenfield,” Blaisdell says.

“I believe we were able to celebrate this anniversary because we have remained faithful to those values. Upon reflection, you realize that the corporate culture that Norman established 75 years ago is still working fine. It’s a long time for a company to survive and an even longer time for one to remain successful. It is something that all of us together have achieved and we take great pride in that accomplishment,” he says.

Tates Rents was founded by Paul Tate in 1946 as Safway Scaffolding Co. Over time, Tate supplemented his inventory with products like ladders, liquefied gas and cable tools. The offerings grew to the extent that the company’s name was changed to Tate Scaffolding and Power Tool Co. and in 1962, its first branch location opened. That same year, Sydney “Syd” Tate, Paul’s son, joined the organization.

After Paul retired in 1969, Syd skippered Tates Rents through the early 1990s, when a third generation of Tates succeeded him. The now-familiar Tates Rents name was adopted in the early 1980s, and the company saw significant growth over the next 40 years as it expanded to additional locations, servicing both contractor and DIY customers with forklifts, excavators, lawn and garden equipment, and virtually any other item needed to accomplish their projects.

A major shift took place in 2020 when, after more than seven decades, ownership of Tates Rents changed hands. But by no means was it to an outsider with no connection to the Tates rental heritage — it was to the very employees whose efforts propel the company.

Tates Rents first- and second-generation owners.

“Tates’ third generation said, ‘We want to look at emerging markets and view Tates Rents from 30,000 ft. instead of being in the trenches all day,’” says Joe Plehal, director of sales and marketing, Tates Rents.

“They developed a leadership team to take care of their roles. Then, they told us that since we had been doing a fantastic job, they wanted us to continue to run the company and that they had landed on the ESOP [employee stock ownership plan]. That generosity is so typical of the family.”

Today, Tates Rents is equipped to handle rental jobs of any scale but the identification as the go-to resource for local homeowner projects is at the heart of the organization.

As it reflects on its history, Tates Rents also invests in its future by fostering a fun and rewarding work environment. That is why “one of our core values is ‘work hard, play hard,’” Plehal says.

“If you spent the day in one of our locations, you would see that in full force. I have laughed until I cried so many times with this company, it’s not even funny. And we have done very well with the younger demographic,” he says.

“Our employee numbers ramp up when people are looking for part-time or seasonal work, and honestly, they fall in love with us in the three or four months they come in. I started in 2004 doing that same thing — driving to and from college. They worked around my school schedule, and I absolutely fell in love with the company. The Tates family treats you as an individual — you’re never a number to them. There’s something magic about that culture. My appreciation paycheck is bigger than my actual paycheck.”

Casey BowdenCasey Bowden

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