Lincoln Rent-All has been renting supplies to businesses and homeowners for the past 60 years. Find out what keeps this company thriving and adapting with the times.
Thanks to ever-growing do-it-yourself TV shows, more and more homeowners are inspired to get off the couch and tackle weekend projects around their homes.
But is it worthwhile to spend hundreds of dollars on paint scaffolding or a lawn aerator?
There’s an alternative, thanks to the professionals at Lincoln Rent-All & Sales Inc. For the past 60 years, the family-owned business has been renting out small construction tools, lawn and garden equipment and party event supplies to Rockford-area do-it-yourselfers and licensed contractors.
“If you can think of it, we can rent it,” says Tim Kinney, manager. “We offer everything you need for remodeling your home, maintaining your lawn and garden, or any kind of weekend project.”
Lincoln Rent-All & Sales has Rockford locations at 6635 E. Riverside Blvd. and 3110 Auburn St. There are 19 employees, between the two stores.
In business since 1956, Lincoln Rent-All & Sales prides itself on being one of the most complete rental businesses in the Rockford area, with an emphasis on equipment, customer service and trained staff members who can show a customer how to use a piece of equipment, before it’s taken out of the store. It’s the brainchild of the late Art Thomas, a Rockford businessman. After his death, in 1990, sons Jeff and Brad took over.
“We were born into the business and we kind of fly by the seat of our pants,” Jeff says. “My brother owns half of everything and I own half of everything. Right now, we’re trying to stay ahead of the times. People are saying they can do things themselves and we have to keep up with that.”
Before he started the rental business, Art Thomas owned Thomas Trucking, a warehouse business.
“He had a pretty big warehouse off Jefferson Street, here in town, which burned down,” Jeff says. “He had the trucking company even before that.”
Art had also taken over United Rentals, which was not the same as the large business of the same name seen in TV ads today.
“He really liked working with the equipment and he liked the rental business,” Jeff says. “When the trucking warehouse burned down, he continued with the rental business and decided not to continue with the trucking and warehouse business.”
When Thomas moved his rental business to its current location, he named it after his favorite president.
“He liked Abraham Lincoln, so he named the business after Honest Abe,” Jeff says. “He started all this and Brad and I have been able to keep it going over the years.”
The brothers are very active in day-to-day operations. They answer phones, take orders and help customers with products, among other things.
The products they’ve added, due to growing interest in rental equipment, forced the opening of their Riverside Boulevard location in 1997.
“I’ve worked here for 40 years, so I always knew we would be here at our original location on Auburn Street, but I didn’t think we would expand and open the second store on the east side,” says Jeff. “That was a Quality Lawnmower store and had been there for eight or nine years when we bought it.”
Jeff says the business may have to expand yet again, but that decision will be left up to the store managers.
“The Auburn Street store is bulging, so either we’ll move again or level out.”
Along with saving customers money, by providing an alternative to purchasing expensive equipment, Lincoln Rent-All & Sales allows people to free up space in their garages and workshops, since they don’t have to store the often-bulky items.
Sometimes, however, it just makes more sense to buy a piece of equipment if you use it often. That’s when the “& Sales” part of Lincoln Rent-All & Sales Inc. comes in.
“People can rent for as long as they want, but at some point we have to decide if it’s feasible for them to keep renting a product or if they are better off buying it,” Jeff says.
Not all the merchandise in the store is for sale.
“A guy just can’t just walk in here and buy what they want, because not everything in here is for sale,” Jeff says. “We need to have the inventory to run the rental business.”
Some lines of new items are for sale, and some older items are put up for sale to make room for new inventory.
Along with tools for projects, the business also rents equipment for backyard parties and special events, such as tables, chairs, dunk tanks, cotton candy and popcorn machines.
The company services everything it sells, and is a full-line Toro and Stihl dealer. It stocks everything from scaffolding and bucket lifts, to augers, miter saws and skid loaders. Staff members teach customers how to operate items.
There are plenty of accessories for sale, too, including blades, gloves, safety glasses, sandpaper, shovels and rakes.
Anything that’s rented out can be repaired at the store, Kinney says. Parts are available for Toro, Stihl, Snapper, Honda, Kohler, Kawasaki and Briggs and Stratton machines.
Bucket and scissor lifts are frequently rented, when homeowners or contractors need to reach something high up. Lawn and garden equipment is popular, too.
“We’ve been renting all kinds of lawn aerators and log splitter chain saws,” Kinney says. “Most of our items are day-long or week-long rentals. Do-it-yourself shows are very popular, so instead of dealing mostly with contractors, we’re now dealing with more homeowners. A lot of people are realizing that some projects are not that hard to accomplish, and they can get out there and do it themselves, so they come in to rent the equipment needed to get it done. Because of that, we’re trying to be more homeowner-based in what we stock.”
It’s an especially useful solution for new homeowners, who aren’t always sure what tools they need.
“You can rent a particular piece of equipment from here and, if you like it, you can buy it,” Kinney says.
Occasionally, some eager beavers bite off more than they can chew.
“The bucket lifts we rent lift you 50 feet in the air,” Kinney says with a laugh. “People who’ve never used them before will rent them and come back with a whole new appreciation for heights. Some people get in over their heads a bit.”
Length of rental varies, depending on the item. You can rent a lawnmower for three hours or paint scaffolding for a month.
Lincoln Rent-All doesn’t rent out snow blowers, but does sell them.
“We don’t rent snow blowers because, if we get a bad snow storm, everyone will come in and want a snow blower for that day,” says Kinney, who has been a manager at Lincoln Rent-All & Sales for 11 years. “During years when we don’t have a lot of snow, they just sit here, because people don’t need them. We do rent out lawnmowers because everyone uses them during the summer.”
In order for the rental business to be around for another 60 years, one important thing has to happen, says Jeff.
“We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing well for the past 60 years,” he says. “We have to continue to carry good equipment and provide quality customer service. If we do that, we’ll still be here.”