Since 1963, this Rockford business has been the place to go for homeowners and contractors alike. With plenty of good things to look back on, co-owner Brad Thomas is looking forward to more great things in the future.
Brad Thomas knows a thing or two about lawn and garden equipment. After all, he grew up in the family business, Lincoln Rent-All & Sales, a staple of the Rockford community since 1956.
“My father started the business, and in 1963 moved the operation from Kilburn Avenue to Auburn Street,” Thomas says. “My brother Jeff and I took over as co-owners in 1985, and after our father passed in 1990, we opened the Riverside Boulevard store in 1998. Jeff and I truly like what we do, and through the years, we learned all roles in the company, from repairs to loading and unloading equipment. Now, we work on the business end of things. We’ve both found our niche here.”
After more than 65 years in business, Lincoln Rent-All remains the go-to place for lawn and garden rentals, sales and service.
The bulk of the company’s rental business centers on light equipment for homeowners and contractors. For residential customers, equipment like lawn mowers, power rakes, tillers and aerators are common requests. Contractors and construction companies turn to Thomas for skid loaders, breakers and levelers for skid loaders, air compressors, breaking hammers and high-powered lighting towers.
Of course, there are plenty of unique items, too, including an apple cider press that gets plenty of attention in certain seasons.
“Our business fills a niche in the Rockford community because there are few places that rent the kind of items we carry,” Thomas says. “You can rent equipment for a job without making an investment. You don’t have to store it or worry about it breaking down, and when your job is done, you bring it back.”
The Toro Dingo is one of Lincoln Rent-All’s most popular items. “The Dingo is a walk-behind loader that’s been around for more than 20 years,” Thomas says.
There are several attachments for the Dingo, including a concrete breaker, bucket, pallet fork, post hole digger, tiller, tooth bar and trencher. “Our customers like it because it fits inside a 36-inch gate, making it very manageable to handle,” he adds.
Beyond lawn equipment, Lincoln Rent-All has a wide selection of items for home projects and emergency situations, including items like generators, dehumidifiers and industrial fans, which are in high demand after summer storms and flooding.
“Many homeowners will rent drum sanders to refinish hardwood floors,” Thomas says. “A sander, floor polisher or linoleum roller is the kind of equipment that you don’t necessarily need to own, but it will save you money if you rent it.”
And with every rental, help is available for those who are unfamiliar with the equipment they’re using.
“We’re always happy to advise customers on the operation of our rental equipment,” says Thomas. “Most people have a pretty good idea about the scope of their project.”
Lincoln Rent-All is a Toro lawn mower and snow blower dealer, but it also carries handheld power equipment by Stihl as well as generators and water pumps by Honda.
Technology is always changing, and Thomas tries to stay on top of the latest trends. One of the biggest shifts in recent years has been the trend away from lawn and garden tractors.
“Toro strictly makes zero-turn mowers now, with at least 20 to 30 different models,” Thomas says. “The biggest advantages of the zero-turn mowers are speed and maneuverability. There’s no comparison to the speed of a zero-turn mower; it will cut your mowing time in half compared to a traditional tractor.”
At the same time, string trimmers are running cleaner, more efficiently and with fewer emissions. A growing number of manufacturers are powering them with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, rather than gas power.
“Some trimmers have four-stroke engines, and you don’t have to change the oil or add it into the fuel,” he says. “Battery string trimmers and chain saws are becoming popular. Chain saws draw more power than a trimmer, which affects the running time; but you could still get a solid half-hour of run time. The price of battery-powered lawn tools has also become more reasonable.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge recently has been the tighter supply of equipment after COVID-19. What’s available and how quickly it will ship is still sometimes a guessing game.
“Since the pandemic, there has been a slowdown in lawn and garden equipment manufacturing,” says Thomas. “Toro’s factory staff is down by 20% to 30%, so it’s tough to keep up with the demand for products because there are not enough workers to assemble the equipment.”
The industry slowdown has most significantly affected Thomas’s commercial clients.
“The larger equipment that a lawn service would use is hard to come by, and we have to plan ahead for upcoming machinery orders,” he says.
Still, the company continues to adapt and change with the market. Lincoln Rent-All’s service department is one of the few companies in the Rockford area that repairs small engines and the items it sells. Technicians work on Toro, Stihl, Honda, Lawn-Boy and Kawasaki products.
“We’re a hometown small business that supports small contractors in rental, sales and service,” says Thomas. “Our customers come into our stores and see the same people every day. That’s an essential part of customer service and satisfaction.”
In contrast to a company like Lincoln Rent-All, which hires factory-trained technicians who have experience in solving repair issues, national chain stores that sell lawn and garden equipment can only provide a certain amount of service for customers.
“When you invest in power lawn and garden tools, some maintenance goes into the machine’s upkeep. We are here to provide that service,” says Thomas. “If your lawnmower has a mechanical issue after the warranty runs out, you can’t take it back to the bigger stores for repairs. We stand behind our products, and we have the capabilities to repair the items we sell.”
As Thomas looks to the future, he believes there’s plenty of promise for Lincoln Rent-All and its ability to grow and change with the Rockford community.
“My brother and I have looked into expanding the business to a third location, but at this point, we don’t have immediate plans for that,” he says. “My son-in-law Tim and nephew Ted are working in the company and have the potential to run operations at some point. The business has grown to a size where it’s more than what one person can manage.”
Liability and security are two matters that Thomas has considered in opening another location.
“We have millions invested in our equipment. Adding another site means fencing, lights, cabling down the equipment and an alarm system,” he says. “The two locations we currently operate allow us to manage safety and accountability better.”
Thomas credits his dedicated team to helping his family’s business continue through decades of changes, and he believes they’re well-prepared for whatever the future brings.
“Going forward, we hope to attract additional dedicated employees to the business,” Thomas says. “Our young employees have a good attitude. They come in every day ready to work and don’t mind getting their hands dirty. They understand why we like the work we do. We’re proud that Lincoln Rent-All has been around for over 65 years, and we look forward to providing sales, service and rentals for years to come.”