With Kennards Hire celebrating 75 years of operation this year, CEO and hire industry veteran of more than 30 years, Bill Whitehouse, sat down with Hire and Rental News to talk about the company, its culture and how Kennards Hire has stayed relevant for so many decades.
“You don’t last in business for as long as Kennards Hire without developing a special and long-term rapport with your customers, suppliers and people alike.”
As a business, 75 years is definitely a milestone worth celebrating. Bill says it’s a testament to the hard work and dedication of their people, past and present, and to the trust their customers have placed in them over the years.
Success, he says, comes down to meeting customer needs and being able to adapt to changing environments.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Bill. “You have to ask yourself every day, is this decision going to make the customer’s job easier? It’s why customers keep coming back — we’re problem solvers. So, yes, we hire out equipment but at Kennards Hire, we also provide solutions.”
Bill’s been with Kennards Hire since 1989, joining as a trainee manager after a nine-year career in the military. He says empowerment and strong people leadership are key to the company’s success, under the guidance of four values which are front and centre of every decision they make: one family, fair dinkum, taking hire higher and every customer a raving fan. Everyone who joins the company, as part of their induction, is introduced to the Kennards Hire culture and the company’s purpose.
“At the end of the day, our decisions are based within the framework of our values,” says Bill.
“We live and breathe our values because they’re real. People can remember them: we're fair dinkum in what we say and do; every customer a raving fan which has always been an area of differentiation because we go that extra mile to provide great customer service; taking hire higher which is about continuous improvement in everything you do; and one family says we’re all in this together.”
“We also treat each other with respect and we have each other’s back.” He says that’s the special thing about Kennards Hire. “We put a lot of work, time and effort into our journey around culture. Our people can not only recite what our values are but live and breathe them, and to me, that’s precious and really powerful.
There’s also a commitment to clear communication and explaining the ‘why’ behind their decisions.
“When there is clarity around your purpose and communication is clear, people understand and come on the journey with you,” says Bill.
“Leaders need to be respectful, courageous and inspire hearts and minds. They also need to celebrate the wins with their teams on the way through.”
With low unemployment rates across Australia and New Zealand, Kennards Hire has, like every company, faced challenges recruiting staff, especially over the last few years. It’s why maintaining a stable employee base has become such a priority. In 2023, Kennards Hire are working on a number of fronts that seek to support staff with hours, work life balance and other benefits that support their wellbeing and comfort at work, ensuring staff feel like they have the right balance between work and home.
“By supporting wellbeing, we’ll reduce staff turnover which means more experienced people providing better customer service and delivering better solutions.”
After more than three decades at Kennards Hire, Bill has seen the product range evolve to meet the needs of their customers. Back when he started, their customers were mainly tradies, builders and DIY looking for ladders, small hand tools and concrete mixers. Since then, the customer base has grown into larger commercial industry sectors. He’s also seen products come to market which have collectively transformed the industry over time, making it easier, safer and more efficient for customers.
“Access is a growth market that provides a safer, more convenient way to work at heights,” says Bill.
“You also don’t see the old air jack hammers now because they’ve been replaced by hydraulic hammers on the end of excavators. That really highlights the excitement of working in the hire and rental industry as you never know what’s coming next!”
Technology has been a huge growth area, especially in how data is used to increase efficiencies and business decision-making.
“We have tech that supports our clustered transport system which means we can do the same number of deliveries with fewer vehicles,” says Bill.
“We were also the first to market in the hire industry ecommerce space, enabling a customer to book equipment live online, which was a pretty significant change in the industry.”
Kennards Hire were also one of the first to introduce large battery packs to run a site. For customers, this means that instead of running a large diesel generator 24/7 and pumping out emissions, they can significantly reduce the generator run-time, and have a positive impact on the environment. It’s these kinds of initiatives which inform and contribute to the company’s ESG plan and strategic direction.
“This is an area we need to embrace,” says Bill. “As a business, we try and use innovation and tech in products to help our customers, but it’s got to be fair dinkum."
“ESG should be on everybody’s radar because we’ve all got a part to play and all reputable companies should start their journey by designing their ESG framework with a sensible whole-of-business approach.”
As a family business, Kennards Hire never wanted to be the biggest, but they always wanted to be the best. Today, they have more than 1,800 employees and almost 200 branches across Australia and New Zealand. Their business model is designed to deliver on the needs of the different customer segments and markets they serve, which is fundamental to their success.
“It used to be that a customer would ring up and ask for a pump and we’d say, ‘no worries, we’ll hire you a pump’ and that was it. Now, we try and understand more about what they are doing. If the customer needs to pump a million litres of water in three days, it’s not just a pump they want, it’s a solution. That’s where the change has come in and that’s what we offer.”
“There are also times the customer doesn’t know what they require so it’s great that we can provide the right equipment and the right advice. It has to be safe, reliable and efficient. It's a heartland position for Kennards Hire where we can recommend and help the customer.”
“Our customers just want us to tell them what they need without the spin, and that’s why they keep coming back.”
After more than three decades in the business, Bill is still a great advocate for the industry.
“If people want to build a career around customer service, understanding markets, products, hire and rental is a great industry,” he says.
“It also provides a great grounding and training for working in teams, which is essential for any job.”
With new industry initiatives now in place, including Young Professionals and Women in Hire, he’s excited about the opportunities opening up to people who may have never previously considered a career in hire.
“We have a very mature industry that works well, but we also understand that the decision-makers of the future are Gen Z. As well as a focus on career and the salary on offer, they’ll be judging potential employers on the work environment, their culture and importantly, their ESG credentials.”
As he reflects on a business that’s just celebrated 75 years of operation, and his 30 plus years with them, he says that of all the challenges he’s faced, the biggest was Covid.
“In my time, I’ve seen the laughter, the tears, the successes, the failures but the challenge of Covid was unlike anything any of us had ever seen.” But with challenge, there’s always opportunity. “Our priority was always the wellbeing of our people and ensuring the business continued operations,” he says.
“However, to meet the needs of a new operating environment, we had to adapt. That created opportunity to bring forward innovation and ideas that have now tweaked our operating model and the way we work.” “The hire industry has and will continue to adapt to global changes in the years ahead, but one thing will always be a constant - success is always connected to the people."