Date posted: October 14, 2014

Mr Rentals began life as a video store operated by husband and- wife team Kerrianne and Glen Hickman. Like all good entrepreneurs they saw a gap and realised that some on tiny Bribie Island may not have had access to a video player. As such, they also hired out TVs and VCRs short-term.

The defining moment came when a customer asked to rent a washing machine. “The answer to this question changed our lives dramatically,” says Kerrianne. “We could have said, ‘No, we rent videos’; what we actually replied was ‘Can you come back tomorrow and we will see what we can do for you’.”

Kerrianne and Glen sourced a washing machine and rented it. Realising that product expansion meant business expansion, they put up an A4 poster on the counter of the shop that said, ‘We rent TVs, VCRs, fridges and washers’.“

Within a fairly short time we were making more from the long-term appliance rentals than all our other activities,” states Kerrianne. “The growth we were experiencing with recurring revenues from the appliance rentals convinced us that this is where we should focus our energy.” The pair began their new venture with limited to no resources and less than $10,000 – the proceeds from the sale of the video store. With four young mouths to feed and only a handful of customers to service, the Hickmans were doing it hard. It was their determination and vision that saw them through. They drew up a business plan that illustrated the need to rent 20 appliances per month to survive.

“Some people questioned the decisions we made and thought we were biting off more than we could chew,” says Kerrianne of those early days. “I guess we did bite off more than we could chew, so what do you do… you just chew like hell!”

Failure wasn’t an option and they did what they had to, to get the job done. “There’s an old saying we used to affirm to ourselves a lot in those days: ‘If it’s going to be, it’s up to me’. No-one was going to make the business successful for us and we learnt that it was up to us to decide how successful our business would be.”

The motivating factor

Family was a motivator to do well, but there was no plan to create a family business. As the kids grew and became involved, the business evolved into a family enterprise. The Hickmans have five children including a daughter-in-law, three of whom are involved. “Our twin girls are only 17 and at this stage they want to do other things. Currently Ella’s finishing Year 12 and Maddie’s studying Art, although she wants to be a tattooist! I’m not sure I’m entirely happy about that and hoping she grows out of the idea!” After seven years in service, Glen and Renee decided to put their first non-family team member on. “We had been to a few seminars on business and personal development and came to the realisation that for our business to grow we should be working on it more and not in it so much.”

However, like all small business owners, when it came time to pass on certain responsibilities the pair found it difficult to let go. “When we put on our first team member Chris, we found that passing over the reigns on some of our responsibilities was quite difficult. Initially, we felt that no-one could do the job as well as we could. Then, we realised that there was really two parts to the job, ‘what’ we physically did and ‘how’ we did it. Teaching what we did, renting appliances, was the easy part; teaching how it should be done was more difficult and also more important. So what we did was define and articulate how we did it so that we could train others, and this developed into the ‘12 Points of Culture’ that our team now lives by.

Culture has played a major role in Mr Rentals’ growth and success. It has allowed the couple to systemise everything within the business, including procedures, phone manner and customer liaison. It also formed the creation of key performance indicators.

“It was a great exercise and our business took off. We doubled the total amount of appliances rented in a very short time. Our daughter Renee, had joined us around this time and, so had another lady, Debbie. We had a fiveperson team and we were working together towards a common goal, there was great synergy in the team and together each of us was achieving more than we could on our own.”

Time to expand As the number of staff expanded, so did the grand plan. Today, Mr Rentals is a franchise network of 52 stores throughout Australia and New Zealand. And because everyone is pulling together in the one direction, the franchisees have also worked hard to promote the business.

“We’ve expanded through various methods,” says Kerrianne. “We employed specialist sales organisations and we ran seminars. Our franchisees vigorously promote our business model and many people just come to us.

“Our growth has been fantastic and to manage it we have created a National Support Office for our franchisees, including in-the-field business coaches. Under the leadership of our General Manager, Alan Payne, we have created a team of dedicated professionals with a common goal of assuring franchisee business growth.”

Yet initially the business was not set up as a franchise. It was only on the journey that they learnt the business could be attuned to what has become the fastest growing business model in the country. “In the early stages the business requires only two people and there are no intense specialist skills required,” says Renee of the operation.

Mr Rentals looks for franchisees who fit the culture of a family business. As Kerrieanne realises, even though family members give unconditional support, non-family members still offer a level of support that continues to help the company set new standards and targets. Mr Rentals is a company where family members and non-family members alike have the company’s best interests at heart. That sometimes means making some tough decisions, but not getting in the way of the family as a unit. “Like any parents you would do anything for your children, and when they work in the business sometimes you have to make hard decisions that may affect them and the roles and responsibilities they have within the business.

“We have an agreement that we cannot let our personal relationships have a detrimental affect on the business. Not always as simple to do or as easy as it sounds.” Mr Rentals must be doing something right, as Kerrianne was recently named Franchise Woman of the Year, but she doesn’t feel she has done anything extraordinary to win the praise. “What we have done is had a dream, backed with a solid plan and the passion, determination and integrity needed to achieve it.”

And, says Kerrianne, they are yet to achieve their goal. When the pair decided to franchise, they had a clear vision of where they were headed. “We wanted to be the ‘world’s first choice in home appliance rentals’ and to create ‘1000 millionaires’.

“We aren’t there yet; we are on the brink of being Australia and New Zealand’s first choice in home appliance rentals and having helped over 50 franchisees create financial freedom on their way to becoming millionaires.

“We are only at the beginning of the journey and what I’ve realised is that as long as we continue to have absolute conviction in our dreams, goals and values our ‘dreams do come true’.”