Two to Be Inducted Into Rental Hall of Fame

Words: Dan KamysTwo to Be Inducted Into Rental Hall of Fame

Two long-time rental industry veterans were selected by the American Rental Association as the newest inductees into the Rental Hall of Fame. Robert C. Elmen of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Paul M. Coogan of Peoria, Ill., will be formally inducted during the keynote session on Feb. 11 at The Rental Show in Las Vegas.

The American Rental Association created the Rental Hall of Fame in 2000 to foster an appreciation of the historical development of the rental industry and the leaders who have made the industry what it is today. Each year, nominations are accepted to recognize individuals who have made a substantial impact on the industry at the national or international level. The induction ceremony is held during the keynote session at The Rental Show.

Robert C. Elmen
Robert Elmen is the owner of Elmen Enterprises and has been active in the rental industry for 49 years. His entire entrepreneurship can be seen in his leadership, industry commitment and impact, ingenuity and his personal commitment to his community and the equipment rental industry.

Elmen’s leadership has been demonstrated by the achievements and successes of his business ventures, as he believes in giving people the information, opportunity and platform from which to make choices that challenge themselves and their staff within individual businesses. He’s been responsible for 53 general rental stores, a rental software firm, and rent-to-own and mini storage businesses, plus had a television station interest and substantial property management initiatives. He created and operated all of this with a central office staff of eight located in Sioux Falls. He had a thin, flat management system that utilized field managers to make major decisions regarding their individual markets, stores, staff and future with operations in 11 different states.

Elmen’s impact on the rental industry can be seen through 40-plus years managing rental stores, where he grew his firm to become the largest privately owned general rental company in the U.S. He helped build the original United Rental franchise as well as the Nationwide trailer system. His impact additionally was felt with the designing and building of a rental computer software system for his stores, which he then shared with the industry. He also trained hundreds of managers who found careers in the rental industry.

It was ingenuity and foresight that drove Elmen’s business growth. He was able to foresee the impact of computers and installed IBM computer/cash registers in all his stores by 1977. He used his own rental stores to develop R.E.N.T.S. software for rental stores and offered it nationwide, resulting in 250 user stores. He developed Mail Order USA, which was a time-use versus time-out rental program for rural markets, as well as the flex rate program that automatically changed rental rates based on time and availability.

In addition to his businesses he wrote “Some Operational Aspects of the General Rental Industry” in 1966 in addition to articles for Rental Age and RENTAL MANAGEMENT magazines. He was recognized the “50 National Rental Leaders” list in 1963, was ARA Meritorious Service Award recipient in 1970, ARA Distinguished Service Award recipient in 1974 and ARA Region Six Person of the Year in 1990.

In 1999, he sold his rental stores to United Rentals. He currently is the owner of Mason City Rent All in Mason City, Iowa, and does contract bookkeeping for rental firms in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Elmen is committed to his community, as well as a U.S. Navy veteran. He is involved in his church and civic and community organizations, including Augustana College, Sioux Falls. He also an Augustana College Fellow.

Paul M. Coogan
Paul Coogan was the past president and CEO of Aggregate Equipment and Supply in Peoria, Ill., from 1958-1989. He is currently retired. Coogan started his rental company from scratch and grew it into a multi-state, multi-million dollar company with more than 12 branches in just a few years. He exemplifies integrity and drive and strives to be the best of the best in all he does.

Coogan’s leadership can be described as forward-leaning, which is demonstrated in his desire to embrace change and continuous improvement of the individual and the rental industry. He sought out ways to diversify Aggregate Equipment and Supply by looking for diverse employee candidates to nurture. He developed a formal manager trainee program for his new employees referred to as “Coogan College” that was an intensive week-long program covering all aspects of the rental business. In addition, he encouraged employees to continue their educations by providing reimbursement for business-related course work. This allowed him to have and grow an educated and loyal managerial workforce.

As president of the American Rental Association in 1985, Coogan was an outspoken proponent of the rental industry and made it a point to help others expand their operations successfully as he himself had done. During his term, he and his fellow directors put into place management procedures for continued growth of the industry and ARA. He strengthened ARA’s structure and program management to help point the way for the association’s continued success.  

Coogan’s ingenuity helped propel not only Aggregate Equipment but also the entire industry as a whole by thinking “outside the box.” Multiple stores and multiple state locations became a key to increasing equipment utilization. Marketing on a progressive scale was another of his beliefs.

The “one-stop shop” concept was another innovation of his that helped propel Aggregate and other rental stores to a higher level of profitability. The idea to build or erect one-source jobsite rental stores on or as near as possible to new building projects was part of his “mega project concept” that was incorporated by other rental businesses.  

He also developed a plant shutdown and turnaround specialization idea that became very profitable for Aggregate and others. Coogan developed the idea of specialists versus generalists for both the rental and sales sides of the business. This concept showed that a rental store operation could compete with the very specialized stand-alone companies. In addition, safety and risk management were always at the top of mind in any business operation.

Coogan helped fund scholarships at the business school of Bradley University in Peoria and sponsored several of Bradley’s marketing students for internships.  He believed in promoting from within and the use of incentives for his employees.

Coogan’s personal commitment to the industry is evident in the work he did while on the board of ARA as well as through Aggregate Equipment and Supply. His personal commitment to his community was done in quiet ways through leadership roles, service and without fanfare. He served on the Illinois Central College board of trustees, as well as local community and civic organizations and his church.

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