Nisku – Guy Turnbull, owner and president of A-1 Rentals stared down the oilfield downturn at Ritchie Bros.’ mega spring auction in Nisku without a blink.
He was confident going into the sale, held April 28 to May 1 that he would get premium prices in a realignment auction of oilfield rental equipment, and he did.
“We did very well. I am very, very happy. I had a guarantee coming into this from Ritchie,” he said.
“They come and look at your equipment and they give you a guarantee and they gave me a very good guarantee I felt.
“I thought if things go right we’ll get over the guarantee and everything will be groovy, and I think we’ve done that.”
The record-breaking unreserved public auction sold more than $215 million of heavy equipment and trucks for more than 760 sellers like Turnbull.
“Well, we’re getting down in numbers because of the oilpatch – we’re not covering it as much,” he said about his reasons for entering the auction.
“There are not enough rentals going out, so we decided to disperse a bunch of stuff and buy some newer stuff and less of it.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I did in ’08 when that turndown happened, and I’m doing it again now.”
A-1 Rentals, based in Camrose and Wetaskiwin, Alta., rents everything from tools and light equipment to heavy equipment, forklifts and zoom booms.
“We were geared up for the pipeline companies and the oilpatch in general. It’s just slow, so we put 475 pieces in,” said Turnbull
A-1 Rentals also services Fort McMurray where Turnbull has based his growing portable rental toilet business called A-1 Portables.
“Our porta potty business is still doing probably as much as we ever did up there,” said Turnbull.
“Our main business is porta potties. We have about 2,000 porta potties up there about 400 heated Job-Jons.
“We’re number one in the number two business you might say,” he said with a laugh.
He said equipment rentals to area pipeline companies like OJ Pipeline and Sommerville Pipeline dropped off with the downturn.
“Of course, they are finished up now, so if wasn’t for McMurray right now – the porta potty business is very good – and the rental business was about 50 percent,” he said.
“Our porta potty business will carry us through his hopefully.”
The A-1 Rentals realignment auction included the sale of big loaders, skid steers, mini hoes, generators, light towers, manlifts, zoom booms and big heaters.
“Since December, we had over half of our stuff sitting in the yard so we just decided it was time to bring it to the auction and buy some new buy stuff,” said Turnbull
“Instead of buying 10 of something, we’ll have two or three until things pick up.
“We’ll get some cash flow and new iron back into the fleet because some of the stuff was getting a few years old.”
The A-1 Rentals auction equipment was among the record 7,700 lots sold by Ritchie Bros. with a record 14,000 bidders and 8,500 online bidders from around the world to keep prices high.
“I think everybody’s that’s selling anything here should be pretty happy. I haven’t seen much on the low side. Prices are up there,” said Turnbull, who attributes that to doing business with Ritchie Bros. before.
“They know your equipment. They know how well they did in ’08. I think they look at that and our equipment is very good.
“It’s clean and it’s well maintained. The last time, we got premium prices too.
“It looked pretty good so they know it’s probably good equipment and not just something people are bringing to the auction because there is something wrong with it.”
A-1 Rentals also had about 100 pieces of aerial equipment for auction with fresh certification on every item.
“That was the deal that Ritchie wanted and it is a good selling feature,” said Turnbull who also spoke about what makes his A-1 Portables tick despite the downturn.
“I started the porta potty business 13 years ago, and I bought a company out. I thought this would be good for a little bit of cash flow,” he explained.
“I built it from 110 toilets that I bought with that company to over 4,000. We’re probably the biggest in Alberta. It’s a growing business because you got to have it.
“Every construction site you have to have a porta potty or you can’t work in Alberta.”
Turnbull used to a B-pressure pipeline welder 20 years ago when he said there was no such thing as a toilet out in the right of way.
“Now, when you go on the pipeline right of way – we do a lot of pipeline companies – all the toilets are on the right of way, and they’ve got one every kilometre or two,” he said.
“Sometimes there’s two in one place because there are women working on the line. We’ll get them serviced once or twice a week.”
He bought out a rental toilet business from Waste Management in Fort McMurray about nine years ago and has never looked backed.
Turnbull just bought three acres of land near Highways 881 and 63 in Fort McMurray for a $6 million expansion of A-1 Portables that has grown to 18 employees.
The company also rents disposal bins and wash cars and provides liquid waste removal services.
“The reason we started the garbage business was because every time someone called for a toilet they asked ‘do you have a bin?’ so I knew it would be easy to build a business,” said Turnbull.
“We’re on every site up there now, and we’ve got a good safety record. We got all the tickets you need to do the job.”
Companies in Fort McMurray can also contact A-1 Rentals for quick delivery of rental oilfield and industrial equipment.
“We bring it out of Camrose. We don’t keep it up there. I deal with a lot of people down here because they like the service or whatever and we’ll get it to them,” he said.
“Because we don’t have a mechanic up there, if there’s an issue with a piece we will change it out. We will send a truck. We’ve got our own semis.”
The Ritchie Bros. auction attracted strong bids for heavy equipment and trucks from over 55 countries including every province in Canada, two territories and 48 U.S. states.
The industrial auctioneer reported that 51 per cent of equipment was purchased by buyers from Alberta.
The rest was sold to buyers from around the world including the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and the Netherlands.
“That was the big thing coming in to this sale with all the talk on the street. You don’t know how much money is out there,” said Turnbull.
Having more than 1,850 online buyers at the auction helped to drive the success of the Ritchie Bros.’ auction.
“It doesn’t matter how many people are standing here – the Intenet’s out – and how many thousands of people are on the Internet now? They are selling worldwide.
“These people are the best in the business and they’ve got their stuff together.