Shared Vision and Partnership: Cooper Equipment Rentals and SeaFort Capital
Photo (right to left): Daryl Cooper, Rob Normandeau, Caleb Wood.
Cooper Equipment Rentals was founded nearly 50 years ago in a small shed in the Toronto area by a man with a mission to provide compact equipment rentals for small businesses.
Gordon Cooper and his silent partner Paul Carruthers wanted to provide a more personalized service they believed was lacking in the market at the time.
“Gord was a hell of a good salesman. People liked and trusted him. He was also an entrepreneur who wanted to run the business his own way,” says Doug Dougherty, CEO of Cooper Equipment Rentals.
In 2003, after expanding to two full-service locations in the Greater Toronto Area, the business was sold to Gordon’s son, Darryl Cooper. Dougherty, who also grew up in a family-run construction equipment rental business that was sold to United Rentals in 1998, joined Cooper as an equal partner in 2010.
Dougherty and Cooper saw a gap in the market when it came to servicing small and medium-sized contractors, and wanted to build on the company’s strengths, which included loyal customers and strong relationships with suppliers.
“We found a position in the market and proceeded to grow the company from that foundation,” Dougherty says.
Their goal back then was to double the size of the company in a few years. It happened a lot faster.
By 2013, revenues had grown to nearly CAD $14 million, up from around CAD $5 million in 2010, and the company had expanded to four locations across the GTA. At that point, the owners decided to look at strategic alternatives, including a potential merger or sale of the business or bringing on a private equity partner.
The process was narrowed down to three companies: two strategic buyers and one private equity firm, Halifax-based SeaFort Capital Inc. They chose the private equity player.
“We felt like we were on the same page with SeaFort,” Dougherty says. “A strategic sale of the business probably would have rendered a little bit more proceeds, but we felt like the longer term was going to be better served by a private equity partner.”
In June 2013, it was announced that SeaFort had made a majority investment in Cooper Equipment. Dougherty says the goal was to double the size of the company, add more locations and do one to two acquisitions a year.
“Cooper Equipment has an outstanding team of hard-working employees, each of whom is dedicated to delivering excellent customer service,” SeaFort’s president Rob Normandeau said. “We see tremendous opportunity for growth and are proud to partner with Darryl, Doug and their team to support the development of the company.”
Dougherty said SeaFort provided the company with both the capital and support necessary to continue its growth. “Overall, we want to build a strong Canadian, privately-owned company, which really didn’t exist,” he says. “SeaFort’s backing meant we could set up a finance facility more suited to our growth plans.”
The plan was set in motion: Later in 2013 Cooper acquired City Rentals in Toronto, followed by the acquisition of Albion Equipment Rentals of Bolton, Ont. in 2014. Then, a year later in 2015, the company made what Dougherty describes as a “transformational acquisition,” buying SMS Rents, a larger player with cAD $50M in revenues compared to Cooper’s $35M at the time. The deal boosted Cooper’s branch count to 21 across Ontario and helped it expand into the Quebec market for the first time.
In 2017, Cooper entered Western Canada with the acquisition of Edmonton-based 4-Way Equipment Rentals. A year later, it bought Alberta Lift and Modern Industrial Rentals of Calgary. The company then expanded into B.C. with the purchase of Star Rentals, with operations across the Metro Vancouver area. In 2020, the company moved into the East Coast, acquiring Herc Atlantic.
Growth has been steady since then, Dougherty says, despite a brief slowdown at the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, when the global economy slowed significantly.
“There have been some impediments to the way we conduct business due to COVID-19; our team has adapted well to things like curbside pickup and we have put in place stricter health guidelines, but the business has continued to grow through the pandemic.”
Going forward, Dougherty says the company will continue to expand the business in new and existing markets, further development of specialty divisions such as Trench Safety and Pump Solutions, and through more acquisitions.
“We still have lots of room to grow through adding more locations,” he says. “There are still a number of smaller independent companies in Canada that we think will eventually be selling and so we’ll continue to be on the lookout for good quality acquisitions.”
Looking back, he’s glad his company decided to go with SeaFort as its business partner.
“For us, private equity was absolutely the right decision,” he says. “We wanted to grow the company our way, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that without the support of a private equity partner that shared our vision and was supportive of the direction we wanted to go.”
Dougherty says the current plan is to grow from about 50 locations today to about 75 over the next few years.
“We’ve got a great company and we continue to attract employees from across Canada who want to come and work at Cooper: When you can attract good talent, anything’s possible.”