Then & Now: Winn Rentals legacy built on good planning, good people

The Gretzinger family’s Winn Rentals has found sustainable success thanks to responsible business practices.

Winn Rentals has survived its share of business ups and downs since it was purchased by Jim Gretzinger and his sons

Having survived two recessions and countless industry shifts, the Gretzinger family’s Winn Rentals has found sustainable success thanks to responsible business practices, a strong focus on customer service, and thorough planning.

Brad Gretzinger’s brother Bert and father Jim bought Winn Rentals in 1975, when the business was housed in a 1,400 square foot building and doubled as both a ski rental outlet and bottle depot.

“My father and my brother struggled to get things off the ground for a lot of years,” Brad said.

“Times were tight. The big recession in the 1980s was rather ugly. We were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

“But we made it through together.”

Along with mechanic Art Meyer, Bert and Jim worked hard to carve out a living.

Kelowna was much smaller in the 1970s than it is now, Brad says, and Winn Rentals was formed at a time when established companies had the market cornered.

Their one advantage? Rutland. In 1975, Rutland had been part of Kelowna for only two years, and Brad says appealing to the Rutland community gave the family business a much-needed foothold.

“Rutland was a very tight community back then. That’s where most of our business came from. As a new family in town, we were very well received,” he recalled.

As Kelowna continued to grow, and as major economic drivers like Big White opened, Winn Rentals found steady growth—but it didn’t come without its challenges.

The evolution of motors made the mechanical side of the business easier, Brad says, but a growing city meant there would be more demand for larger and more diverse equipment.

“We’ve always struggled to keep a balance. We’ve gone through several building booms, and we’ve had to keep our inventory up. There’s been demand for bigger pieces of equipment, which we’ve cautiously ventured into.”

The 2009 recession brought further challenges, but with careful planning and key contingencies in place, Winn Rentals—once again—survived.

“We have key employees who have helped us through difficult times,” Brad says.

“In 2009, we saw a 25 per cent drop in business overnight. We survived through good luck and good planning.

“My brother takes care of the business’ finances. He’s very careful. He’s always kept an emergency fund on hand, so when the recession hit, we were able to cut back a few things and float through it.”

Now, though, business at Winn Rentals is brisk.

“Kelowna seems to be on an upswing again,” Brad confirmed.

He credits a strong focus on customer service as the business’ key to success. Service seems to have become a lost art, he says.

Brad believes that would-be entrepreneurs should master customer service if they want to succeed. And of course, the value of a good employee cannot be overstated.

“The people I work with are my favourite part of working here. We have a great group of long-term employees. We love to joke around. It’s nice to come to work every day, help people, and have fun while doing it,” he said.