CRYSTAL LAKE – Ed Thennes started out delivering fuel oil in McHenry in 1956, but the growing popularity of natural gas forced him to find another way to support his family.
He owned a large collection of tools and was good at fixing things. Frequently asked to lend out his tools, he decided to open a rental business. Ed’s Rental & Sales Inc. was incorporated in 1959. It now has three stores in McHenry County.
In the beginning, when a customer asked if Thennes had a specific tool or piece of equipment, he would often say it was being rented out, but would be available later in the day. He would then run to a local hardware store, buy the item and rent it out, said son Tom Thennes, who at 75 is still involved in the family business.
“Without Ace Hardware and McHenry Electric, there wouldn’t be an Ed’s Rental,” Tom Thennes said.
Tom Thennes, one of seven children in the family, soon began working for his father, earning about $20 a week. His efforts to improve his father’s business weren’t always appreciated. Ed Thennes fired his son and told him to buy the business if he wanted to change things.
Unable to purchase the operation, Tom Thennes joined the U.S. Army, where he got a raise. After two years in the service, he got a job driving a ready mix truck.
In 1972, he teamed up with his brother, Dick, to buy the business. Tom Thennes later bought his brother’s interest in the business.
Ed’s Rental has grown as the county has grown. In addition to the McHenry store, it has locations in Crystal Lake and Algonquin. And a third generation of the Thennes family has joined the business.
Tom Thennes’ sons, Don and Pete, run the Crystal Lake and Algonquin stores, respectively.
Ed’s Rental rents and sells construction equipment, power tools, wedding accessories, entertainment equipment, generators, heaters, automotive tools and party equipment.
The three locations offer everything from chain saws and hedge trimmers to sno-cone machines and giant inflatable bounce houses and water tunnels. Among the more unique items for rent is a gasoline-powered blender. There’s also a tool for manually removing the horns of a bull, thought it hasn’t been rented in 35 years.
Much of the business is seasonal. In spring, lawn and garden equipment is popular. In summer, it’s wedding accessories and party equipment for graduation celebrations. Construction equipment takes over in the fall. In the winter, which is the slowest time of year, homeowners rent equipment for home improvement and remodeling projects.
Don and Pete Thennes have modernized the business and helped it survive the recession. The Great Recession hit the construction industry particularly hard, but rentals in all segments declined, the brothers said. Some of their competitors closed as a result of the downturn, Don Thennes said.
“We learned a lot,” Pete Thennes said. “We figured out what it took to survive.”
Prior to the recession, investing in new equipment was usually an easy decision. Instead of buying one bounce house or backhoe, they’d buy two or three at a time. Now, major purchases are made more prudently.
“It was quite an eye-opener,” Don Thennes said.
Owning a family-run business means the brothers work many long weeks and often end up taking their work home. But it also affords them greater security and control.
“The future is in your own hands rather than someone else’s hands,” Pete Thennes said.
Furthermore, the brothers cherish their role in the community. They frequently sponsor youth athletic teams and the sons and daughters of longtime customers are now bringing in their own children to rent wedding chairs or party equipment.
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