Episode Description: In this episode, Elizabeth is joined by Beth Hoff Blackmer, the owner and President of Aspen Rent-all, Inc., a construction equipment rental business in Basalt, CO. The company was founded in 1967 by Beth’s father Dave Hoff and was purchased by Beth in 2000, and she has quadrupled the revenue of the business since that purchase. Tap or click the play button below to listen to: Slowing Down Your Business Transition with Beth Blackmer.
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This episode was produced by Story On Media & Marketing: https://www.successwithstories.com.
Slowing Down Your Business Transition with Beth Blackmer Transcript
So welcome back to the Business Transition Roadmap. Um, today we have Beth Hoff Blackmer with us, who is the owner of Aspen Renall, up in Aspen, Colorado, and I’m just very, very grateful for Beth. To, um, be here to share with us a little bit about her journey with her business and also a little bit about her journey with her transition.
So far, um, it is a journey and we have been working with Beth a little bit. Um, so I’m just happy that she’s here to share with you some of her highlights and also some of her challenges so that we can all learn together. So, Beth, welcome. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me. Oh, I’m so happy. Um, I’d love to start with you telling a little bit about your story and how you got into this business.
Um, maybe tell a little bit about that transition in the beginning and then kind of, you know, what the path has been to get you to today. Okay, well, uh, my dad started Aspen Rental in 1967, so we’ve just celebrated 55 years this year. Um, I obviously grew up in and around the business, but never worked in it.
And in 1999, his manager announced him that he was gonna need to leave the altitude due to getting glaucoma. And so my dad was just gonna sell the. And I didn’t really think much about it, but I had, uh, then it was noth, I don’t know, construction, so it wasn’t gonna be my story. But then some family, influential family friends came to me on a bicycle ride one day and said, we’ve been thinking about it and we think you should take over the business.
And I thought, me, I don’t know how to do that. But they explained to me why and how I could make it work. And so I approached my father and. Just thrilled. Um, and basically said, well that’s good cuz I was gonna sell it as soon as we got home from this trip, which we were on. And, uh, so. I then he, the one thing is he wanted me to buy it cuz there were other siblings.
I said, okay, how do we do that? And so we, we worked through that. And so that was uh, um, August of 99. I started, I became the owner in January of 2000. So I have just completed my 23rd year here. And, um, it’s been great. I had. grew the business a lot in the early two thousands, hit the recession like everybody else.
We have always been a bit immuned up here to things like the, the recession, so I wasn’t as quick to the draw on retrenching, but I, so I lost a lot of the business, but thankfully gained it all back and I’ve had positive growth since 2011. So, um, 2021 was our biggest year on record. It was also my hardest for, uh, employee issues, which is no surprise to the world and I.
Really was just like, I don’t know how much more of this I have in me when I was dealing with a difficult situation with one employee who was one of my key employees who left on a medical and then disappeared on us after he was supposedly fine to come back and, uh, I, at this point was working 12 hours a day and weekends and it was just tough.
So my father, In 2021, I’m sitting at a dinner with him and out on an outside patio and he goes, you should just sell the business. You’ve, you’ve worked your tail off and you’re about the same age as I was when I, you know, sold it to you, so you should start doing that. So I started down the path of what does that mean and could I do that?
And. Uh, my husband retired last year, so I was like, well, maybe there’s another place for me to be other than here. 12 hours a day. What a concept. So, started down the path of it in the fall, thinking about it, talking about it, and then, um, thankfully heard your podcast in January that, uh, , you were a guest on another podcast.
And I went, oh, I need to talk to her. So I reached out and I’m really, really thankful because I thought I was just gonna go on the traditional method and we’ll talk more about that. But, uh, yeah. Yeah. And it’s interesting because, um, it, it’s a small world because you actually were connect. A long time ago to my husband Yes.
Who I met he skiing because he was a pilot the week that I went, as did I . Yes. And so, um, yeah, very fun to have that connection and enjoyable. So, um, so as you, as you navigate it into this potential sale mm-hmm. , um, and started to explore it, what, what were you thinking about at the time and. . And what was in your mind or your heart that you were concerned about?
I think the main thing for me when I started down the path was in realizing that. y wouldn’t you sell? There’s just no control. And that was fine. But I really was concerned. I’ve had horror stories of many colleagues who’ve sold their businesses and the employees either get, let go, um, the culture changes.
They’re, they don’t have the connection to the community. And that was a concern for me. I definitely was fearful that I had set these folks up with a great. path themselves. And for me just to walk out and sort of leave them potentially at risk of losing their job, um, was, was something that was con very concerning to me.
Um, I had another colleague, uh, selling off to one of the big industry, um, rental companies and. Listening to her and the stuff that was happening with her employees, as well as the culture change and everything else, it just gave me kind of a bad taste in my mouth. So, um, and as we did the compass with each other, that became really evident to me that maybe there was another way.
And I had made a great hire in September, right after I had that conversation with my father of 21. Um, and this gentleman had run. Business for owners before where they were absentee, and I knew that before he came to me. He was their hotel sold and he was all of a sudden out of a job. Similar, same story.
They thought he was gonna have his job forever. And then the new company brought in a new management firm. So then he, um, I knew he was looking to buy before he came to work for me. So I, through you, we had some communications about how to do the fishing expedition and kind of ask what his future looked like and what he, would he be interested without discussing any kind of financial side of it.
And he. So we are working on that path right now. That’s really great. Yeah. And it’s great that, um, you know, sometimes things do fall into place. Mm-hmm. and it’s interesting because past history really influences where we’re headed. And with him having that experience and wanting to buy, um, you know, he clearly didn’t wanna have the same thing happen to him again.
Correct. That happened to him. there. So this, you know, there is sometimes with successors, you’re trying to figure out what will motivate them and get them to where they really are interested in taking the risk and they understand it, that entrepreneurial, um, spirit, see if they have it. But, um, I’m. I’m sure it sounds like, um, he definitely had that.
Yeah. And that, that was a big key was that I, I knew that, I mean, many people, including I’m, my husband, worked for the same place for 42 years, which nobody does at this point in their lives, but he did and he is that person that would’ve never gone out. To risk, uh, anything, the, the, the whole thing for our 20 some years together, he’s just thinks I’m crazy.
But, um, and I was with him when I took over the business, so he, um, So knowing that there’s that and that at another employees that were here, and I even, you know, longer term employees that were here, that, that I knew, I didn’t have that person in here prior to. Um, the gentleman that is gonna be coming in at, uh, at, at a.
A partial, um, ownership. We were gonna do the whole thing. Um, I was gonna sell to him on January 1st. He was gonna go out and get an sba and we were going down that path through the summer when, and he worked with another, uh, mentor to me who helps people get financing and he, that gentleman as well as another person in this valley sort of said maybe slow things down when the interest rates started going up and the potential unknown of what was gonna happen with.
A potential downturn, et cetera. They just said, you know, rather than having him put his whole life on the line and then run the, you know, have no cash reserves or anything that maybe just slow things down and you’ve been willing to stay for a period of time. So why don’t, you work in that direction and make him, you stay the majority owner, get him in, um, have him be, put his, put his, uh, put his weight into it and uh, he’ll be part of it.
Then give them the, so, but the deal we’ve come up with is for 36 months I will be here with him and, uh, be able to, hopefully not, but be able to help if we need, if we do have a downturn and we need some, uh, cash support. Right. . Yeah. And I think, I mean you, when we did your roadmap, you were thinking that you were gonna stay and help him anyway.
Yeah. So you were committed to being his mentor and his teacher and making sure that he did well. Yeah. And just from the financial side, I just wanna highlight that because there’s so many owners who would love to get. Employees in, and sometimes it does take a little bit of creativity mm-hmm. to make that happen.
And I think one of the biggest things to keep in mind when, when you are trying to figure that out, um, is to make sure you understand what you’re trying to accomplish in your objectives and know what you’re giving up and know what they’re getting because it’s kind of like a gift to them. And, but you also have to be okay with it yourself.
Absolutely. . Yeah. Yeah. And I think that was a lot of it was thinking about what that looked like, and he’s only been here for a year in change at this point, so I knew that. I I couldn’t walk out the door on January 1st and expect that this place would run with any consistency. Cuz even every day he asks me something, it’s just something he hasn’t done before with the business.
And he, and, uh, so we we’re working a plan out of how, how much he’s already taken over a tremendous amount of things off my plate, which has been fabulous. But he every, you know, Progressing up and up that he takes over more and more things. And so I don’t see, as far as the day-to-day operations and how the business is moving, will all slowly be less and less involved in day-to-day.
And he is, um, Taken over more and more. Actually, I haven’t even worked the counter in months now. It’s great. Um, so I’m happy that I have a, he and others that are just really handling the day-to-day and I’m here to support and answer questions and working on the business now instead of in it. Yeah. So thanks.
And so as you navigated, um, bringing him in and doing that fishing expedition to see if he was potentially interested, um, with him only being there a year. What were some of your thoughts and what were some of your challenges in thinking about some of the other employees that you had? . Yeah, definitely. I, I have being that he was, is, is the new person.
I, I had some fear that certainly the oth the manager who’s been my operations manager for seven years would, uh, get his hackles up and, uh, it and it, there’s been some communication. He is aware that this is taking place. There was, um, Communication with him, whether he wanted to potentially be part of this as well.
He was offered to him and he is not going to, um, not, not a path he wants to go on in his career. He is happy where he is at, but there has been continuing communication because I know that there’s still the resistance. Like, this guy’s gonna become my boss. And so we’ve talked about the org chart and.
certainly for the next three years, we’ll keep it as it is and Z is fine with that. So we’ll keep it that those two work side by side. One runs run side of the business and one runs it, one is in the front and customers and handling all of the transactions and, and the other gentleman that. It’s been here much longer, oversees the equipment and, uh, all of the servicing and maintenance and helps me purchase the equipment.
So, yeah, I think it’s that, that it took a little bit of communication and I’m sure we’ll have many more conversations of making sure everybody’s happy. Um, the rest of this staff at this point is not aware of this change coming up, but we’re about to have that conversation. Uh, we just needed to solidify that we had everyth.
ready? And we do congratulations. Yes. That’s exciting. Yes. There was a change of banks in the middle of it, so, uh, you’re aware of what happened there. But he, he was gonna come in at a higher percentage and then that bank that he had been working with for three months came back and they basically wanted.
To co borrow and put that business against his loan . No, that’s not gonna happen. I’m, I’m the person selling, not, uh, not covering the business further. So he, uh, went to another bank. He went for a smaller percentage, which was fine with me. I said, I don’t care. I mean, it’s the same. We’re gonna be partners here.
And, um, so he is that in. 10 days got what was handled over a three month period with this other bank. So, and thankfully to you, you had said, go find some other banks. So I told ’em that day. I said, go out there, talk to some other people, and it came together really quickly. That’s awesome. Yeah, it’s, um, you run into, I, I call ’em roadblocks.
You run into roadblocks and, um, figuring out the best way around them, uh, is really important because these transitions, they don’t just completely come off with no issues. Right. Uh, they don’t. And, um, people give and take and navigate and do all of the different things to make that. . Yeah. Yeah. Well, I’m very happy and how we, until the money is in the bank that I still, it’s, you know, it’s up in the air at the moment, but, um, we are still hoping to be on track for January 1st trip course.
It’s mid-December now, so, um, but yeah. And then I know that even the transition afterwards will continue to have its ups and downs and arounds as we figure out the next 36 months. And I listened to your, um, podcast. The other day and sort of the transition, the five things to keep in mind. And that was just a great thing for me to go, okay, yep.
Gonna need that patience. And you know, that entrusting them, that they’ll make mistakes and he’ll make mistakes and I have to let that process go. And so that, that was a really good reminder to me. And as we change things over here a bit, that’s awesome. Yeah. So one thing I think, or that came to mind for me when you were talking about, um, navigating other employees, you have a new employee and an employees, you know, employees that have been there for quite some time, and owners very typically walk into thinking about a transition and start to worry so much about who to include and who not to include, and with the assumption that everybody wants in.
Everybody that you know, everybody’s gonna want into this wonderful thing that’s ownership of this place. And, um, I think that you had that, some of those worries too. . Absolutely. And I, I think part of it is communicating, um, to the other manager specifically kind of what this would would be and what the risks would be.
And, um, yeah. And that was not of an interest to him. And I, I think, you know, I, I. , my employees always think that, you know, you’re making thousands and gazillions of dollars and you know, they’re only getting this amount and that, and it’s so I’ve, I’ve been pretty transparent over the years and let them know, you know, what, what numbers we’ve done in a month and that, so they, they see that, but also expenses.
So, you know, when, like right now we have a big truck in it for a $6,000 repair, you know, and. Bankrupt many of my staff, they’d be like, what? But you just say that’s it and it’s cost of doing business. So you, I, I let ’em know that some of the unexpected expenses that all of a sudden get sprung on me as well.
So, yeah. Yeah. So what has been your, the one thing you have learned, maybe the nugget and key thing that you’ve learned through this transit? process because you’ve been at it for about a year. Yeah. And are at this point now, and it’s in our world, that’s pretty fast Exactly. To go from thinking about it to transaction in 12 months.
Usually they’re a little longer. People think they’re gonna be real quick and, um, this takes time to go through. So, yeah. So what, what has, what have you learned in the last 12 months or so? Yeah, I think that was, um, Starting down the path and the unknown of, again, what that sale would look like a year ago right now.
And I assume that it would be a, a outside sale to a third party and, um, and how that would look and everything. And so, uh, the best thing that I’ve seen is. where I could see deal breakers. I had people wanting to buy my property all year, for instance. It’s very, it, we’ve had a huge real estate boom and people think this property should be sold to people.
And I’m, and it was a deal breaker for me cause I’m like, no, the business is on this property and it’s, this is important, an important part of it. So it was just getting the clarity of what, uh, as you have in your wording, which I love, is what my next adventure looks like and what would work and what wouldn’t work.
And um, also that. , I’m comfortable not just completely being out, but it’s certainly wonderful already having a much more balanced lifestyle. I’ve gone from 80 hours a year ago and changed to like 30 to 40 now, and it’s, I leave, I go, I come, I travel. What, whatever, doesn’t matter. So it’s, uh, it’s already, if, if it just stayed this way for a long time, I’d be fine, but I’m excited.
for the Next 36 months. That’s great. That’s great. So when you look at going into the next years with your partner, um, what are some of the things that you think about that concern you or. I know you’re excited to have, you know, less time and, um, and those kinds of things in the business and have more freedom and more flexibility to do what you want.
Um, what are some of your thoughts or concerns as you go into the next 36 months? I think for sure, uh, initially it will be how is that? We just said, we’ve already talked about it out loud, but how is that balance gonna be with his. Title change. I mean, in his head that he’s now this and I, how he’ll be, and I just, Concerned that he’ll kind of play a little bit above everybody and kind of become the boss over everybody, um, versus working team.
But I know that he is, he’s a really good team member right now and that I think he, um, and he knows the concerns of the one person that is aware this change is about to happen and once the rest of the team is in. So I think, um, yeah, it’ll just, we’re doing weekly meetings. Uh, we have our. Meeting every week.
And I bring this up in that as well as we’re talking about day-to-day operations and that, but just that kind of, so I wanna keep that communication open to keep that part of it. So, um, and then I am sure there will be those things that it, they’ll do or he’ll do. That would not be what I would’ve chosen to do.
And I, I’m, you know, I’ve been running this baby by myself for a long time, so I am sure I will. Stressed at times about that. But I will have to trust the process and have the patience, like you said. So I think that that’s concerning to me, cuz I know that won’t be easy for me. Yeah, I don’t think that’s easy for any owner to do that, to actually let go.
And there’s a big shift from own, operate, run to. , um, mentor, teach support, right? Those are different skills and um, you know, one of the reasons, it’s my belief, but one of the reasons why, , I believe that business transitions fail internal transitions, um, is because the owner, lets go too quickly. So there’s, and it’s, it’s in the book, but the goofy dance of where you’re leading, he’s following still because he’s just getting started.
And then there’s the time when you’re both trying to lead. at the same time, which then you’re really stepping on each other’s toes, and then there’s a time where he leads and you follow. But to go from you leading him, following to him, leading, you following, without going through that sort of messy time.
Um, , which people love to avoid the messy time. Um, but what I found is there’s not enough learning, and so you don’t pass on the knowledge and the wisdom. And even like that intuition of, gosh, we can’t do that right now. Right. We’ll have to park that truck, or we’ll have to do something else because that’s not possible.
Yeah. Or Yeah, no problem. And let’s do two of ’em. Yeah. Right. That would be a good idea. So yeah, that, that goof. It’s hard. And I’ve already this year been doing that in sort of a relaxed way as like about any purchases we’re doing or anything, just kind of making the, the decision with the two of them and him on other things by himself, but kind of saying, well, what do you think Howdy?
Would you, you know? And so, you know, bringing that along. Um, and also just for me to start saying, I, I don’t need to be the. Decision maker here anymore. It’s actually, um, nice. You know, there’s, that part of me is relieved cuz there’s been a lot of times I’ve been sort of on, you know, on an island by myself and I have phenomenal contacts through the industry and have for the 23 years, been very, very involved with them for, to help mentoring me to transitioning now and mentoring others and, uh,
But I love it and I, that’s a goal I, a really big goal I have is to get him in that same. Network so that it isn’t just me giving him ideas and things that, you know, when he has a question that he can reach out to other folks in the industry that will help. And our industry’s phenomenal that way. We, we have peer groups, which I’m in one, putting him in one for this coming year.
Um, so yeah, we, we just, and then just colleagues that you get to know, and he’s already part of our Young Professionals Network, so he is been to two conferences with that already. And so I. He’s on track for that, and I think that will help a lot too, as just realize I don’t have to be the only one that’s transitioning him.
That’s right. You’re not the only teacher mentor, which is great. Yeah. Yeah. And having that outside input gives him the opportunity to take different information and put it together the way that he wants it. Yeah. Instead of only doing it your way. Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. You know, when I got in this business, there was no young professionals network, so I would’ve loved that because I was well under 40 and this was a lot of work.
And now I’m, uh, gonna be turning 60 this next year and I, of course, still have my ways of doing things, which is now. the old people’s way compared to what these 30 year olds and 30 something year olds do and how they’ve, how they find parts and equipment just is fascinating to me. They did, everything they do is so different outta the traditional mold that we ever did.
You know, you just went to John Deere and got your parts. Now they wouldn’t buy it from the John Deere dealer for the life of them cuz it’s twice as expensive. So they’re out, you know, sourcing and doing things like that all the time. And, um, So, yeah, so it’s things like that and, and getting to know how the other young guys use our industry software and in, in a way that I just hadn’t thought of.
and I’m funny. I was the one that was very dynamic at that in those younger years. I, I haven’t had paper in this business in over 20 years. We went paperless decades ago and that was when I had a storage unit filled with old contracts and I went, well, why do we need this? It’s all in a computer. So, um, so I, I, I know that it’s fun to see what they’ve been coming up with, cuz I’ve always been into what’s progressive, what’s new things we can do and try.
That’s awesome. . That’s awesome. Well, Beth, I would love to thank you for being here, and I wanna finish with just one last question for you is what one thing would you recommend our listeners and viewers think about or do as they start to think about their transition? Well, I’ll give you a plug because I do think that working with the transition strategist has.
Really, really helpful to clarify it and at first, , you know, I listened to your podcast and I was like, Hmm, wow. I could, should just talk to her. And I, that’s how I visioned it as it was gonna be like a conversation. And I, at the same time, your book had come out and I, I read the book and I was like, oh. And then, you know, it was just an aha moment when I went.
You, you can think you can do this after reading a book. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with the e o s system, the Traction book, you know, I’ve read, I’ve heard it on the audio, I’ve read the book, and you can’t, just to make that kind of a system change or whatever, it takes a lot of time and implementation.
And that’s where I’m really, really glad that, um, we have been doing this path because I think on my own I would’ve gotten all snarled and. . You know, you get excited when you think one person’s gonna come in and buy everything, but then that doesn’t come together. And yeah. So those, I’m just glad that we’re, we’ve had this time and that it has been really fast, as you said, in 12 months.
Ha. But I feel like the clarification from where I was at, at this day a year ago has massively changed. Yeah. And I also, I mean, looking outside, looking in and, you know, Very transparent, um, and direct. But outside looking in, you went through the, you went through your process, you figured out what you wanted, you went through the process of what you wanted, you stuck to the plan, you got through it quickly.
and you were clear with your successor and on what was required so that he could go do what he needed and you could both end up at the end of this year together. Yeah. And that clarity was what I think allowed you to do it with efficiency. Yeah. Yeah. Yep, yep. Otherwise, I think you might still be working on it and maybe looking at next.
to close. Yeah. And we, you know, there was a period there, as you know, a couple weeks ago. That’s, that was the conversation. I said, you know, we don’t have to do this January 1st. This can happen whenever we find the right deal. What you, what works best for you and, you know, will work for me as well. But I’m, I’m, I’m not really gonna be panicking if this.
Transitioned by January one. I, it it’s okay. We, I, we’ve put it out to do it January one for 36 more months. But, you know, I’ve got flexibility and I’m, the day-to-day stuff isn’t gonna be any different. It’s just when your name’s on the, the title of the business, quote unquote. Exactly. Um, yeah, I think that’s been, and we’re still not there may, maybe it won’t happen on January 1st, but we believe it will.
That’s right. Best of intention. It’ll happen. . Yeah. With the right pieces in place. So Beth, um, again, congratulations to you and Thank you. I’m so happy for you and you being on this path and nearing this transaction. So, um, yeah, thank you for being here and just enjoy your holidays and I’ll be thinking good things about everything coming together by January one or early in the new.
Great. Well, thank you very much for having me. This has been a joy and I look forward to, uh, being in touch much through this transition time and working with us through that as well. I know that’s gonna continue to be important and uh, I wish you all the best through the holidays too. Both you and Lyle.
Thank you. All right. Be well. Take care.
The Business Transition Roadmap with Elizabeth Ledoux
How do communities thrive? When businesses experience healthy growth and transition. Join CEO of The Transition Strategists, Elizabeth Ledoux as she and her guests identify what makes a successful business transition roadmap. If you know you want to transition or exit your business “one day”, today is the right day to start planning. This show will give you the roadmap.