In the early 1980s, Bob Renaud was recruited to speak at a John Deere dealership convention.
As he walked up the aisle to the podium, Bob purposely tripped, tossing his papers into the air.
“What real salesmen do when they fall down is get right back up again,” he announced to his audience.
At another sales meeting, Bob kicked off the session by playing the movie Rocky.
“He talked about how whenever you’re down and out, with a little bit of spirit and fight, you can get yourself back up again,” his son Brian Renaud said.
“There was no looking back. There was no complaining. If you complained to my old man, he’d look at you like you were sick.”
The get-back-up-again mentality would become a metaphor for Bob’s career in heavy equipment sales. Throughout his 44 years in the construction industry, Bob built a reputation as a teacher, a career starter and the man to see for an honest deal on equipment.
Harold Sutherland, owner of Harold Sutherland Contracting, purchased equipment from Renaud from the beginning to the end of the salesman’s career.
“He was an honest guy, what he told you, that’s what it was, and if something wasn’t right, he fixed it. It was a pleasure dealing with him,” Sutherland said. “He was a determined guy and a man of his word.”
Bob was born and raised in Ottawa and started out in the construction industry as an apprentice carpenter.
In the heavy equipment world, he took his first job working the parts counter of Allis Chalmers in 1956. A year later, he moved to the parts counter at George W. Crothers.
From there, he went on the road as a parts salesman for Caterpillar through Crothers. His role would evolve to selling the full line of heavy equipment with an area of responsibility from Oshawa to Belleville to Bancroft.
Canada’s first John Deere dealership
In 1969, Bob would open his own business; Renash Tractor & Equipment, a partnership with Bill Nash. Renash, based in London, Ontario, became Canada’s first John Deere Construction dealership.
At Renash in 1975, Bob would meet Michael Dunn, who at the time was 23 years old, and looking to buy his first machine to start his own construction business.
“We sat and talked. I didn’t have enough money for a down payment, but he gambled and got me on my feet,” Dunn recalled.
Bob was able to adjust the payments on a machine to accommodate Dunn, who left the dealership as the owner of a John Deere 690 excavator, serial number 207.
“I’ll never forget it because that was my start,” Dunn said.
From there, Dunn would use the 690 to build the Dunn Group of Companies.
“When I sold my company, I had 130 employees and that’s all on account of Bob taking a gamble on me,” Dunn said. “We always maintained a friendship to this day. He is a very special guy.”
Renash would thrive until interest rates soared to 22 per cent, and the dealership closed in 1981.
“With my partner Bill Nash, we became very successful,” Bob wrote in a letter outlining his career. “Until the bottom fell out of our industry.”
Back in Business
However, high interest rates didn’t stop Bob for long. Less than a year after Renash closed, Bob opened Robren Equipment in Owen Sound and Waterloo, Ontario. Several employees from Renash would make the move to Robren to join the team, including Ric Thompson.
“He was always full of life and optimistic. He always exuded an aura of confidence,” Thompson said, who is now general manager of Advance Construction Equipment. “He was always good to his people. He hired good people and looked after them.”
Fresh out of high school, Thompson joined Renash in 1975, and would continue to work for Renaud until 1993.
“I think I’ve been fairly successful in my career and I think a lot of it was the teachings I got from him at an early age,” Thompson said. “He knew how to sell equipment.”
Thompson also admired Bob’s work-hard, play-hard mentality. He recalled a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona where lunch ran longer than expected and they had to rush back to the airport to make the flight home.
“We pulled up in front of the airport in the rental car and he wrapped a $20 bill around the keys and threw them to some guy in a uniform and said, ‘take this back for me’,” Thompson said. “We went to the plane, and made it home.”
By 1993, John Deere wanted its dealers to consolidate, and Robren was sold to a larger dealer.
After the sale of Robren, Bob took a job as president and CEO of Matthews Equipment Rentals.
“The company was on the brink of bankruptcy. My mandate from the owner Robert J. Chafee was to turn the company around or sell the complete operation,” Bob wrote. “Within six months, I could see we could be profitable.”
Chafee agreed to make a large investment in new equipment, and within five years, the company was thriving.
“He had the faith and we turned the company around,” Bob wrote.
On the heels of the renewed success of the company in 1999, Hertz Equipment Rentals approached Bob to see if there was interest in selling the eight branches across Canada.
“I felt the bullish market was about to take a turn in the rental business,” Bob wrote. “I established an overinflated selling price of $42 million. Within three months, the deal was made and the company sold to Hertz.”
Bob also took on the role of vice president of operations in Canada for Hertz.
“Not being accustomed to working with a public company, after running my own show for 30 years, we parted company after six months, then retirement,” Bob wrote. “After many nights on the road, it was great to be home.”
Even at home, however, heavy equipment was still part of Bob’s life, and his enthusiasm for machinery inspired his children. Brian is currently general manager of Canadian Port, while Gary Renaud is an equipment marketing representative for Toromont Cat.
“I was running an excavator when I was 12 years old, Gary was four years younger than me and he was running them at the same time,” Brian said. “He forced us into the industry and we fell in love with it.”
Both Gary and Brian also learned the sales side of construction equipment while working at their father’s dealerships.
“He was a great mentor to me. He taught me how to listen,” Gary said.
Here at Equipment Journal, Bob also shared his sales and marketing knowledge.
“He was a great mentor. He taught me a hell of a lot,” said Scott Smith, Equipment Journal’s now-retired sales manager. “He is one of the best closers I’ve met. The most important thing a salesman has to do is ask for the order.”
Smith and Bob also worked together to create the dealer’s marketing personas, which included Bashful Bob, Deere Bob and Bob Says. The ads were often stand out stunts, featuring Bob holding a variety of props from handguns to sledge hammers, that brought customers into the dealership.
“Bob didn’t always follow the standard rules of doing things,” Thompson said. “That’s what made him successful.”