Why Being Transparent Will Save Your Business! With Anthony Durante

Shama:

You started with, how do I reduce here? How do I get people acting in their best self? Being really transparent, letting them know here’s what’s coming, here’s how we’re going to do this. Twitter said everybody’s going to work from home for the remainder of the year. What I think is so cool is it takes away the uncertainty. Right? People don’t have to be like, “Do I go to work next week? Am I going back?” Being very clear. Right? Communicating, over communicating. What can you expect? If you’re losing your job, how are we helping you? Why is this happening? And so we think putting the people first, because then everything else falls into place.

Shama:

Hey, everyone, it’s Shama Hyder here. And I have with me a special guest today. Please meet Anthony Durante, CEO of Durante Rentals. Anthony happens to be a seasoned entrepreneur and his industry and business, of course, like many of ours are facing some very interesting, unprecedented times. And I wanted to get his insight on what is happening in the construction industry, but also the rental industry. Anthony has grown his business and has succeeded through ups and downs. He’s extremely well respected in his space, and I think you’ll see why. So Anthony, thanks so much for doing this with me.

Anthony:

Thank you, Shama. Happy to be here.

Shama:

You know, Anthony, I’m really curious because these last few months have been so tumultuous for all of us. What’s changed for you and your business, personally and professionally?

Anthony:

Yeah. I guess the biggest notable change with any downturn is the playbook is out the window. And we thought we might’ve had a COVID problem and then a recession problem and now there’s the protesting, rioting, and looting, so it’s interesting to see what will dictate how we move forward. I know that we physically change a lot of procedures and policies and plexiglass and everything. And not as obviously a lot more dimension and depth to the situations.

Shama:

And how has this affected your business? I mean, obviously you’re working from home right now. Right? Your team is at home.

Anthony:

So yeah, so we’ve just started coming back. The state has started lifting the restrictions that they’ve had. As far as impacting, fortunately we’ve had a lot of customer base being construction that were essentials. But even with essential jobs, even though I had friends saying, “Hey, that’s great. Your business is still going.” There was still essential jobs getting shut down because of COVID exposure on the job. So it’s been a bit of a challenge because one of the things that our businesses is having, a rental fleet, and you have millions of dollars on the line and a lot of notes from the bank is there’s always notes that are due and there’s a lot of equipment that’s out in the street. So it was a matter of how to protect the equipment, protect the employees, keep the banks at bay. And again, just trying to financially plan and strategically plan in advance for what was to come.

Shama:

Yeah. And Anthony, you’re in the New York area, you guys are in the tri-cities. Right?

Anthony:

Tristate. Yes.

Shama:

Yeah, Tristate.

Anthony:

Location in New Jersey, one in Connecticut, and then not 10 locations in New York, in and around the New York City area.

Shama:

Wow. You guys have been really in the thick of it.

Anthony:

Yep.

Shama:

Anthony. I know you’ve built businesses and you obviously led Durante Rentals. You guys are so many locations now and you’re growing, which I don’t think this is going to stop you from growing, but it definitely changes things. I’m curious if you can share some lessons of… You’ve done it all. You had the high times in business, you’ve gone through the lows. What advice would you have just in general for someone who’s watching and listening as they’re trying to figure out how to make the most of this. What advice do you have? For a lot of people, this is their first recession in business.

Anthony:

Yep. And this one came very unexpected and it’s not your typical recession. This could be short and deep, we’re not really certain. But the one thing that I do is I actually looked at this more of like, we’ve got a lot of emergency situations over the years, like ground zero, providing equipment, hurricanes and whatnot. So I looked at this less as a recession and more as an emergency plan. And I believe that with any emergency plan you don’t just run into when you see the fire. Make sure you got back up, make sure your pumps are hooked up to your hoses, and that you have the proper equipment and tools.

Anthony:

So rather than kind of just running forward or putting our heads in the ground, I’ve assembled my executive team early on and basically said, “What do we need to do to prepare for this?” And if you want, I mean, I’ve made up a short list of items that we’ve done to kind of get very proactive and ahead of it. And again, it was just very well planned, well coordinated, and massive amounts of communication up and down the ranks just to keep the team [crosstalk 00:05:09]-

Shama:

Yeah. Please share. I think that’d be really helpful for people right now who are trying. And I love what you said, this is less kind of the slow, drawn out recession, more an emergency. The fact that businesses have had to close, they’ve had to pivot. A lot of things happening very quickly. So yeah. Any insight you could share I think would be really appreciated.

Anthony:

So yeah, some of the stuff that I’m going to just walk through the steps that we took. So some of it was planned it and halfway through, we were kind of modifying and making up stuff as we go, because we didn’t [inaudible 00:05:37]. But basically, I mean, the first thing we did was when we saw this coming was we pulled as much money out of the banks as possible, so that God forbid there was any issues with the banks we at least had the funding in place, have the cash now and you could always return it.

Anthony:

The next thing I did, I thought about the 100 plus people that we have on staff. And I says, “Okay, how do we quell our own employees from fear or worry?” So I thought that kind of putting the employees in a good light was very important because otherwise while we’re trying to plan, we’re going to have employee questions coming in. And if it hits the wrong person and they get the wrong answer and it wasn’t something thought out, that can kind of spread underneath and turn into bed culture or rumors, gossip. So I wanted to get that out of the way.

Anthony:

So I immediately was messaging with the company, I shared with everybody immediately their accrued PTO because I didn’t know how long this would be. And obviously it was, “Okay, well, we’re going to have to reduce pay.” We pulled everybody down to about 40%. We really analyzed the government assistant programs that were out there, came up with a matrix, and basically educating the employees on how many hours and what that would look like mixed with government income. So we were able to put the two of them together. And although we reduced payroll to 40%, we actually achieved about an 85% using the two, the combination of the two, which was great.

Anthony:

We also took our vendors and we automatically pushed out our vendors and said, “We’re going to communicate that we’re not paying any invoices for 30 days.” We were excellent on our payment terms, so we were able to stretch that a little bit. We went immediately into our AR team and talk to them about the script and how are we going to collect money. Once we did that, I set up a dashboard. It was a very innovative dashboard that tracks [inaudible 00:07:23] things. I looked at our P&L, our cash forecast, our books, and I recognized that we can’t operate on a monthly review of what we set out in January when this wasn’t even on our radar. So we set up a week to week budgeting process of various different initiatives. And it was from collecting money to our AR columns to different types of revenue streams that we’ve had, the payrolls.

Anthony:

So everything was being monitored and micromanaged a bit. And that’s kind of the rallying information and data that we had. And the reason I also did that was I weighed everything against where we should have been as a company and I was able to set up some metrics and with that. So for example, if we build out 50% of what we should have, I had that at a 50% of 100 and then I had [inaudible 00:08:10]. It was a pretty innovative dashboard.

Shama:

That’s really cool.

Anthony:

Yeah. And we did that. The reason I did that is because it’s easy to sit there and say, “We’re collecting money.” It seems to be healthy. Or we’re billing X amount, it seems to be healthy. Or our deliveries went up, but [inaudible 00:08:25] the day you might have deliveries going out, but you’re not collecting money. So it kind of gets a health range of five different areas in the company from revenue to marketing to payroll. Once I put that in place, we were able to manage it. And then I moved on to some projects. We did infrastructure, moved my systems onto iClouds. I did phone upgrades, GPS upgrades, move to paperless contracts, [inaudible 00:08:47] boarding Salesforce, ERP upgrades and training. I mean, we really put a lot out there with the company.

Anthony:

The next thing I did was elevated a company president. I mean, and again, this is stuff that I didn’t plan on doing into 2021. But recognize that with 50% activity on the business, I can pretty much run the business like this. So rather than me lifting the company out, I took somebody that was a little bit better with managing the various projects and teams, elevated somebody else so that I can get onto strategy because our acquisition plan that we had in place that was very aggressive, obviously took a hit with stunted EBITA and cash flow. So instead I put somebody that was better at managing teams and projects than I was. I’m able to spend more time coaching this person and I’m able to get onto customer acquisition, which is where I am. And it [inaudible 00:09:35] a lot of conversations with key accounts.

Anthony:

I’ve also built an outside sales team, which I hired three people in the last week. We’ve never had an outside sales team, which is unheard of in our industry. So I’m focused on customers, sales team, cashflow back on track, EBITDA, bottom line, and then with that, we’ll be able to leverage more from the banks. And then with that, I’ll be able to do acquisitions on companies because as we all know, unfortunately, there will be a lot more companies that are willing to sell. So my whole thing was the 25 location plan that we had in the next two to three years, how do we attain that in 12 months? So all of this, protection of the employees, [inaudible 00:10:13] construction, keeping everybody focused on initiatives and not sticking their heads in the ground. And then with that is where are we coming out of this? So it was kind of a beginning and the middle [inaudible 00:10:22]. And I’m sorry, I went on so long, but-

Shama:

I let you keep going because I think it’s a masterclass. I think you literally delivered a masterclass in the few minutes.

Anthony:

I feel that I can’t speak on any one of these things without speaking the whole thing front to back because it’s a Jenga puzzle and you can’t just pull one piece out.

Shama:

And one of the things I really admire about you is that you’re not a wait and see kind of guy. This is the thing that I’ve been preaching against. People sometimes sit back and they’re like, “Oh, I should wait until…” No. I mean, you hit it right on the head, which is you have to pivot, and you’ve got to change every day. Right? To serve your customers and even your own role, the fact that you pivoted your own role to say, “Okay, where are my strengths best utilized given what’s going on?” Right? So in a non-tumultuous time, it may look very different, where it’s fine, your strengths can carry you through. But when things change and you’re like, “No, but this is where the company really needs me.”

Shama:

What I love, and then I’ll just hit these kind of high level, is that you put people first. You started with, “How do I reduce fear? How do I get people acting in their best self?” Being really transparent, letting them know here’s what’s coming, here’s how we’re going to do this. I think one of the very smart things that companies like Twitter, I mean, I think this is very smart. Twitter said everybody’s going to work from home for the remainder of the year. What I think is so cool is it takes away the uncertainty. Right? People now don’t have to be like, “Do I go to work next week? Am I going back?” And Airbnb, even though they had layoffs, Airbnb, I thought their CEO did an amazing job too of being very clear. Right? Communicating, over communicating. What can you expect? If you’re losing your job, how are we helping you? Why is this happening? And so we think putting the people first, because then everything else falls into place.

Shama:

And then the second thing we talked about, which I think is great is processes. When you’re revisiting your current processes, your ERP, your signatures, how you guys sell, all of it. And then the third being the pivot, which is as things change, as the tone of our country even changes and the focus changes, and conversations happen, and certain events happen that trigger people in different ways. And of course it all cascades, it affects all of us. I think that’s really interesting too, is that you’ve taken that into account to think about how that pivoting is important.

Shama:

One of the things that I want to hit on that you talked about, which is you’re in the Tristate area in New York. There’s been a lot of talk about infrastructure too. And can you speak a little bit, I know you’ve been a big advocate of infrastructure and clearly this is your bailiwick. Can you speak to a little bit of why infrastructure in New York, but also the country, makes such a big difference? I’m not sure people fully understand that at all times.

Anthony:

Sure. I mean, you look back to the ’30s, it was the public works projects that really got the country started that were put in by FDR. And New York obviously is very infrastructure heavy and there’s always work that goes on and needs to be done with the amount of bridges and tunnels. So a lot of families are moving out of New York, so the tax base is definitely going to take a hit. I think people with second-

Shama:

Then come to Florida.

Anthony:

I think people with second homes are deciding they’re going to change their address for a year or two. So I think we definitely have a money issue and we definitely need some federal help. I’ve been on a call with people in DC that I’ve kept connections with. I do caucus for the past four or five years. And one of the things they keep asking is, “Hey, both sides of the aisles like infrastructure. Can we get that rolling?” The other day, Governor Cuomo was saying, “We have plans in place. Let’s get some federal money, let’s get some spending on infrastructure.”

Anthony:

There’s a lot of people in New York that are tied to construction. And if you really want to pull New York through, I think infrastructure is a great way to go. And yeah, I mean, that’s really what I’ve been focusing my team on. And that’s why I’m even adding an outside team is in anticipation of it. And I found that just keep busy and I thank you for the comments because one thing that always echoed in my head was… Well, I’m using the word echo again, but the movie Gladiator, when he says, “What you do today echos in eternity.” And it’s just something I think about, whenever you’re in an emergency situation, that’s the war stories that you tell 20 years later. And I just want to make sure, for me and the company, that we weren’t caught flat footed, that we were innovating, and that we were always moving forward, and checking left, checking right, and just kind of communicating with the teams.

Anthony:

And we unfortunately did have a staff reduction of 17 people. But when we did the staff reduction, we guaranteed everybody that by the end of the year, there are no more staff reductions, because there were other employees that still had zero hours. So I didn’t want them to feel like, “Well, I didn’t have any hours worked during this time, so maybe [inaudible 00:00:15:21].” So again, I think it’s all of the above, just preparing. But yeah, infrastructure, if somebody out there can write some letters and make some calls, that would be fantastic. But one last thing to comment on, that is when I was with Nadia Valasquez, who is the small business chair, she said, “Write to your local [inaudible 00:00:15:42].” That really does matter. And that call was all about what can we do to get DC to hear us? And that’s what it was is just write to your local person. It means more than you could possibly imagine. So if you’re hearing this and you want to support infrastructure, find out who your local district person, your local representative is, and please just write to them.

Shama:

Anthony, what would you say? I know you have so many customers in the construction industry. Right? What advice do you have for them as they’re looking at projects, as they’re trying to figure out how to move their own businesses forward?

Anthony:

I mean, renting equipment is a cheaper alternative than buying equipment. So rent.

Shama:

Yes.

Anthony:

I think everybody’s got different plans and different playbooks. I don’t have an exact answer. I just look at being proactive, don’t stick your head in the ground. Know that people are watching you. And [inaudible 00:16:38] was very well aware of is that you don’t realize how much your team is watching you until in a situation like this. And I’ve had my nights where I’m crying to my wife or that I’m screaming up at the sky, but for the most part, in front of your team, you have to show strength and confidence. And then when you do that, they become confident. And then when I’m feeling down, I look at my team and they pull me through, and it’s truly a win, win.

Anthony:

But I’ve gone through the whole realm of emotion. So again, be proactive, don’t rush into the fire, take a step back, figure out what you need, and then move forward with the plan and make sure that your team is with you. Because as smart as we are as entrepreneurs, the goal is to be the person at the table that’s not the subject matter on any given topic within our company. That’s one of my specialties is just leveraging my team and letting them pull me forward.

Shama:

I think that’s really smart. And I know the renting the equipment, it’s funny. Obviously it is what you do, but I do think it’s an important point to make where you want to make sure that you’re being smart with your investments too. Right? So being able to go after your business and doing things project basis versus taking on more. You don’t want to be over leveraged. And so I think that’s a really good point in terms of how can you be leaner but smarter?

Shama:

I think that’s a great… A lot of times, people, even the businesses that have had staff reduction and stuff, and I said this to people in general, which is, I think a lot of it, we face unprecedented numbers of unemployment, but I also think it’s a matter where really you have to step up your game and be an A player. Whether you’re an employee, whether you’re an employer, and really do your best work, because I do think when things like that happens, the talent pool is also flooded. Right? You’ve got very talented people right now out there. So I do think it helps to make sure that you’re putting your best foot forward.

Shama:

And you’re right, more people are seeing you than you realize, which I think was such a good point, Anthony. Your team looks at you, you set the tone for them, and more eyes are on you. And I think so many times people don’t realize that their reputation precedes them in so many ways. Of course, in our digital world, we actually see it. Right? We see it in reviews and feedback and whatnot, but so much of this happens qualitatively as well. And so great advice for your customer base too. But do you think the same thing applies to people in the rental industry? I know you’ve been such a proponent of doing the stuff that you’ve been with DC even lobbying on behalf of the industry. I know a lot of rental companies have been… This is a challenging time, especially if you’re in any type of, even like party rentals or event rentals, things like that. What advice do you have for the rental market?

Anthony:

I mean, cash is king. Normally that’s the first thing I gravitate towards with the business because cash will take care of everybody else. I think this one was a little different and it was an employee first. And then after that, it was really just, again, pushing out vendors and looking at AR. And then even with the projects that we took on, there was a period of let’s see what we’re doing with cashflow and if we’re hitting our short term projections, and again moving to that in between dashboard that was built. But really it was just about managing the cash and that was a very clear message to even the employees, because without cash, there is no business. And it’s amazing because we’ve shared cash reserves with employees in the past, explaining to them, this sounds like a lot of money, but in reality, it’s a six month reserve. And when we were able to go into this, at least people kind of understood now and they really got an education as, “Got it. Now we understand why we keep a cash reserve.”

Anthony:

So I think we won a lot of points with the training and the initiatives because everybody wants to advance professionally. And I think that everybody was very appreciative of the caring that we had put forth. On a footnote, I believe that we were the only rental company to shut down at any given point a hundred percent. We shut down March 17th to March 20th. And everybody was doing these step down plans. I was watching on LinkedIn. And I felt that that wasn’t enough because just because the government’s telling you something, we’re not scientists and this thing was coming hot and heavy. And I felt that the first thing to do is get the employees home and then we’ll figure out a open back up as opposed to everybody else saying, “Oh, we’re going to step down here.” And the next day, “Oh, we got to step down again.”

Anthony:

What message were you giving your employees when you were still trying to maintain revenue? Which I understand, I completely get it. But again, I’ve always said I’m an employee-first person. I believe in culture. And it was great that I was actually able to challenge myself with an event where it’s, “Do I go for cash or do I go for people?” And I put people and every time that we stepped back up and bringing people back in, even if they said, “Hey the government is saying we can come back in.” I’m not really concerned about the government because there is an agenda to keep the economy going. They’re not 100% on health. It’s a mix of finance and it’s a mix of health. And every decision that we’ve made with opening back up always started with, “What does that do for employees? And how do we keep employees healthy?” And everything else we’ll figure out.

Shama:

Yeah. Well said, and I think this is true. There might be folks who didn’t have the cash reserves, who didn’t think this through. Do you think this is, for the rental industry, do you think this is sort of a hang onto your hats and see if you can wait for things to reopen? Do you think it’s a great time for people to revisit… I like what you said. You’re revisiting how you’ve done sales, traditionally. You’re revisiting how you marketed, you’re revisiting how you’ve put your brand out there or haven’t put your brand out there. Do you think that’s an important thing for companies in the rental industry to be doing right now?

Anthony:

I hope I answer your question, but I mean, my last business did not end in success with the last recession. And I mean, I was treading water for a while and for anybody that’s treading water with limited cash flow, I feel for you. I’ve been there. And the one thing that I wish that I could go back and do is realize sooner than later that I was running myself into a hole. Because at the end of the day, if I’m going to lose money, I’m better off just staying home. So I think a lot of people are going to be treading water for a while. A lot of people who are financially secure are finding that there’s a new reality and it’s a very poor position to be in. And again, I say that with all sensitivity, because I truly understand what that means to people.

Anthony:

And if anybody’s out there and you’re interested in an acquisition and they want to reach out to Durante Rentals, I’m more than willing to help anybody. If anybody ever wants to pick my brain, just email me and we could set up a time and I’ll be more than happy to help people through it. But I’m proud of the team and what we’ve done and I thought we made a lot of great decisions. And usually I look back and have a lot of regrets and this one I’m actually very proud of. And if I could share any individual part of that, I would love to speak with anybody on that.

Shama:

Yeah. Anthony, I love that about you. You’re an honest guy. You’re a smart guy. I think the cool thing about talking with you is you’ve been through the gambit, you’ve taken your licks, you’ve learned from stuff. It’s always fun for me to talk to seasoned entrepreneurs because you’ve just seen it all. You’ve been through a lot of this stuff, and yet we’re still learning. Right? All of us are learning on the job. It never stops. And it definitely sounds like the plan you laid out made a lot of sense. And yeah, I do think what you mentioned is very smart and I think that’s a very generous offer too, is if someone’s thinking that, “Hey, maybe this is…”

Shama:

And I actually know quite a few folks who were thinking about the acquisition route. Right? Selling their companies, or maybe being part of a bigger team. Because this is a good time to, I think, stop and think about what do I really want from life? Not just from business, but what do I want from life? I know a lot of people who realize that they didn’t spend enough time with their kids and that they want something completely different because this gave them the opportunity. Right? They would have never chosen to stay home and figure this out. But because life’s given them this, they’ve realized something about themselves. So we think there’s a lot of people right now. I know a lot of folks, even in the restaurant industry, who in their seventies, late sixties, some early eighties, they’re just like, “I’m kind of done. This is my last week. I’ve enjoyed it. I built something great. But this is the time for me to retire or this is the time for me to exit.” And I don’t think there’s any shame in that whatsoever.

Shama:

So I think it is a good opportunity for businesses across the board to look at all your options. Whether it means looking at how you’re putting your message out there, how you’re presenting, because the other challenge is so many businesses that have just had one stream, revenue stream, or haven’t diversified. I was just talking about this the other day. Haven’t looked at all the different ways that they can drive revenue, or they’ve never let their employees ever work from home. They’re not even set up for this sort of thing. And so I think it forces you to look at and take a good, hard look at your… I think so much of what’s happening right now in the world, of course in our country, is forcing people to take a look.

Shama:

And I know there’s a lot of talk about 2020 should be canceled, but I was just thinking, what if this is a wake up call that all of us need? Not just in our businesses, but also in our lives, to be able to reassess and say, “What makes me happy? What makes me happy? What am I doing for my fellow man? What’s my legacy?” And I know you’re a lot about your legacy too, Anthony. I know you think about that a lot in terms of how you come up with your team, how you represent your industry. So any final thoughts on legacy and the importance of leaving or building a legacy? Because you’re right, the Gladiator quote is really apt. Right? It echoes.

Anthony:

Yep. So takeaways, I mean, change is good. Right? I think this is a great time to assess. I mean, the country in the world is going through a change and I’m the type that I try to stay positive and find anything with that change. And it’s change that we necessarily can’t control, so just kind of go with it. And the one thing I put in my head is there was riots in New York in the 1860s and we had 1960s, we had riots. So I mean, this is all part of our country. And I think that it’s symbolic of everything that everybody’s going through individually. I [inaudible 00:27:20] think that we’re all in our own tortured purgatory to a degree. But at the end of the day, there will be a reality [inaudible 00:27:27]. Everybody’s going to come out on the other side and everybody will be fine, with respect to where they were.

Anthony:

But again, to me, being in the ground zero of the impact was I think that a lot of other areas are going to come out faster. So for me, I felt I need to innovate and out-think just to keep up with the norm. So again, I would say if you feel that you’re falling behind a little bit, [inaudible 00:27:51] you’re above the middle of the pack, I guess that’s a good thing. As one of my uncles would say, “As long as the tips outweigh the jips.” So don’t get caught down the rabbit hole too much, find people like yourself, reach out. Again, my lines are always open. But just try to stay productive and keep your head on straight without running too much with your head down or running into a burning building without support.

Shama:

Great advice. Anthony, thanks so much for joining me.

Anthony:

Thank you Shama.

Shama:

This was fun.

Anthony:

I had a great time.

Shama:

I know the audience will appreciate this and your insight. And guys, do reach out to Anthony, especially if you’re in the rental industry, because he’s really taken the mantle of leader, sort of been forced upon him in some ways. And so thanks again, Anthony.

Anthony:

Thank you.

Shama:

Hope you guys enjoyed this.

Shama:

Be sure to check out more videos, guys. Tons more videos this way. Check it out. Be sure to subscribe and leave a comment. Let me know what you’d like to see me cover more. Until next time.