By NASH NUNNERY
Levi Johnson has found nirvana.
A small-scale general contractor in rural Lowndes County, Johnson used to turn down more jobs than he could count simply because he lacked the right equipment in his tiny workshop.
Last month’s grand opening of The Cat Rental Store at Thompson Machinery in Columbus has instantly transformed the 47-year old Johnson’s business fortunes. From building fences to constructing small barns to digging electrical trenches, Johnson rarely turns down a project now.
“The ability to rent a fork lift, dozer or even a light tower, has made a big difference in the type of jobs I can bid on,” he said. “Renting equipment makes a whole lot more sense because we don’t have to tie-up a lot of money on things we might not use but once or twice a year.”
Based in Tennessee, Thompson Machinery is the exclusive Caterpillar dealer for north Mississippi, and middle and west Tennessee. The company offers a complete line of Caterpillar equipment, as well as agricultural equipment. Through its Cat Rental Store operations, Thompson also offers allied equipment brands such as Genie, JLG and Sullair.
Company spokesman Mike Rattan said that opening a Cat Rental Store location in Columbus made good business sense. Market trends continue to shift toward renting equipment as opposed to purchasing.
“The (Golden Triangle) region has been part of our sales territory for years,” he said. “The opportunity was there. Rental is a growing revenue channel, and the people in the area said we were missing the boat.”
The new Columbus store comes on the heels of Thompson’s recent expansion of its Tupelo rental operation. Located near the Golden Triangle airport, the store offers delivery to anywhere in Mississippi, or customers are welcome to pick it up.
Available for rent by the day, week or month, Cat Rental Store customers also have a rent-to-own option to build equity, if ownership is desired.
“Not all equipment needs warrant machine ownership,” said Thompson area sales manager Tom Simmonds. “Changing project demands and the cost of servicing equipment can make renting a great option.”
Over the last several years, the company has invested $13 million in Mississippi for facility upgrades, including new locations in Tupelo and Boyle.
Further expansion is expected, said Rattan.
“Right now, we’re looking to expand the Greenwood facility and maybe open a store in Oxford,” he said. “Our plan is to be part of all infrastructure growth throughout the state of Mississippi.”
The company’s top rental item in Mississippi? Fork lifts.
“I would venture to say that most job sites need fork lifts, and they would definitely be classified as our top rental,” Rattan said. “But we also offer everything from two-inch pumps to scissor lifts and of course a full-line of Cat dozers. The Cat Rental Stores are a one-stop shop for customers looking to get the job done.
“We’re really excited to be in Columbus, Tupelo and Boyle to serve our customers in north Mississippi.”