By Ellen Fix

Home and yard makeover TV shows are inspiring people from coast to coast to paint, renovate, tear down, break down and remodel as never before.

Watching those renovations unfold, it looks so easy: Just draw up a plan; start sawing, stripping and sanding; and magically transform that bland, rundown ranch into a sparkling showcase of contemporary style.

In reality, it takes a lot of know-how and sweat equity to pull together such projects, no matter the size. It also takes tools – lots of tools. It takes the kind of tools most Atlanta homeowners don’t own. Where do Atlantans go to get them? The same place they have for over half a century, Northside Tool Rental, of course.

Since the opening of its first location on Irby Avenue in Buckhead in 1953, business at Northside Tool Rental has grown steadily. From hand tools to large horsepower heavy equipment, they have it all. With the opening of its 6th branch – at 6170 Roswell Road just south of Mt. Vernon Highway in the heart of Sandy Springs – it is poised to capitalize on the area’s building boom.

President Jeff Lignugaris is cautiously enthused. Despite a slowdown in rentals due to the drought and financial indicators that point to a recession, he looks forward to a strong spring.

“We’re in the building, renovation and repair industry,” Lignugaris said. “So when people are putting money into that, they’re renting and we really ride the tide of economics. All this drives our business.”

Jeff, a graduate of Georgia Tech with an MBA from the University of Georgia, took over the business from his grandfather, Roy Milling, Jr., in 2000. He serves as President and co-owns the business with his mother Joanne and her brother, Jim Milling. Steffan Lignugaris, his brother, serves as Vice President.

The 2,700-foot Sandy Springs branch is comparatively small; other NTR stores typically sit on an acre or two of land with a yard in back. But this shouldn’t deter anyone who’s looking to rent a bobcat, a mini-excavator or John Deere backhoe – their most popular items, which bring in about a third of their revenues. Northside Tool will deliver these, along with some 497 other categories of equipment, from ladders to loaders, to your door for a small fee.

For “tow-ables” each branch has a roll-back truck and one or two pick-up trucks for smaller deliveries. You can even reserve equipment in advance and keep it for as short as a day or as long as a month.

For the next few months, the Sandy Springs branch is offering special free delivery and pick-up to local homeowners.

“About 75% of our customers are small one- to three-member crew contractors with a daily or weekly or emergency need,” Lignugaris said. “But we also have full-scale construction companies such as Beers. And some high-end homebuilders who exclusively rent everything they need. It’s a value-add to have access to equipment they don’t have to maintain, and it reduces their down time. And for most contractors, the cost of renting a tool is a small fraction of what it would cost to buy and maintain it and have it sit there when it’s not in use.

“The balance of our business is from homeowners and landscapers, who rent equipment for grading the backyard or moving mulch and rocks. We rent a lot of floor care and paint-spraying equipment. The most popular items we rent to homeowners are aerators, pressure-washers and floor sanders; and seasonally carpet-cleaners.”

On the other hand, carpet stretchers are among the slow-movers. Drills and hand-held circular saws, at one time very popular, often gather dust because they are now so inexpensive to purchase outright. A good rule of thumb is if the item doesn’t require a high level of aptitude and you use it regularly, buy it. If it will depreciate and lose value over time, says Lignugaris, “rent it from us.”

The NTR staff prides themselves on their knowledge base, gained from the constant exposure to all types of equipment. This has honed their technical aptitude, which they are eager to pass along to customers. They spend as much time as necessary to ensure renters are comfortable using their products.

“We have a big responsibility,” explains Lignugaris, “ to marry the equipment with the person. Sometimes we ask what they want to do with it, and we recommend a particular item. And we have them start it up and play with it for awhile to be sure.” Still, many customers know exactly what they want, pay the rental fee and scoot away with the item in their truck in a matter of minutes.

Hobbyists and professionals alike may be interested in two of the newest items added to NTR’s inventory: a Rigid brand portable table saw, at $39.00 a day; and a DeWalt planer.

Each piece of equipment has a maintenance and repair protocol that must be followed when it’s returned. In fact, NTR is the only rental store in the area with a central maintenance facility that repairs and monitors its fleet. According to Lignugaris, the larger stock has a fixed rotation and, eventually the functionality erodes over time and through depreciation. But a well-maintained saw will have a 15-year life, although he might replace it if it becomes ugly and appears beat-up. Recently, the company has begun to repair small equipment from outside its own inventory, and intends to grow that segment of the business.

As one NTR customer observed, “Really, what DON’T ya’ll handle? It’s getting to where people don’t need to buy anymore.”