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55 years all in the family no easy feat for Aspen business

When Dave Hoff started Aspen Rent-All in the basement of City Market in 1967, he worked hard but also wasn’t shy about hanging a closed sign from noon to 2 p.m. while he skied Aspen Mountain.

“A lot of businesses would close 12 to 2,” he said. “I would go up and run the gates behind Gretl’s (now Bonnie’s).”

Hoff was 28 years old in 1967 and growing weary of life on the road selling equipment for Bombardier. He wanted to settle down and spend more time with his young family in Aspen. He learned of the growing market in rentals — everything from equipment for do-it-yourself remodelers to rollout beds that small lodges needed at busy times of ski season.

Hoff established his business in about the only space available, alongside the Steak Pit in the basement of the City Market building. It wasn’t the greatest location for his line of work because every piece of rental equipment had to be hauled up and down the stairs.

“I had a strong back and a weak mind,” Hoff quipped.

He moved to a new space in the city core after a couple of years, then moved to the Aspen Business Center in the early 1970s. Success kept requiring larger sites.

“I knew it would grow. I just didn’t know which direction it would grow,” he said.

Grow it did. The only similarity between the one-man operation that Hoff started and the business that celebrated its 55th anniversary earlier this year is the family tie. Hoff’s daughter, Beth Hoff Blackmer, purchased Aspen Rent-All in 2000. She moved the thriving business from the ABC to Holland Hills east of Basalt in 2014.

The 2-acre spread with several workshops, garages and boneyards allows the growth to continue. Hoff Blackmer has $1.5 million invested in inventory. There are 450 pieces of equipment — from mid-size excavators to carpet cleaners, from electric hedge trimmers to trenchers, from trailers capable of hauling up to 5,000 pounds to lawn aerators.

Beth Hoff Blackmer moved Aspen Rent-All from the ABC to Holland Hills in 2014 to allow for continued expansion. | Scott Condon/The Aspen Times rentall-2

The business motto is, “We’ve got all the products to make your jobs easier.”

About 85% of the business comes from people in the construction trades and landscapers. Homeowners embarking on do-it-yourself projects and yard chores account for the rest. Hoff Blackmer figures the latter side of the business would grow even more with exposure.

Hoff Blackmer is president of Aspen Rent-All and has a staff of 10 to help operate it. Zach Fischer is customer relations manager and Justin Gish is the operations manager — both essential to making it work, she said.

In fast-paced, ever-changing Aspen, it’s no easy feat to remain in business for 55 years. It’s even more rare for a business to remain in one family.

Beth, a 1981 graduate of Aspen High School, was selling activewear and spending a lot of time on the road when opportunity came knocking unexpectedly in 1999. Dave Hoff’s longtime business manager developed a medical issue and was forced to move away. Dave had envisioned him as the successor in the business. When the medical issue popped up, Dave was prepared to list the business on the market.

But on one of the regular cycling trips that Dave arranged for family and friends in Europe, two family friends and business moguls convinced Beth she needed to buy the business and keep it in the family. They literally caught up to her, rode along each side and made their pitch.

“I had a sleepless night and woke up and said I’d like to buy it the next day,” Beth said.

She started working at the business Aug. 1, 1999, and bought in Jan. 1, 2000. After being located at the ABC since the early 1970s, Beth made the decision to move Aspen Rent-All downvalley in 2014.

“I was nervous that a move away from Aspen would be a challenge,” she said.

Instead, it’s been an economic boon. Just about all contractors renting from the business have employees heading upvalley in mornings and driving by Aspen Rent-All’s shop on Highway 82. The staff adjusted the opening time to 6:30 a.m. to accommodate them.

“The remodel, reconstruction (market) is our bread and butter,” Hoff Blackmer said.

Many companies don’t own the tools they need for demolition projects. The do-it-yourself niche has grown since moving downvalley, where there are more homeowners of humble means who try projects on their own. Hoff Blackmer said her staff is great at communication with customers. The staff finds out what they’re doing and advises on what they need to rent to do it. They will help with instructions and make videos available for various tasks.

Hoff Blackmer keeps up with industry trends via the American Rental Association, where she served as president for three years and capped her tenure with a presentation in front of 3,000 people.

Aspen Rent-All is working on plans to mark its anniversary with a customer appreciate party in August. 

Dave is proud the business has continued to thrive though not particularly surprised.

“I knew we would survive because it was a business that was important to the community,” he said.

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