P & L Rentals: Setting Standards of Quality in Service

Stephen Smith has owned P & L Rentals (P & L) in Palestine, Texas, for nearly two decades. The business provides site rentals for employees of oil companies, including generators, lighting solutions, well anchors and even temporary housing for work crews.

“My wife, Theresa, actually started the company,” says Stephen. Theresa, who passed away in 2008, was employed for over 20 years at a company in the same field before striking out on her own. “She just kind of busted into it,” laughs Stephen.

Starting with a limited amount of supplies, Theresa began serving the rental needs of oil field employees. P & L, which stands for “power and lighting,” started to take off in the middle of the ’90s. Meanwhile, Stephen was working with his father at Oilfield Anchor Company.

“Her business grew really quickly,” says Stephen. “So one day I told my dad that I had to quit and go work for my wife. And my father actually suggested that if I did so, I should buy him out. So I did.”

The combined base of vendors, contracts and connections allowed P & L to offer a wide range of services and products. Additionally the Smiths' knack for customer service and genuine concern for the safety and comfort of customers helped P & L build a lasting reputation in the industry.

“We knew just about everybody, and most of the company men, they knew us,” says Stephen. “We already had a good relationship with these guys.” Growth for P & L would come through the company’s dedication to service, as it continues to today. “Our focus was, and still is, setting and keeping up a standard that our competitors strive to match, especially with rig houses and travel trailers,” reinforces Stephen.

And none of this would be possible without a loyal team of employees, which P & L is proud, and lucky, to have. Shawnda Stone, current vice president of P & L, has been with the company for four years. Shawnda’s reputation as a competitive salesperson and her dedication to the company has knocked her up the ladder from where she started as a sales representative to her current position, and Stephen considers her his right-hand man.

“I want more stuff out there than the other guy,” says Shawnda of landing contracts. “This business is about hitting the streets and knocking on doors until your knuckles are bloody. That’s what I did, and that’s what I look for in my sales staff.”

As long as a product or service lives up to the highest standards of quality, Shawnda doesn’t believe there are any tricks to the trade. “That’s all it takes really, is getting in front of your customer,” she says.

Perhaps it is Shawnda’s dedication or just her true passion for P & L that has promoted her continued success. “It’s really a cool company to work for,” beams Shawnda.

And it is clear that the feeling is mutual. The P & L team is like a family, and Shawnda’s respect for her coworkers, especially Stephen is evident. “If you pulled up next to [Stephen], you’d have no idea he owned this company,” she details. According to Shawnda, Stephen prefers to be out on the road or in the field, still setting anchors and travel trailers. “He wants to be in the most beat up, dirty old truck we have, hauling equipment, generators,” she says. “He definitely has his hands in the business, but he likes to have them near the grease. It’s really easy to work for somebody like that.”

Building a Home Away From Home

Temporary housing for field crews is truly the staple of P & L’s business. The company is not alone in the market, though. P & L competes with some giants. “Stallion, Stellar Oil Field,” lists Shawnda “They’re huge companies, but we’re running neck to neck with them. I don’t know how we’re doing it, but we are.” P & L’s ability to keep up with the big dogs might have something to do with attention to detail and a flexibility that caters better to the needs of its customers than the competition.

“In the oil business you’re out in the field more than you are at home,” explains Stephen. “Our goal is to make it more comfortable for these guys, make it better for them.” Stephen recognizes the tarnished reputation big oil has achieved over the last few decades, but over 50 percent of the energy supply in the U.S. comes from oil and natural gas. P & L stands by a commitment to improve standards of temporary living for men and women who live onsite for months at a time extracting these substances.

Shawnda exemplifies how P & L strives to tailor products and services to the needs of the company’s clients. “When somebody calls and needs a travel trailer to sleep eight guys, we want to know if they’re big guys or small guys,” says Shawnda. “I want them to be as comfortable as possible. I don’t want to send a travel trailer that’s got little twin-sized bunks for a 300-pound guy. A lot of companies don’t ask these questions.”

A P&L travel trailer isn’t just a box with beds in it either. These homes away from home for oil field workers are outfitted with plumbing, appliances and regularly upgraded mattresses. For an even homier touch, Stephen says that each of these trailers is individually decorated.

Expanding Existing Services

P & L, which currently employs around 80 people, is making a remarkable recovery post-recession. “Three or four years back, the oil fields just dropped in our primary area,” recalls Shawnda. “A lot of people we know had to close their doors.” The company held on, however, sacrificing profit margins by dropping prices as low as possible to keep business going. “We struggled, but we’re still here,” says Shawnda. “But we’ve grown a lot in the past two years. We’ve doubled our inventory, and we may just double it again. We’ll get there.”

The team at P & L is ready to expand and the company is currently seeking out and meeting with potential partners. “We’d like to be three to four times the size we are now,” says Shawnda. The P & L already has a customer base for the services the team hopes to provide; P & L has done some branching out already.

“Our customers are asking a lot more of us than we can do right now,” she says, adding, “They’ve been really patient with us.” There have been several instances Stephen recalls where supplies were short, but demand was high. “We’ve bought a trailer and set it up on-site in the same day,” he explains. Once P & L finds appropriate funding, the company plans to expand components of the business that it already has resources for and open another yard closer to new oil fields.

While travel trailers are a great place for oil workers to sleep, the trailers would be a lot less comfortable without plumbing. P & L delivers water, and installs and services septic systems on rig sites. The team even has the potential to expand its water service sector and break into the port-o-potty industry. P & L also services all its rig houses and trailers. The company already owns a repair center for its own mobile homes, and would like to expand into repair, service and sales of new and used recreational vehicles and trailers.

“The only thing holding us back from expansion is ourselves,” explains Shawnda. “Not a lack of customers or a lack of their loyalty to us. It’s a lack of funds to supply them with everything they’re asking us for.”

P & L still provides services to its first customer; that order was placed nearly 20 years ago. While growth is a long-term goal for the company, the business will never be about numbers. “We want to expand to new areas,” reveals Stephen. “But we want that mom-and-pop shop in each area – that can’t get lost in a big corporate deal.” With assistance available by phone at anytime day or night, customer comfort and satisfaction is the absolute priority of P & L Rentals.