Equipment in the blood: Bee Gee Rentals will shutter after decades in business

Stop in to buy a Stihl chainsaw at Bee Gee Rental and Sales and the first thing you will see is the letter of thanks posted on the front door.

Owner Richard Van Vorhis is ready to retire.

Van Vorhis has made the company his life, but he and his wife Myra decided that they will be closing the doors and ceasing business operations on Dec. 21. A pending sale of real estate to an investor and the desire to retire has prompted the closure of the business.

More than anything, Van Vorhis wants to thank his customers, employees and family for the years of being able to work with them. He is still astonished at the number of people he has been able to help, primarily in Bowling Green, but due to word of mouth, with sales as far away as Russia and Japan.

“Helping people solve problems and find the proper equipment to do the job efficiently and safely has been the most rewarding part of this job,” Van Vorhis said. “You either have equipment in your blood, or you don’t.”

He has enjoyed working with the equipment, but has also been happy to share his knowledge with employees and customers.

The couple have run the business since purchasing it in 1977. It was started in 1955 by Isaac and Marian Loose at 125 W. Poe Road. In 1998, they moved into a newly-built 14,000 square foot facility at the corner of Newton and Brim roads, which allowed the expansion of product lines and services. Rick, now 71, has worked there since he was 15.

The company started with humble beginnings.

“Initially we started renting Stihl chainsaws in 1977. It was a fluke that we kind of fell into,” Van Vorhis said. “In 1983, again during a recession, we picked up Snapper.”

Snapper was the first mower brand they sold. Today, they are authorized dealers for Stihl power equipment, Simplicity tractors, zero turn mowers and snow blowers and Exmark zero turn mowers. They also service the equipment they sell, as well as most major engine brands.

Bee Gee Rental and Sales rents tools and equipment ranging from tables and chairs to mini excavators, lifts and skid steer loaders and sells chainsaws, snow blowers and lawn mowers.

Van Vorhis is extremely proud of the customer-oriented retail business. He said that their Stihl chainsaw business is one of the manufacturer’s biggest retail dealerships in Northwest Ohio.

While he isn’t authorized to sell Stihl products outside the United States, he has many stories of his sales that end up overseas. Van Vorhis keeps a depth of Stihl stock and has an expertise in maintenance and repair of the product.

That winning combination resulted in one Russian customer buying the chainsaws and taking them back home on the plane in his luggage. Several German customers, who live locally, have bought them for family, even though the company is based in Germany. Rick knows they were taking advantage of the exchange rate, but is happy to take the compliment on his deep product knowledge.

Another customer was a missionary who filled an entire 40-foot shipping container with equipment that was sent to Peru.

Van Vorhis said rental has changed a great deal.

“In the beginning, we knew almost everyone coming in the store by name or where they worked or lived,” Rick said.

Van Vorhis served many years in various roles as an officer with the Ohio Rental Association

When he started at Bee Gee, only a name, address and phone number was needed to rent a piece of equipment. Then the insurance companies stepped in, requiring identification. It became standard business practice to require pre-payment of rental charges.

Computerization also changed how things worked. Bee Gee embraced the technology in the mid-1980s. It allowed the ability to track the availability of products and apply uniform rental charges.

Bee Gee has sold nearly 13,000 Stihl power units. In mowers, they have represented Snapper, Troy-bilt, Husqvarna, Simplicity and Exmark resulting in the sales of over 3,600 mowers, tractors and snow blowers.

Van Vorhis is effusive in thanking his wife.

Myra has been retired for two years, as an LPN turned pharmacy technician. She most recently worked in the pharmacy at Rite Aid. He said her most important role in the business was providing patience. As a wife and business partner she has been his sounding board, assistant worrier and support system.

Both sons have worked in the business, both starting at an early age. Gregory worked through high school, college and later, part time as time provided in addition to his regular career. Lance worked through junior high, high school and his associate’s degree and full time up until 2020 when he and his wife sought a warmer climate in Arizona. Lance was responsible for customer service, parts and service scheduling as well as chief cleanliness and orderliness supervisor.

Van Vorhis said they have been lucky to have had many dedicated employees, but a special acknowledgement is in order for Roger Thorn. He has been a loyal employee for 35 years and a major contributor to all facets of the business. Most importantly, Thorn is the technician that keeps our equipment and our customers’ equipment running at peak performance.

“We very rarely send something out for repair,” Van Vorhis said. “Sometimes you get those head scratchers, I may be back there in the middle of it with him, trying to figure out what’s wrong with a piece of equipment, but I couldn’t do it without him.”

Van Vorhis doesn’t dwell on the broken or misused equipment. The thanks always return to the customers.

“We have met many wonderful people and formed many relationships, and we hope that we have made their lives a little better and their work more productive and easier through the years,” he said.

In retirement, Myra and Rick hope to have some time to relax, spend time with Greg, his wife Jenn, and their three children. They also plan to travel and to visit Lance and his wife Kristy to see what the Arizona climate is like.

Rick, Myra, their family and employees wish to thank everyone who has trusted them to provide their equipment needs, encouraged them and made the business possible.

“I’m going to miss the daily activity. The working with people and the helping people, and the employees. We enjoy each other’s company,” Van Vorhis said. “It will be a real change.”

A public auction will be conducted to liquidate the rental equipment, vehicles, and other business assets at a later date.

Bee Gee Rental and Sales is located at 829 W. Newton Road.