The place of women in the rental business

"Do it scared – get comfortable being uncomfortable"

Based in Victoria, Australia, Kayla Shadbolt serves as General Manager at Swan Hill Hire. Since she joined the team, the business has not only grown significantly but also achieved the accomplishment of winning Hire Company of the Year at the HIRE23 industry awards.

Transitioning from the automotive sector in 2019, Kayla has been actively involved in the hire industry, crediting her success to the Young Professionals and Women in Hire programs by HRIA, Australia’s national Hire and Rental Industry Association. Despite having worked in male-dominated environments throughout her career, she continues to emphasize the importance of competence and dedication over gender.


Swan Hill Hire in a few words? What are you specialized in? When was the company founded?

Swan Hill Hire is a general hire business, and we cover a range of equipment and services. We provide telehandlers, elevation platforms, trailers, site facilities including building, toilets and fencing, lawn and garden equipment as well as small equipment for home handymen, just to name a few.

We are located in the Mallee region of Victoria three and a half hours north of Melbourne. The business opened in 1986 and has been growing substantially since our current owner Stuart King took over the business in 2015, there were three employees at the time and now we have a team of 15 working full-time.

Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your current position at Swan Hill Hire?

I started my career in the automotive industry as an apprentice mechanic in 2012, and over a period of 8 years, I gained my qualification working as mechanic and then expanded into roles such as foreman, warranty clerk, and service advisor.

In early 2019, I joined Swan Hill Hire as a Hire consultant/technician and quickly advanced from entry level to Operations Manager and now General Manager. My most recent milestone was being elected to join the HRIA (Hire and Rental Industry Association) Victoria state committee.

Currently, I oversee the different departments within our business structure, working closely with Accounts, HR, Workshop & Sales teams. We are constantly upskilling & training our staff whether it be apprenticeships/traineeships, short courses, licensing, or networking events. I’m also proud of our inclusive business model that encourages input from all departments, irrespective of the level of the person’s role.

This allows innovative ideas to come through and helps us to continually improve our business operations.

Can you tell us a bit about the Young Professionals and Women in Hire programs? Why was it important for you to be involved?

The HRIA Women in Hire & Young Professionals programs were fundamental to my development. I started the Women in Hire program after only 3 months in the industry and it helped craft me into the manager I am today.

The program gave me the confidence to believe in myself, not only in my career but in my personal life, and it provided me with the tools and the network to execute my role to the best of my ability.

The training and mentorship approach provided by these programs is truly fantastic and something I would recommend to anyone, whether they are new or seasoned in the industry. I’m happy to share that the Young Professionals and Women in Hire programs are now two of the highest attended sessions within the annual HRIA national convention.


What are the challenges of covering rural areas? Would you say that as a woman, it makes things a bit harder?

There are pros and cons to any business geographic. On one hand, we cover a massive area of 200-600 km with only one branch, which can be time-consuming for deliveries & takes careful planning when it comes to logistics. On the other hand, we don’t have competitors like metro businesses do. Swan Hill is about two hours from the next biggest township that is covered by any other hiring company, and if you cross the border from Victoria into New South Wales, there are no hire companies for about four hours.

In this business context, I think being a woman is irrelevant. What truly matters is taking the time to understand the products, familiarizing oneself with the service area, and understanding not only how colleagues operate but also the client’s needs. With this approach, you automatically earn a certain level of respect.


Have you witnessed any drastic changes over the years?

I’ve witnessed some huge changes in my short time within the Hire & Rental industry, not only the growth of Swan Hill Hire but the growth of the industry as a whole. The network keeps on expanding, new technologies are always popping up, and there’s been an increasing drive to provide safer equipment. I’m also happy to report that hire has increasingly become the preferred choice. These developments have all been fascinating to be apart of.

Is it a preconceived idea that women are better business managers than men? Do you have to work harder to prove your leadership skills?

I think this narrative needs to be dropped. Not everyone will be a great manager or possesses innate leadership skills – this simply comes down to personality, not gender. In a male-dominated industry, I actually owe thanks to those who’ve taught me what I know today, who are not only men but women as well. It shouldn’t be about proving one’s worth but an opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences to create better leaders across the board.

Having said that, there are great opportunities in this industry for women to have a fulfilling career. I would love to see more women, whether they are just starting their working career or coming from different industries and transferring skills. It is such a versatile industry with a wide variety of job roles.

It is often said that women managers have a more participative management style than men, in your opinion, "myth or reality"?

Myth. A good manager, regardless of gender will have some sort of cohesion to their management style.

My personal management style is very inclusive, I believe that consulting with the team and hearing their opinions is an integral part of business operations. They play a fundamental role to the day to day running of our business, they see and experience what goes on at the ground level so their input is immensely important to us. On top of that, we are a team – no one is above getting in and getting their hands dirty. There are days when the likes of the Director, Sales Manager & myself are helping prep equipment out in the back, setting up temporary fences on-site, or driving across the countryside to help with deliveries.

On a daily basis, what do you find most difficult to manage and most rewarding?

My answer for both is staff. Like most companies, staff shortages are a massive issue at the moment – being in such a regional area, good workers are few and far between. We have a massive focus on managing employee fatigue so they don’t get burnt out, ensuring the team is getting adequate respite & RDOs (rostered days off), which can of course be difficult to schedule around 15 employees and a thriving business.

The most rewarding thing is definitely the workplace culture we have built at Swan Hill Hire, the level of morale is something I dreamed about as an apprentice. Seeing my team show up with a smile of a morning and go home happy at the end of the day is something you just cannot take for granted.

Would you say "preconceived notions" if I told you that it is difficult to balance work and personal life?

I believe that balance is created and must be driven. I won’t disagree that it can be difficult, especially when you’re passionate about what you do. It is hard not to answer calls and check your emails after hours or even pop in on your weekend off. But, with the right people around you, it is easy to share the load and have the ability to switch off when you need to.

How would you describe the characteristics of the Australian market?

Due to our geographic, our market would be vastly different to a lot of businesses. We stock a wide range of equipment because we service the agricultural, construction, mining, and government sectors. We also cater to the “weekend warrior” market, which refers to people who aren’t necessarily tradesmen, but who like to do their own handyman jobs over the weekend.

How do you think the rental and elevation market will evolve in Australia?

It is already happening with the sustainability shift – the market is making the change to more renewable energy options, with electric models quickly phasing out their fossil fuel counterparts.
Safety is also an aspect of the industry that never stops evolving, and it really is fantastic to see the constant drive to ensure training is up to date and readily available, as well as the new technology from suppliers and aftermarket fit-outs making the equipment safer.

What are the main / greatest challenges your company will face in the future?

I think it will be a combination of the rising demand for sustainable equipment options and inflation. While it’s fantastic that we have these new initiatives to drive the industry in the right direction, our whole fleet will eventually need to be changed over to more sustainable models.

Inflation is also a big concern, with up to a 30% increase in equipment prices and, in some cases, over 60% on parts and materials in the last 2-3 years. This affects everyone, which indirectly has an effect on the hire industry. For example, the construction sector is starting to slow down and a large portion of our clients are not coming through the doors as frequently.


What are your expectations from your suppliers and in particular, Haulotte?

Quality service is key, and that includes sales, parts/service, tech support, and training.
As a regional business, we don’t see suppliers coming through our doors often nor do we have the luxury to easily return equipment to the manufacturer if something goes wrong. I must say that Haulotte does execute these aspects extremely well – the sales team makes regular visits, the service team & tech support address issues promptly because they understand the lost value in a break down, and they have parts and training readily available. Haulotte is setting a high standard for suppliers in Australia.

Any advice for young women who want to start a business or join a very male-dominated industry? And a mantra?

Do it scared – get comfortable being uncomfortable. Personal growth and development don’t come with being complacent, set your goals and strive for them. Use your network and keep your line of communication open, you would be surprised who can influence your life & how those connections can help you grow.

Swan Hill Hire is thriving with thanks in no small part to Kayla. With her inclusive management style, she has not only fostered a workplace culture that she had always dreamed of but has also contributed to the continuous improvement of the company’s operations. Despite always having been in a male-dominated environment, Kayla has never considered her gender an obstacle on her path to success.

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